Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. — The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran
One must choose whether to live one’s life or tell it. — Jean Paul Sartre
At a time when hair grows on my chin and wrinkles seem to metastasize, my daughter is blossoming into the woman. It is one of the world’s most reliable phenomena, the new replacing the old, one generation reaching its nadir as the next one rises. The old guard gives way to the new ripe with their vigor, energy and dreams, ready to forge new beginnings and carve a place that will be uniquely their own. It could be a bittersweet experience, witnessing and breathing the contrast of age versus youth but I am finding, thanks to my daughter, it is nothing of the sort. Contrary to what I may have expected this is a magic time, one where a doorway has opened to reveal a world of new possibilities and great joy.
Last fall, my daughter and I undertook a journey. For a month my adult child and I visited India together. Our destination was Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak. With a group of 14 other souls we spent weeks hiking into its remote base camp to see Kanchenjunga soar up another two miles before us. For two weeks in a country of 1.2 billion people our group was totally alone.
The journey was hard. We walked 100 miles over absent trails at great height and altitude. We camped in the snow and freezing rain, wore the same clothes for two weeks, shared a small tent, fell in mud and freezing glacial streams, got sick, cold, fatigued and leech-infested but more importantly my daughter and I laughed. We shared the majestic sunrise of the Himalayan peaks bathed in the purple, pink and gold of dawn. We high-fived each other on mountain summits that had seemed impossible to reach only hours before. From within our group, strangers became friends. We met individuals whose practice it has been to face adversity and shoulder on. Many shared their stories of disease and tragedy and their resilience in the face of hardship left us in awe.
What I had not fully anticipated was the importance of the journey within the journey, the one my daughter and I took into our relationship with each other. For me, this was the most important journey of all. Mother-daughter interactions can be fraught with danger and a trip of long duration, isolation and stress provides an ideal lab for brewing up conflict. Disagreement over issues of mutual respect, independence and power often form the substrate for such conflict. Knowing this fact prior to the journey, I had to ask myself difficult questions that required honest answers. For a successful trip I knew I needed to practise behaviours that let my daughter be the independent, responsible adult that she is. I knew that she was entitled to make her own mistakes and achieve her own successes without my interference. We needed a balance of power (the adult-adult kind, not the mother-daughter kind) and I needed to be respectful of her right to make her own choices. In other words, my job was to keep my mouth shut.
And what did I learn from this exercise? More than I could possibly imagine!
I witnessed my daughter through the eyes of others and they saw a capable young woman of great integrity, strength and empathy. I observed her make mistakes, accept them and adapt her behavior so they did not recur. I watched her accept hardship for just that, something transient to suffer, endure and then move on. I saw her overcome daily physical adversity and get up without complaint and do it again. Most important, I saw her enormous interpersonal skills, how she could instantly read a person, make others feel valued and included or reach out to someone who needed support. My daughter has people skills I will never possess and through her friendships she built me a safe bridge to others, paving the way for friendships of my own. Above all, I saw the light go on in the eyes of our companions simply in anticipation of her company and I felt a fist of pride that in some small way I might have helped her become the person she was.
Far away in a small corner of the planet I learned that the definition of a successful parent is not to raise good children but to raise good adults and then to stand back and let them go. I discovered that it is in the process of letting go that the whole world shines.
Dr. April Sanders is a physician at Sanders Medical Inc. Vein and Laser in Vernon.