Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Live If Lies Let You

Some ten years ago, on an impromptu party in a beautiful home in Forest Hill (Toronto’s posh neighbourhood), three ‘privileged’ teenagers decided to get drunk, raid the fully loaded bar and even steal some cash. They were caught as soon as my friends - parents of the boy who thought he could throw a party then get away with it - returned from a weekend abroad. The perpetrators were all in Grade 12. They were 18 years old. 

The debate ensued: what should be the correct course of action? Legally they were all adults. Calling police would earn them a permanent record. Telling teachers might ruin the reputation of otherwise decent boys, a reputation essential to the second last report card - the one that goes to desired universities. Telling their wealthy parents… Ouch!

My friend, one of the wisest and kindest people I know, decided to try a new approach. After the boys replenished everything they had drunk and stolen they sat remorsefully in front of her, fully owning up to their stupidity and awaiting the verdict: 
Each boy was assigned to do some volunteer work at three of her friends who needed help. This happened to be the fall of my slow recovery from the West Nile Virus so one of the young men, Andy, was assigned to me. Andy’s job was to help rake our backyard which was filled beyond recognition with leaves that two giant sycamore trees from the neighbouring schoolyard would mercilessly dump each October.

Andy arrived on time and knocked at the door. He tried to act cool although I felt a shadow of the shame a culprit would wear to a mandatory Saturday work session.  
“Hey dude! Thanks for coming. We need you!”  were the words that did the magic. Andy realized there would be no mentioning of the mishap. His shoulders relaxed and a faint smile crossed his face. 

For a while, the three of us worked together - Andy and I raking and my son Filip, who was ten at the time, packing the leaves in paper bags. When given a rake Filip had a tendency of regressing to a ninja warrior, fighting the piles of leaves, destroying the already packed bags and then claiming exhaustion. No rake for Filip! 

Once my limited energy had expired, I went inside to make hot cocoa while the boys worked. By the time I brought the second round of treats out, they were buddies. 

What stayed with me a decade later from that crisp fall day was not the ease of redemption. Or how strangers—a teen and a tween—could bond in an instant over a chore. It was Andy’s father. When he came to pick him up he shook my hand with both of his and said:
 "Thank you for helping Andrew co-create his experience surrounding this incident. It is people like your friend and yourself who allowed Andy to grow into his learning and restore his integrity. I am very grateful to you for creating a safe space for him.”

Until then, I had never heard such terminology used in parenting: co-create, grow into learning, safe space, integrity. 
“Excuse me for asking, but what do you do for a living?” I asked, expecting to hear he was a family therapist.
“I’m a Life Coach” he said, nodding slightly.  “I work with corporate VPs and executives. For sure it’s making me a way more effective and sane parent.”

Later that evening, I called the friend who had sent Andy to me to tell her of this profound parenting experience and also to share that after talking to the dad for an hour I had decided to become a life coach myself and attend the same school where he had trained.

“Oh, I am so happy for you!” she said “because, you see, the other two boys never showed up at their volunteer assignments. Their parents bailed them out.”

Often in life the ‘parent’ will not know how to parent. There will be rulebooks to read, papers to sign, curfews to obey. And still, when it comes to enforcing the rules and living the values that are the very fibre of the family more often than not the parent will decide to do nothing.The drunk teen will keep driving dad’s car. Steal smaller bills from the wallet. Harass his younger sister. I am never sure if the parent is so oblivious that she believes it’s just a phase or is it sheer ignorance? Could it be that someone told her to shut up!? 

Thank goodness - we all get to choose what we do in our own home, with the ones we are responsible for!  

The true gift of my decade of single parenting enhanced by life coach training and an unwavering set of core values, not much different from those my parents and grandparents held - is that I see things with laser-sharp clarity as they unfold in real time. And I am unwilling to lie to myself. And since my parenting is not a job but a calling, it is with 100% probability that my kids know: if I do this, mama will do that. It is exactly that predictability - no matter how un-cool or boring it sounds - that is the backbone of our family and the real deal behind the unconditional love. 
I love you so much that I will never lie for you. 
I respect you so much that I will help you learn to live with integrity. 
It always starts with me.  

Thankfully, it doesn't end with me. New generations of knowledge-empowered, empathetic and passionate truth-seekers is conquering what's left of the stale, corrupted and complacent world. In the following 'viral' five and half minutes, Donovan Livingston will inspire our children to become the "thorn in the side of injustice".
Perhaps it's time for "parents" to unlearn the art of lying.

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