He Who Stands On Tiptoe Doesn’t Stand Firm. -Lao Tzu-
I remember the first time I read that quote and it shook me to my core. It flooded me with a memory of parenting my son during his older adolescent years. Actually, to be more exact, it brought me to a memory of a fight we were having in the middle of a time when I was attempting to learn, ever so ungraciously and without any poise, how to let-go. I had always imagined that letting go would resemble the process of releasing a pure white radiant dove into the air, watching it gleefully take flight as I rejoiced with expectant pride. It did not go that way. Nope. All I experienced was moments of release and clawing for it back, release while being clawed back, repeat, repeat, repeat. It was neither gleeful or prideful. It was messy. And along with that mess was a lot of fear, and fear tends to slowly but surely rise me up onto my tiptoes, creating an unsteadiness that causes me to sway with expectation of impending threat or disaster.
Perhaps you have felt that way? Always expecting the very next blow up or melt down or temper tantrum or crisis. Living in a perpetual state of “ready”. Walking on tiptoes. At times being that high up can cause you to feel bigger, higher than the problem, ready to strike and jump. Maybe from a helpful assistive position, able to squash any blow-ups before they get too out of hand. From up there it seems you can assert power over them. Other times it places you in a position poised to take off, run away, flee. Whatever the reason, where it does not place you is squarely on your feet. Calm and centered, able to withstand the mighty winds that may start blowing. In a word: regulated.
I lived many of my parenting years believing that I needed to be constantly focused on “self-regulating”. Engaged in hobbies, daily journaling, monthly night-outs, regular spiritual connection, and the always elusive, gender stereotyped, over-hyped bubble bath. It was never explained to me that all of those were just internalized or external forms of co-regulation. I did not need to rely on “just myself” to regulate. In fact, doing so would only further isolate me from the sources of the greatest support and strength to regulate. I needed so much more co-regulation when I was under stress from those precarious tiptoe inducing times. After all, I was not the only one sky-high on my tiptoes during that time, I had an adolescent doing the same thing and he needed co-regulating from me. Regulation is a daily need. Actually, let me clarify: co-regulation is a daily need. For everyone. Hearing, feeling, and sensing the rhythm of our body in synchronicity with someone else is something we are wired to crave daily. We come into the world this way. To hear the voice of another human and hear their reflection back to us as we speak, a simple hug, the internalized memory of someone showing they cared about us, and we mattered or that they had the confidence in us to tackle something difficult, all keep us an inch or two closer to the ground planted more firmly. More firmly means able to withstand the winds that can and will blow from everyday challenges, and able to co-regulate the other beings in our lives.
As parents we must be intentional about our daily co-regulation. We need to put as much effort into getting that cool drink of water, calming piece of bubble gum, firm hug, and upbeat music on our playlist as we do for our kids. We can seek out conversations with others that comfort, uplift, connect, and relax. We can plug into that internal deep place where we store the memories of important people who have nurtured, encouraged, and emotionally fed us. All of this we must do daily so that we can remain firmly grounded and stable for the expected moments of chaos, tantrums, and developmental struggles like adolescent growing up and dove-releasing. And when that is all said and done, we must go back and refill. Otherwise, we feel disconnect, anxiety, fear, and the teeter-totter that comes with a life lived on tiptoes.
This last year has been full of tiptoe moments, for us and for our children. We can support, connect, and resource each other, and in return be the co-regulating forces for our children we intend to be. So we can stand firm, as a family.