by Heather Plett | Aug 26, 2015 | childhood, growth, parenting
It all started in Maddy’s room. She’d been complaining for quite some time that she’d had to inherit a room decorated for her sisters when they were quite young and it was time for her to have a room fit for her own thirteen-year-old personality. After waffling between a Harry Potter themed room and pretty-in-pink, she chose a pale pink and we bought the paint. It made me smile when I applied it, because it was the exact opposite of what had happened when I was that age. I couldn’t wait to get rid of the pink in the little-girl bedroom I shared with my sister. In my mind, pink = girlie and girlie wasn’t cool, so the bedroom was painted blue.
Like many in my era, I was figuring out who I was in the face of the feminist movement, and instead of embracing what was feminine, I ran away from it and tried to prove I was worthy by being more masculine. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that a) pink is just a colour and has no inherent meaning, and b) to be whole and strong means to embrace what is feminine along with what is masculine.
The day we were choosing the paint, I overhead Maddy (who wears nothing but dresses) say to her friend, “Legally Blonde is my favourite movie because it shows that you can be both feminine and feminist at the same time.” I’m so glad she’s figuring that out earlier than I did.
My other two daughters are now 18 and 19 and though they’ll both be in university in the Fall, they’ll be staying home and studying locally for now. They were switching bedrooms (it was the 18 year old’s turn to have the bigger room in the basement), so it seemed like the ideal time to refresh their rooms as well.
In both cases, we transformed the rooms from their early-teen choices to their much more grown-up choices. The room in the basement (that had been Nikki’s and was becoming Julie’s) was four bright colours – blue, green, orange and yellow – and was now getting a much more subdued look – black, grey, and light teal-grey. The room upstairs was going from orange and green with huge contrasting polka-dots to a dark beige and white.
Julie’s former orange and green room presented us with the greatest challenge, not because of the boldness of the colours but because she had covered the walls with hundreds of quotes, thoughts, art, etc., in Sharpie marker.
I knew from previous experience that Sharpie marker is almost impossible to cover with paint, even with the very best primer, and yet, five years ago, when she’d asked if she could do it, I said yes. Julie has a gift for script-work and I knew it would be interesting, but more importantly, I had an intuitive sense that it was what she needed at the time.
The hardest year of Julie’s life so far was when she was thirteen and in grade 8. She’s a deep thinker and a deep feeler, and the world was too intense for her at the time. We watched her walk through a depression and we worried every single day about whether we were doing the right things to support her. When she started writing on the walls, I bought the Sharpie markers, hoping that turning her bedroom walls into a journal of her angst and attempts to rise out of that angst might be healing for her. It was.
Some of what was on the walls was quite angry (especially what she hid in the closet), some was quite hopeful, and all of it was a search for her own path and for meaning in a complex world. Like, for example, the giant word “HOPE” with the smaller words underneath “hold on pain ends”.
While we painted over the Sharpie markings last week, Julie thanked me for letting her do it. On an Instagram photo she posted, she said this: “Incredibly thankful to have the kind of parents who let their angsty 13 year old daughter put her art all over her walls, even if it involves buying $70 primer to cover it up 5 years later.”
Like any parent, I had no idea if we were doing the right thing at the time, and yet we did what we could. And now she has grown into a strong, articulate and wise 18 year old who was class valedictorian at her recent graduation and who won a scholarship for being a gifted writer. (Here’s a piece of her writing I once shared on my blog.)
A few insights emerged while I painted the walls last week, not just about parenting but about holding space for anyone going through their own personal growth. Parenting three daughters who each have unique (and surprisingly different) personalities is a great training ground for my coaching and facilitation work.
Here’s what I’m learning about holding space for people in the midst of their own personal growth:
1) Respect each person as an individual. No two people need exactly the same things at the same time. My other 2 daughters never wrote on the walls, but they need other things, and so we try to offer them what they need to help them through the rough spots. When I try to treat them all the same, I do them a disservice. For example, one is an introvert, one’s an extrovert and one is somewhere in between. They’re learning to recognize what they each need in order to replenish their energy.
2) Honour whatever place a person is in their own journey. Don’t expect someone else’s journey to look anything like yours. All three bedrooms are completely different from what they were and all of them reflect the places the girls are in right now (not five years ago and not five years in the future). There are choices in each bedroom that are different from the choices I might have made, but I’m not the ones occupying those spaces.
3.) Help people find their own right creative practices. During Julie’s depression, I tried to get her to do some of the things that help me through the darkness, but none of those things were right for her. I couldn’t take that personally because it wasn’t about me – it was about her. What worked for her was Sharpie markers and permission to make art on the walls.
4.) Don’t be afraid to let others take risks you wouldn’t take. I often marvel at how confidently Maddy embraces dresses and the colour pink. (At the same time, she also considered black skull-and-crossbone curtains – she is far from one-dimensional.) None of her friends wear dresses and I doubt whether any of them would choose the colour of paint she chose, and yet it’s what she likes and that’s all that matters.
5.) Give people a safe place to hide, to be themselves, to fail, or separate themselves from others. I am so glad that I had the privilege of giving each of my girls a beautiful new space to call their own. They are all learning to honour their own choices, their own sense of when they need to withdraw from the world, and their own boundaries. Those are powerful things to learn, especially for teenage girls navigating a world that places far too many expectations on them. Nikki, my most introverted daughter, loves to close the door to her room and listen to her record player alone, while her more extraverted sisters have been happy to invite friends over to enjoy their rooms with them.
I don’t often write posts about my daughters or about parenting, because their stories are their own and because most days I feel like I’m wandering around in the dark trying to feel my way through. But my parenting journey has taught me much about what it means to hold space for people on their own personal growth paths and I know that I am a better coach and facilitator for the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I can only hope that my daughters will continue to grow into strong, resilient, and courageous young women.
by Heather Plett | Sep 27, 2011 | parenting
Tonight we’ll take our children to the graveyard, we’ll talk about what might have been, perhaps shed a tear or two, and then we’ll go out for ice cream to celebrate a life that changed us.
It’s what we do every year on this day. Every year for eleven years.
Today is the eleventh anniversary of the day my son died.
I woke up that morning, eleven years ago, to find out that his heart had stopped during the night. Hours later, he was born. Lifeless. Still. But so very real.
Today is the day that changed my definition of motherhood. Today is the day that I birthed pain and lived to tell the story. Today is the day my breasts filled with the milk of anticipation only to dry out days later when there was no-one to suckle them.
Today is the day I shook my fist at God, and yet turned in the same direction when I needed comfort.
Eleven years in, pain has become my companion, my friend. It doesn’t stab me with raw and brittle edges like it once did. Instead it curls up in a smooth and familiar ball inside my chest, tightening my throat now and then, but mostly gently reminding me that I am alive, that I am well, and that I have a story to share with other wanderers along this path.
Pain is my teacher, guiding me along the path, deepening my experiences and enriching my relationships.
Pain is my gift. It helps me paint the world with richer colours and more honest shapes. It helps me write with truth and courage.
Pain is my story. It frames the world for me and urges me to enjoy the depths of beauty and joy within the frame.
I am forever grateful for the gift that is my son, Matthew. Never let it be said that he did not live a full life.
by Heather Plett | Jul 14, 2011 | calling, Leadership, marriage, parenting, Spirituality, things I've learned, Uncategorized, Wisdom
The straight talk on parenting:
- Some days, you will really, really dislike your children.
- Some days, your children will really, really dislike you. There may even be days when they yell that dislike in your face.
- Children are sucking vortexes of need. Get used to it.
- Almost every day, you will wonder if you are doing everything wrong and totally screwing your kids up.
- In between those hard days and moments of doubt, there will be moments of pure delight, and you’ll wonder how you could possibly live without these amazing people in your life.
The straight talk on starting a new business:
- It’s hard. Really hard.
- There will be lots of days when you wake up in a panic wondering how you’re going to survive financially.
- On your days of greatest weakness, you will compare yourself to other people and find yourself seriously lacking.
- Just when you think you have it figured out, one of your favourite ideas will flop, and you’ll feel like a failure all over again.
- If you can work through the discouragement, you’ll have moments when you’re happier than you’ve ever been, doing the things that make your heart sing.
The straight talk on marriage:
- There are no fairy tales. No knights in shining armor. No happy endings. You might as well give up the quest.
- You’ll have days when you think “what the hell have I done?” or “where did this all go wrong?” or “why does it feel like we are communicating at completely different frequencies?”
- There’s a pretty good chance that some day, maybe even 18 years in, the whole thing will fall apart and you’ll be left trying to pick up the pieces.
- You’re going to have to work really, really hard if you value what you’ve built and want to stay together. You might even need outside help and you’ll definitely need some prayer.
- Once you’ve done the hard work, and given up the fairy tale, you might just find yourself growing (not falling) into real, blinders-off, sometimes-it-hurts-sometimes-it’s-exquisite kind of love. And it will feel like home.
The straight talk on leadership:
- Just like parenting, there will be days when you really, really dislike some of the people you lead.
- There will be days when they really, really dislike you. They might even file a complaint or take you to court if the dislike runs deeply enough. This may not have anything to do with your actions, but you’ll still be tempted to take it personally.
- It may very well be one of the most stressful roles you’ll undertake.
- You’ll often feel lonely because lots of people assume the leader is confident enough that they don’t need any moral support or friendship.
- If you find the right support and the right people to lead, though, it could possibly be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do. If you’re living your calling, then it will have meaning.
The straight talk on marketing:
- There are people who will want to offer you a formula for success. Don’t believe them. There are no formulas.
- Sometimes you’ll do everything by the book, and still very few people will show up or buy your product.
- Some people will say “just put out good content and people will show up”. Not true. (At least not all the time.) Lots of people create amazing products that nobody buys.
- A lot of times, it’s just a crap shoot – if the right (ie. influential) people show up and buy your product and then share it with their friends, it may go viral.
- At the end of the day, the most important thing is building relationships. Be kind to people, support them, offer them your best work, and slowly but surely the right people will show up. (Or they may not, and you’ll have to start over again, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed, only that the timing wasn’t right for your product, or it needs some tweaking.)
The straight talk on failure:
- You will fail. Get used to it. Sometimes even your biggest, boldest dreams will fail.
- You’ll have to work hard to not believe that failing defines you as a failure.
- Even the most successful people in the world have faced failure at some point in their lives. They may even be failing right now and you just don’t know it because they’re good at hiding it.
- Failure may be your greatest teacher if you’re open to it.
- Sometimes failure opens doors to you that you wouldn’t have seen if you’d never tried. Go ahead and fail.
The straight talk on life:
- There will be many moments when you feel completely lost and unsure of what path you should be on.
- People will tell you to “follow these 10 easy steps to success/self-improvement/spirituality”. Don’t believe them. There are no easy steps.
- Nobody’s path will look just like yours. You’ll never find the perfect book, teacher, or life coach who will give you complete clarity, because nobody else knows your life. (But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn from other people’s wisdom. You should. Just don’t expect it to be the only answer.)
- Living a life of integrity, authenticity, and compassion takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It’s still worth it.
- If you are true to yourself, true to the people that you love, and true to your God, and if you pursue your passions and share your gifts, your life will have meaning.
by Heather Plett | May 10, 2011 | parenting, Passion
I’m not a mommy-blogger for a few good reasons. I don’t think I’m particularly competent at parenthood (aren’t we all just feeling our way in the dark?), and there are a lot of other things roaming around in this grey matter that I’d just as soon write about as parenting. While I take great delight in my three daughters, I’m not one of those moms who gives up all else for the sake of her children (nor do I think that’s particularly healthy for mom or kids).
Today is an exception, though. I’m going to blog about my kids.
Last night, I was curled up on the couch when a lovely thought occurred to me. “My three children are all blessedly happy at this moment.” It was a good moment and I had to bask in it while it lasted.
The oldest daughter had just returned from a rugby game and was riding that post-game adrenalin high as she demonstrated some of the plays for her dad and I.
The second daughter is off on a French exchange program in Quebec, and though I didn’t speak with her last night, I can only presume she was happy based on all of the conversations I’ve had with her so far. (There was pure joy in her voice after visiting Old Montreal.)
The third daughter was taking great delight in some new art supplies (thanks Connie!) and was making art in her new journal.
Fierce athlete, curious explorer, and imaginative artist.
That doesn’t paint the whole picture of those three girls, but it certainly gives you a clue about what makes each one unique.
I didn’t mold them into these things, nor did I put any particular effort into helping them find these particular paths. I just did two simple things – I gave them tools and permission. The tools weren’t particularly expensive. Just rugby cleats, art supplies, and a suitcase. And the permission? Well, that was just a matter of deciding a long time ago that I was going to be okay with watching them choose their own paths, whether or not they seemed like the right paths to me.
I think this goes way beyond parenting, though. I think it’s got everything to do with leadership too. Give them tools, give them permission, and set them loose on the world. It’s what leading with your paint clothes on is all about (which, by the way, could also be called “parenting with your paint clothes on” because there are so many parallels).
And it has everything to do with self leadership and self care too. Give yourself the tools. Give yourself the permission. And set yourself loose.
If you love to paint, when was the last time you bought a new paintbrush or tube of paint? If you love to write, why not invest in a beautiful journal and trust that your thoughts are worthy of a good home? If your body loves to move, why haven’t you bought yourself a good pair of dance shoes or running shoes?
And when was the last time you gave yourself the gift of an afternoon to do these things you love to do? Are the things that bring you joy at the bottom of the list after all of the other priorities you have to get to? Stop doing that. Seriously. Give yourself permission.
It’s pretty simple, really. It’s the only way you’ll find your path – give yourself the tools and the permission.
by Heather Plett | Jun 29, 2010 | Creativity, parenting
(Well, at least MY 14 year old girl. I can’t vouch for yours.)
1. Encourage her to begin living out her “I want to be a fashion designer when I grow up” dream a little early by designing her own junior high grad dress.
2. Offer to sew it with her.
3. Don’t change your mind, even when she shows you a sketch of a dress with about a thousand individual petals on the skirt.
4. Encourage her to make bigger petals that will have less chance of leaving your hands irreversibly crippled and your shoulders permanently hunched.
5. Take her shopping for fabric and STILL don’t change your mind even when she picks satin (every sewer’s worst nightmare).
6. Spend endless hours cutting, stitching, ironing, cutting, stitching, ironing… about a hundred petals.
7. Take her shopping again for the accent around the waist and STILL don’t change your mind even when she chooses glitter that you have to stitch in place.
8. Spend a few more endless hours stitching, seam-ripping, cursing, stitching, seam-ripping, cursing the blasted zipper that just won’t go in properly, especially by the sequined waistband.
9. Rue the day you thought an invisible zipper was a wise choice.
10. Finally emerge victorious having conquered the myriad of enemies that took the seemingly innocuous shapes of pink satin, flower petals, silver sequins, “boning” (to keep the top rigid), and an invisible zipper.
11. Dance around the living room with her when she puts it on and both she and the dress look stunning!
12. Take her shopping again and let her pick her shoes.
13. Cringe a little, but smile and pay the bill when she picks the most impossibly high-heeled shoes this side of Sex and the City. Brace yourself (and her) for her father’s less-than-pleased reaction. Justify the purchase by saying “at least it’s only shoes she’s obsessed with and not drugs!”
14. Buy her some fancy jewellery as a surprise, just because you can’t resist helping her complete the picture. (And admit to yourself that this has been more fun for you than you expected.)
15. Keep your promise not to share any photos of The Dress online until after she’s had the Big Reveal to her friends at grad, even though you’re bursting with pride and desperately want to show off all over Twitter, Facebook, and maybe even some random street corner.
16. Consider googling “fashion design competitions for teenagers” because you’re convinced your daughter would SMOKE the competition.
17. Beam with pride all evening at the grad dinner and then the next morning at the school ceremony as you watch her postively glowing when her friends, teachers, friends’ parents, and maybe a few random people on the street ooh and aah over her dress.
by Heather Plett | Jun 23, 2010 | parenting
When we birth our children, we also birth a protective instinct that bubbles up in us and can nearly consume us in those dark times when our children may be in danger. It’s the Mama (or Papa) Bear gene. Mostly it lays dormant until the tiny seed of a child begins to grow in us.
I remember a time early in my pregnancy with my first daughter. I was about to dart across the street, dodging traffic, when I stopped myself short. I couldn’t budge. The Mama Bear instinct forced me to stand on the sidewalk waiting for a more safe opportunity. It caught me by surprise to realize that I couldn’t do it quite as carelessly as I once did. Suddenly I was responsible for someone other than myself and that felt serious.
As the children get older, it becomes more and more clear that we cannot protect them from everything. They will get hurt, they will fall down and skin their knees, they will be betrayed, they’ll have their hearts broken – and all we can do is offer them a safe place to land. It tears your heart out when you watch it happen. Sometimes, in fact, it feels like the pain is deeper than if you were the one getting hurt or betrayed.
This week, we found out that the soccer coach that was supposed to be coaching our daughter’s team was arrested for child molestation and child porn. He allegedly took advantage of one of the girls on the soccer team – quite possibly someone we know. We are all heart sick about this.
At the beginning of the season, when we went to the meeting to be introduced to the coaches and team members, this particular coach took the parents aside and said “if you’re ever in a pinch and need someone to give your daughter a ride to a game or practice, give me a call and I’d be happy to help out. Especially if you’re a single parent and you just can’t juggle everyone’s schedule – I know what it’s like to go through a divorce. I’m there for you and your daughters.” At the time I remember thinking “he’s either a really nice guy or he’s a little creepy – I’m not really sure which.”
It’s sickening now to think that he was setting us up to trust him with our daughters. He seemed sincere at the time and though I found his offer a little odd, there was nothing that screamed “child molester” about him. (He left the team shortly after that meeting, so that was the only time I encountered him.)
Every day we have to make decisions and help our children make decisions – is this person trustworthy? Is this activity safe? Mostly, I tend to lean toward trust rather than fear. I don’t think it does anyone any good to be forever living in fear of everyone we meet. But there are those times when trust is the wrong choice, and for that girl, who was (allegedly – I have to remember “innocent until proven guilty”) molested when her dad had to leave the soccer field early and she’d gotten rides home from the coach, trust may never feel like an option again.
And even for my daughters, who are very aware of what’s going on, trusting adults in positions of authority has become less of an automatic assumption.
Oh, sometimes I wish the world were a simpler place.