My last two blog posts have given me much food for thought about parenting. It’s an interesting juxtaposition given the fact that I’m on a “mom”bbatical. What better time to learn how to parent more effectively than when you are, in fact, not really parenting at all.
In my reflection, I thought about this long held idea that our children are extensions of ourselves. It is an intoxicating notion, especially for those of us mothers who spent nine months carrying this human being inside of our own bodies. The memories of our labor and the shared traits that emerge on their person just validate the symbiotic nature of our connection to our kids.
Then, when we hit struggles in relationships, at work or with family, we look to our kids to fill in the emotional gaps, to make us feel loved and accepted when the rest of the world may be coming up short. They owe us that, don’t they?
I recently found myself inspired by the concept of negative space in art. In Negative space: 22 Brilliant Examples, “Negative space is, quite simply, the space that surrounds an object in an image. Just as important as that object itself, negative space helps to define the boundaries of positive space and brings balance to a composition.” It is such a beautiful concept and mirrors the art of parenting.
It is our job to define the boundaries in our relationships with our children. We do surround them with our love, our protection and our resources. When any of those things bleed over across their boundary, we distort their self-image. When our love becomes control, our protection becomes smothering or our resources become overindulgence, we make it difficult for our children to define themselves in a healthy way.
I think what I appreciate the most about my son is his ability to define his own boundaries with me. Sometimes he occupies the negative space and reminds me that we are separate, even at the most mundane times. For example, I walk at a pretty fast pace. I’m a New Yorker, I can’t help it. Emmanuel, on the other hand, likes to take his time. When he was little and we used to go on hikes in the hills of the Bay Area, he would stop to spot the tiniest bug on a leaf by the side of the trail while I was paces ahead just trying to get to the top.
It never bothered him that I kept my pace. He never felt compelled to catch up and he didn’t take it personally when I bounded ahead. Years later, as we walked the Parisian streets, he maintained his position in the rear despite the frequent glances over my shoulder. His face always telling me that he’s good.
My favorite idea behind the concept of negative space is that it “brings balance to the composition.” Balance. Justice. Equanimity. Who wouldn’t want those things in parenting?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Yoda when it comes to parenting. My son is an old soul who thankfully keeps me in check. However, observing how broken so many souls are in this world and the big institutions that continue to fail us, I embrace the beauty and potential for growth between me and my boy. It is a blessed art indeed.
Featured image at top courtesy of Negative Spaces in Logos: A How-To Guide (for Dummies, by a Dummy)