A friend's son is turning 18, a milestone year, and is graduating from high school. These are big life events, and each is a rite of passage. We often think of that passage as one for the child alone. It is a rite of passage for parents as well! She asked me to write about transitions.
Here are six ideas for easing the discomfort of transitions by moving into a space of appreciation and acceptance.
View this Time as Sacred
Transitions are sacred times. They can also feel scary and chaotic. The fear and chaos can actually distract you from embracing the sacredness. Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart, which is all about big transitions, writes, “Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up the way we dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It is a very tender, non-aggressive, open-ended state of affairs.”
Viewing the transition – no matter how big or small – as something sacred will allow you to slow down, feel the gratitude for what went before, feel the excitement of what is to come, and suspend the fear.
“Leaning in” is a way that Chodron recommends to get beyond the discomfort and the unsettled feelings. She writes, “To stay with that shakiness – to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness… - that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic – this is the spiritual path. Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves is the path of the warrior. We catch ourselves a zillion times.”
What is ‘leaning in’? It is being vulnerable. It is allowing yourself to feel what you are experiencing in that moment. It is catching yourself, even on that zillionth time, and staying steady. Chodron says, “…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”
Acknowledge the Accomplishments and Honor the Process
For both you and your child, it is encouraging to acknowledge the accomplishments and honor the process. The accomplishments are the achievements that you both have made. The process is the energy and effort that you each put forth that has guided you to this place in time.
A wonderful exercise is to recall all who have supported you along the path. It could be your son’s first grade teacher – all of his teachers – as well as family members, music instructors, camp staff, doctors, neighbors, and friends. Talk about how each person made a difference, encouraged you, contributed to your success and understanding, and was a part of the experience.
You can also notice the effort that your child put forth to be where he or she is right now. Recognize your own efforts. Each of you can remember challenges - for yourself or for each other - and how you handled them. Write these down, talk about them, and hold them in a place of honor in your heart.
Encourage every member of your family to acknowledge the accomplishments and recognize the process. The members of your family are your team. Take some special time to acknowledge your partner as well.
When things change, spending time together allows you opportunities to connect (often in newly developing ways) and to support one another as you move through the transition. It also gives you a chance to fully feel that “open-ended state of affairs” together. It gives you quiet amidst the chaos.
Visualize How You Would Like the Next Experience to Be
Whether your child is entering a new grade level (moving from elementary school to middle school or from high school to college), whether it is the shared anticipation of the end of the school year and the beginning of summer adventures, or whether your child is having a milestone year such as sixteen or eighteen, explore the next experience. What will life be like in high school or as an eighteen-year-old? What do you want to feel? Where will you need the most support? What will you do this summer? What are you most excited about? Keep this conversation alive.
Find ways to celebrate! Include your child in the discussion so that he can celebrate in the way that he prefers. We all have memories of awkward surprise birthday parties or events that didn’t feel comfortable when we were growing up. Having your child involved in the decision-making and planning will get his investment in the celebration. Celebrations can be small, large, quiet, or loud. Make it your own!
Congratulations on being where you are right now!