Roots and Wings
by Linda A. Janssen
Years ago when my children were five and nine, we were visiting a friend's house for a family barbeque. As I was ducking into the powder room, a linen wall hanging in the nearby hallway caught my eye.
At the top was an embroidered oak tree, with thick branches of all sizes; strong roots grew deeply below the ground. Several birds in vibrant shades of blue and red sat perched in the upper branches. A particularly glorious yellow bird was caught in mid-flight, its open wings spanning the air as it glided away from the tree.
But what stopped me in my tracks was the embroidered poem beneath the tree:
For you, my child, I wish two things: to give you roots and give you wings
To say these words resonated with me is an understatement. The words struck an immediate chord in my heart. I experienced such a moment of clarity that I knew, truly knew, that they captured the essence of parenting.
I searched the wall covering for the author's name but only found 'Anonymous'.
'Do you happen to know who wrote that poem in your hallway?' I asked my friend later that day. 'It's really beautiful.'
'I wish I did, but I don't,' she replied, shaking her head. 'My aunt saw it somewhere and loved it so much that she immediately embroidered it for me as a baby gift when I had my first child.'
I've since done some research, with various versions attributed to Jonas Salk and Hodding Carter, among others. Another source credits a similar version as a Chinese proverb. I can't say for sure who wrote these words; I just know that they touch people deeply.
Ever since I've done my best to raise my children 'with roots and wings'. I believe we ground them by modeling in daily life the values we hold dear, instilling in them a sense of home and familial connection. This gives them the roots to feel secure in knowing who they are and from where they come.
We also do well to prepare them to find their own path in life; when we encourage them on that journey, they leave the family nest safe in the knowledge that they are loved. Knowing that we, as parents, offer a safe harbor of emotional support, gives our children the priceless gifts of confidence and freedom to make their own way in the world.
Over time I've come to believe that emotional resilience – the psychological ability to adapt to the significant challenges, misfortunes and set-backs life throws our way, while maintaining or being able to return to a positive view of oneself during and after such turmoil – is absolutely essential. This is true not only for those living overseas, but for everyone.
Between the roots and wings, we foster a sense of resilience in our children. We help them learn to weather missteps, adversity, and difficult events that may occur, moving beyond such hardships with insight, new perspectives, strength and grace.
Ten years have passed since that chance encounter with the words that would shape my parenting credo. My children are now 15 and 19, and in many ways life and parenting have become more challenging. In that time we've moved – successfully – twice. Both moves were opportunities that presented themselves somewhat unexpectedly, yet ended up being for the best. The first was within the US, and my children learned to make new friends and explore new interests.
The latter move three years ago took us even further – literally and figuratively. My husband, an adult Third Culture Kid who spent his middle and high school years growing up in Italy, was offered a position with an international organization in The Hague, Netherlands.
With good intentions, our best efforts and a few trying times along the way, we have all come to appreciate our new life in a different country and culture, and the insights and opportunities it has afforded us. In many ways it has brought us closer together; when you're adjusting to a new place, making new friends and learning new ways of doing things, you come to understand that 'home' is really the people you care about and who care about you rather than a physical structure or particular place.
I know that many of All-in-One Mum's faithful readers have young children at home. I don't pretend to know more about parenting simply because my children are older. But keeping in mind the 'roots and wings' approach, I would like to share a few observations I've made along the way. And yes, sometimes they were in hindsight, but that's alright.
- It isn't what you know, it's what you feel.
Having your children share what they've learned can make for lively and educational conversations. But also encourage them to express their feelings. You can't necessarily change how you feel, but you can control how you behave. A big part of growing up is figuring out who they are. They will grow into their truest self if they are able to identify and express their feelings, and conduct themselves accordingly.
- Teens need you more than they may admit.
Your reassuring presence gives them a safe place within which to make sense of their shifting social world, and helping avoid unwanted peer pressure and situations that could lead to trouble.
- It isn't what you do, it's what you do together.
Eating meals together regularly is important to help them feel grounded and connected; doing things together also allows you to learn more about their interests and the challenges they face in school and social life. Developing and maintaining rituals together as a family helps remind your children they're not alone but rather part of something bigger.
- It all goes by too quickly.
Cherish every moment, not simply the happy or fun ones but also the more challenging and difficult ones. They tend to pass, and they all matter.
Linda A. Janssen is a writer and expat living in The Hague, Netherlands with her husband and two teens. She blogs at www.adventuresinexpatland.com and is finishing a book on the importance of emotional resilience in expat life to be published later this year.