An inspired friend made me a sweet potato cake when I went into labor with my fourth child. She delivered it by car and walked into the kitchen to place it on the kitchen counter while I was upstairs with my husband and midwife. I had no idea.
Minutes after my daughter was born, my husband Kevin asked me if I wanted a piece of Helen’s cake. Famished, he served me a huge slice and then another and another. It was exquisitely, perfectly delicious, the exact food I needed at that exact moment.
When I asked Helen for the recipe, she said she made it up. I couldn’t believe it. No one can make a cake like that without a recipe.
“Cake is like soup,” she said, “once you know the base, you can improvise like crazy.”
What does this have to do with being a parent?
Well, baking a cake is like building a family. Once you know the base ingredients, you can improvise like crazy.
What do you think is the #1 reason families fail? Is it money, jobs, divorce, conflict, stress, discontent, poverty, wealth?
The main reason families fail is Communication.
The parent-child relationship is at its best when parents have a handle on communication.
Communication is the base ingredient for successful families because communication is love.
Once you get the concept of how to talk and listen to each other down, parenting is more fun. Like Helen, you have the confidence to experiment, to think outside the box, to do it your way. You begin to trust yourself, knowing that a failed cake is simply useful information for your next effort. Why buy cake mix when you can make your own?
Communication is working together.
Expressions of pain, love, confusion and sadness surface when we communicate. And only when we take the time to listen and understand do we reach those hidden parts of who we are. And there’s strength in that. It’s how we bond as a family. Making visible the invisible.
But someone must take the lead, set the standard, and lead the troops into unknown territory. And that’s you. The parent.
Cake mix tells us to add two eggs and some water. There’s no risk. It’s easier to be told what to do. There’s no flail. But when it comes to the parent-child relationship, I think we can all agree that there will always be a certain amount of flailing going on.
Communication is risky.
It means being unsure of the outcome. Revealing yourself. Being vulnerable. Allowing failure. Embracing the flail.
Our effort to not fail as parents is what causes our failure. There is no one way to parent. It’s messy and emotional and freaking hard. No matter how old you are or what end of the parent-child spectrum you are on, it’s a relationship that never goes away.
Practicing the sloppy art of messy communication is not just for parents of small children or the parents of teens. It’s for the parent of adults and it’s for the adult children of adult aging parents.
How do you go about it when you’ve never had to? How do you swim when you’ve never swam before? Commit to communication and then innovate. Put on a bathing suit and paddle in shallow water.
The rest, the content of the communication, is where we grow. Helen used sweet potatoes, nutmeg, cardamom, raisins, cream cheese, milk and eggs. She experimented, she played, she improvised. Not just with my cake but with all the cakes she makes.
There is no cookie cutter, out-of-the-box family list of ingredients you need to follow to be a successful family. All you need is commitment to communication. Without it, what you’re trying to create will not happen.
So jump in.
Say, “let’s do this.”
And then do.
Here’s the thing, there are no mistakes, if you have the right base ingredients.