Wildly Permissive + Wildly Demanding

As a parent, I can oscillate between being wildly permissive and wildly demanding.

I have teenagers and they continually make me immensely proud and full of love. And they also frustrate me beyond belief.

At the end of the day, I’m trying to raise a human being who is capable of sustaining themselves out there in the world, and my job is to help them be the best person they can be. So there is a lot of unconditional love coupled with the tough love of giving them skills.

I once heard the job of parenting teenagers compared to the safety bar on a rollercoaster. What’s the first thing you do when you climb in a rollercoaster and the attendant moves that little bar down across your lap? You pull on it. You test it. You make sure it will HOLD you when you are going around all the twists and turns. We parents are the safety bars, keeping them safe on the rollercoaster of life. We want them to have fun and laugh and play, but we have to give them boundaries. Teenagers pulling on the restraints…they are just trying to make sure that we will be there for them, and we’re not going to let them fall.

My permissive nature feels like trying to be light and easy with them and doing fun things that they enjoy. It can feel like just spending time with them, or it can feel like letting them go a little bit, or it can feel like spoiling them.

My son is a big mountain biker and loves to socialize, so I let him go ride around our little town regularly on his own, even though I worry about him. My daughter is doing independent study this year at home, and sometimes that feels wildly permissive because of the lack of structure, but she is also able to really explore life, art, music, and take care of our new puppy Finn while attending to her other schoolwork. My kids love ice cream (and I love it too), so we enjoy it on a regular basis on trips to the beach or just turning on a movie and snuggling in. I could go on. I give into them a lot, and we have tons of adventures and wonderful times together.

They also love staying up late and watching tons of videos or playing games on their phones. They love sugar and that can feel like too much. They hate putting things away, and they love the independence of their messy rooms.

If I let them do whatever they want to do, that level of permissiveness can feel uncontrolled, like giving into their desires when I KNOW it’s not the best thing for them.

So I try to avoid uncontrollable permission and I try to stop at being wildly permissive.

The word “wild” has this animal feel to it, an intuitive nature. And I think that’s what I’m doing. Feeling intuitively along the path, the best I can, to see where I can let in some freedom and expansion and where there still needs to be structure and integrity.

They have to be allowed the freedom to play, to make mistakes, to find their own way.

But then, if there is too much freedom, then they can start to lose their resiliency to meet life as they need to. They can start to lose their ability to function in the world. As an example, I worry about my daughter’s ability to function in social situations due to her lack of being forced into these situations at school. As an independent studier, she has a lack of structure that we’re working on. My son struggles with being organized for schoolwork, and if left to his own devices, he can easily miss things if he’s not focused.

So I have to put in a framework for them to build those skills. This is where the demanding part of my parenting steps in.

Part of my framework is having them help out around the house and to contribute to our household. And even though I’m focused on loving them unconditionally and giving them lots of freedom, when they don’t pull their weight around the house or do something that is expected, I tend to lose it.

I will slowly feel that resentment build, that feeling that I’m doing all the work while they are staring at screens, and then something will happen that will pitch me over the edge. Usually, it’s something like having to ask 5 or 6 times for the same small task to get done. I’ll blow up at them, because they’ve pushed the boundaries too far. I may also have my own issues of exhaustion, stress, or general humanness going on.

I can get demanding. I lay down the law. I establish the rules. I restate my expectations. Sometimes I might swear or yell. Yep, it’s true. This mama yells from time to time.

When I lose it, I tip into this place of reaction that may not be entirely productive. I need to remember to breathe, to come back to the middle road, to calmly help my children back into structure land.

I’m not always calm, for sure. But I do think that I’ve cultivated a skill to LISTEN to them, to try to help them feel safe so they can get stronger, and to challenge them and push them when they need that push. It is important to be firm, stable, strong. Like that bar on the rollercoaster. The boundary that they can see and trust.

Last week I found myself explaining why I want them to clean their rooms and contribute to the household. I compared our relationship to that of a landlord and tenant, telling them that this will be the next step in their journey toward adulthood. They won’t own their house right away (my daughter suggested that she might win the lottery, lol). Instead they will rent a room or a studio or something. And they will be entrusted to care for this space. They can be messy within that space to a certain extent, but the landlord has the right to ask that her property be cared for with respect and responsibility or they’ll be kicked out.

I’m trying to get them ready for these realities.

I’m trying to progressively load them up at a level they can handle so they will be prepared to handle the demands of adulthood when they get there.

It’s a bounce back and forth between play and structure, challenge and support, permissiveness and demand. Trying to find the balance. Continually. It’s never completely balanced. But we all try.

What does all of this have to do with yoga?

Well, I have to be the demanding parent of my yoga practice, AND I get to be wildly permissive too.

Permission is about freedom. It’s an exploration and a sense of play. If you’ve followed the rules for a long long time, it is a RELIEF to give yourself permission.

When you break the rules, it’s a bit exciting. There is a rising up to meet the adventure. I  now routinely give myself permission to move in ways that feel productive and playful and non-dogmatic. It is nice to inquire into how things feel. I’m like a teenager trying things out for the first time, trying to decide how I feel about them. To throw rules out and to feel what my body already knows. I’m enjoying the ride of the rollercoaster.

But I’m also making sure that safety bar is going to hold me. I need to know that I’m safe.

So as much as I need freedom and play, I also need resiliency and strength. I want to have a body that works well so that I can live well and function in the world.

I know that my body wants to go into the permissive lands of passive stretching. Yoga emphasizes this a lot (historically, anyway), and as much as I’ve tried to contain energy through precise alignment over the years, some of that wasn’t working anymore and I had to make a change. I began to feel that this type of permission was uncontrolled, and I was striving toward things that may not truly serve my body in the end.

When I’ve gone past these boundaries, my body yells at me through pain and clicking in the joints. It is urging me to pay attention, to do something different, to wake up already and do the responsible thing. To clean the pathways, to sweep up the cobwebs, to organize. Not for the sake of organization and purity, but for the sake of LIVING well.

I have to be the demanding parent of my own yoga practice, to do the things I know are good for me.

So there is discipline. Training. Building up progressively so the body is ready. I need to expand my capabilities so that I can have fun with the body I have and so it can support me in all of my adventures.

In my yoga and movement practice these days, I am now REALLY preparing my body well for the future. I am trying to be a good tenant in the physical space I’ve been given for this ride.

Because I want to be strong and mobile. To be able to get up and down off the ground with ease, to climb mountains, to run and jump, to dance, to explore, to function well.

Isn’t that what we all want for our children and for ourselves too? To be strong and free, self-sufficient and playful. These are not opposite qualities, they are at play together, bouncing back and forth.

So in yoga, we can use that same approach of playfulness and strength intermingled so it feels like one thing. A union.

Here’s a short video of the final section of a typical yoga practice for me these days. I’ve just finished lots of weight work, some rolling around on Yoga Tune Up Balls, and some stretchy goodness. Just click on the video to watch it.


I added blocks under my feet for Bridge Lifts to add an extra challenge for the hamstrings (did you know that many yogis have weak hamstrings?? I’m working on mind).

Pressing up into Urdhva Dhanurasana is tougher with feet on the blocks (just a warning), as I have to do a bit more work to lift up from the shoulders and back. But once I’m up, I find a tremendous sense of freedom in my upper back and chest.

This is strength work. Discipline.

But it’s also play. Backbends for me are playtime, and a reward for all the strength work that came before. That’s how my body experiences it anyway.

As a counterpose, I moved into Dead Bug with alternating leg/arm lowers. This is really tricky for the brain!!! Watch how my same arm wants to follow my leg, haha!! I really have to watch that one!

This is great core work after the backbend. More discipline, this time, getting my brain stronger along with the core.

I finished with some lovely stretchy goodness in the form of Happy Baby and then a Reclined Gomukasana. These classically yummy poses are so relaxing for me as I drift toward Savasana and Rest, and there is a release in the body and mind after the full effort of the rest of practice.

Strength and play feel like one. A union.

Got questions or thoughts? Write me back and ask them or tell me about them. I love hearing your perspective

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