Is he okay? Is he safe? Is he happy? Is he studying? Is he drinking too much? Am I being a good parent? How to not freak out about all of this? And then I remind myself – in a few weeks he will be done with his teens. He will be twenty and plenty smart and plenty capable of looking after himself. He has shown us time and again that he is a sensible and mature young man who can explore the world and enjoy the college experience.
Not knowing and not freaking out. I am still getting used to the idea of not knowing what is going on in my son’s life. For the last 18 years, I have had a ringside seat to pretty much every game that he has played. I miss popping my head into his room at night to say “good night boy” and remind him to brush his teeth. The last year that he has been away, made me realise, it’s not just him that has had to ‘grow up’ – I have had to confront a new phase of parenting too. I just don’t know what is going on in his life anymore, and I have no way of keeping track, other than when he chooses to share a slice of what’s happening.
It seems like just yesterday that I was dropping him at the bus stop for his first solo ride to school and worrying if he would be okay. Worrying about kids seems to be a lifelong journey. I talk to my Dad every evening, a ritual that lockdown life has brought alive and one that I am grateful for. I often hear the concern in Mum and Dad when they enquire about me and how I am doing. I guess it’s one of the privileges of being parents. Wanting the best for our kids. One thing that my parents did really well was to remind my sister and me that whatever happened, we could also go to them and that they should be our first port of call when the world seemed to be a difficult place.
I hope my son knows this. If not, here is me reminding him that we are his safe place. Whatever, whenever, if he needs us we are a phone call away. Not knowing what is happening in his life is fine as long as he knows we have got his back whoever he needs us. This is the secret to not freaking out.
My teenage moment of truth came when I was in school in the 11th standard and got caught drinking. After a public caning in front of the whole school, I and the other ‘convicts’ (as we later referred to ourselves) were punished with two weeks of solitary confinement and we were locked up in our dormitories during the Easter holidays, when the rest of the kids went home. While many of the other parents were freaking out, my folks handled this incident brilliantly. The way my parents took this ‘news’ when they arrived at school to pick me up, was a pick me up moment in my life.
My dad on hearing about the incident said “Son, I am really disappointed in you!” and with my head hanging low I said “I know Dad, in never should have done that..” And with a smile on his face he said, not that’s not what I meant “You are a smart guy. How could you let yourself get caught..” My parents did not freak out. They helped me find the strength and courage to find my way through that particular turn in the road with the help of trust and clear supportive communication. I used those two weeks to study hard, as I had nothing else to do and got the best grades ever. Academically, there was no looking back after that.
Remembering this incident, I remind myself to tell my son that we will always have his back. Not knowing what is happening is fine as long as he knows he can come to us for anything, anytime. When he is freaked out, we won’t be. And that is freaking awesome!
Connecting the dots from this lesson in parenting and applying the learning to handling change in the workplace, can give us a few pointers on what will work at work. As we get set to enter a new phase of hybrid work, this life lesson tells me two things. Firstly, we have to have complete trust and faith in our teams, that they know what is best and that they will do their best. The second is we need to keep the lines of communication open and make sure we clear the air whenever there is scope for misunderstanding. Trust and Communication will be the pick us up moment, as we navigate this turn in the road. The strength of the psychological safety net that an organisation can create will have a direct correlation to the strength of the team’s performance. Remove the fear and trust the team to find their mojo.
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