I’ve never gone surfing (nor do I plan to), but from what I know- I think it just might be the best analogy for parenting. While we’re helpless when it comes to the rhythm and timing of the waves of life, the most valuable lesson we can teach our children is how to surf.
A common misnomer is that as parents- we try and control the ocean waves and steer our way to a nice, calm pool. We want to either eliminate these waves, or step in to take the waves for our kids. But this is not possible. Looking at the ocean, the waves come and go. Tall, challenging waves followed by calm, beautiful water. All coming from the vast, endless sea that is so much bigger than any human could ever control.
Rather than trying to accomplish the impossible task of controlling the ocean, the true goal of parenting should be to prepare them for the inevitable ups and downs of life. Guiding them to become adept at riding the waves is so much more valuable than trying to clear the way.
In the early ‘surf lessons’ (so to speak), they will fall often. They will lose their balance, kick and scream, tantrum and emotions will run high. Consider treating these situations with a growth mindset. With this alternative mindset, one can try to shift from viewing these as frustrations -to- opportunities to teach or lean into these challenges. Rather than getting mad at the student for struggling, realize that every fall is an opportunity to course correct, improve and eventually get steady on the board. You are the teacher, and you’ve been given the honor to teach them to navigate the waves of life.
In Buddhism, there is the notion of ‘patient acceptance’. Easier said than done, but I believe this attitude is absolutely essential in teaching your children to surf. There is no path other than your child getting frustrated and expressing their emotions along the journey. But I would urge against fighting it, the ocean is too prevalent and too vast. There is no path to surfing life without patient acceptance. The sooner one can accept this to be the case, the sooner one can then properly focus on what really matters- the surfboard, technique and those oncoming waves.
The good news is that with the right focus and acceptance, one day your child will catch their first wave. And with consistency and practice- they will get more steady on the board and one day learn to ride the waves on their own. But even when they reach this point, the up and down pattern of the waves does not change in the slightest bit. There will be highs and lows coming at them with no rhyme or reason.
But if they can be present and live in the moment, this will enable them to enjoy and relish the peaks and try to ride these waves as long as they can. To savor them, and place them in a jar to treasure as long as they live.
As for the moments of the day when they fall off the board and get saltwater in their eyes, don’t lose sight of the fact that there will be moments like these each and every day. But if they can get back on the board with a strong foundation and ride the next wave- they’re one paddle closer to move on from the current pain, and experience the thrill of the next oncoming wave.
And may the goal of every parent be to get to the day where you sit on your beach chair, watch your child paddle out, stand steady on the board and ride a nice, long wave. But that’s not all. The true beauty comes not from the pride of their surfing ability, but from when they get knocked down by a wave, shake it off and get back on the board.. all on their own.