Imagine a beautiful bridge. The most beautiful bridge you can think of.
For some of you that might be a little humpback bridge in a Japanese garden over a lily pond with wild orchids growing up the side, and for others that might be a grand piece of engineering, like Clifton Suspension Bridge; almost impossible, yet stable and impressive.
Imagine this bridge is co-owned by you and your child. You own one half and they own the other. In order to cross freely and safely at all times, both of you need to keep your side of the bridge in tact.
When each child is very small you can model how you keep your side clear and show them how to look after their side. You can help them to avoid weeds setting in and rubbish accumulating and to avoid rust taking hold and small cracks causing larger ones and making it unsafe to cross.
As they grow older you can begin to draw
backwards and trust them to start to tend their half, inch by inch until they are fully tending their own side of the relationship. And if you have kept your side clean and clear, free of rot and rust and decay then one day, you’ll be able to say that, no matter what your differences with your child, no matter what choices your children have made, what alarming, embarrassing or disappointing things they (or you!) might have done, it’s always safe to cross.
No parent would want to disconnect with their child or intentionally cause obstruction in the relationship. But some of the little weeds on the bridge can be invisible before they get to that size where they cause damage. Let's look at some ways we can sabotage the bridge without meaning to.....
. In moments of frustration we can label or throw out harsh words. They may well feel justified in the moment: weeds are unkind words and actions.
. Sometimes they can have experiences which cause them to question our acceptance. For example when we make judgments before empathising. Again, they may feel justified. But the heart registers that it's not safe to cross. This represents Rubbish on the bridge which obstructs each other from crossing.
. Rust and rot are unresolved issues that cause corrosion
. Cracks are the gaps of disconnection which, if untended, can become larger fractures that threaten the whole structure
The beauty of good relationships is that we can go back and let them know that we've made a mess and say that we're sorry, we overlooked how hard that was, we threw away words in the heat of the moment and are sorry for the hurt they caused. It may mean listening to their issue with fresh empathy. All this models for them that there is resolution after pain and lets them know that you're not perfect and you're not too proud to admit that you get it wrong from time to time and that you're always ready to re-build bridges.