Packing the Parachute
By Cyndi Wilkins
(6 min read)
The other day, I was listening to an enormously powerful segment of Jada Pinkett-Smith’s ‘Red Table Talk’ (No, this is not what inspired the name of my blog…Think pies…lol!). Its focus was the mindset of hatred and those who engage in violent acts against humanity.
This is such an important discussion; it needed my full attention in all seriousness. Sorry, no jokes in this one. This is an existential crisis we all need to be paying closer attention to.
We know the ones who hate are in terrible pain and/or fear, but we have all had those experiences of pain, fear, and trauma at one time or another in our lives and not all of us turn to violence as a means of expressing it.
Two people can experience the same degree of trauma but react to it very differently. What exactly is it that prompts one soul to turn to violence and do harm to others or oneself, and another chooses a path of service to humanity to help others in a similar situation? The answer…It matters who shows up in your life during your most extreme experiences of that pain and trauma.
It reminded me of the commencement speech delivered by the Superintendent of schools at my daughter’s high school graduation entitled, ‘The Parachute’…Or as I like to refer to it, the ‘Parentchute.’ In his speech, he told the true-life story of Charles Plumb, who was a US Navy jet pilot in Vietnam.
When his plane went down after being hit by a surface-to-air missile, Plumb ejected and was captured by the Vietnamese. He spent the next six years of his life in a communist prison. He managed to survive the ordeal and return home to his wife and now speaks all over the world about the lessons he learned from that experience.
One day, Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant when a man approached them. He recognized Plumb as the pilot who had been shot down in Vietnam. “It must have worked,” he said. “You survived.” When Plumb asked the man what he meant by that, the man replied, “I packed your parachute.”
He was there at a crucial time in Plumb’s life, and did his job well. Now, I am using this story metaphorically of course, but had this man not packed that chute well, Plumb surely would have plummeted to the earth and died upon impact.
When it comes to our impressionable children, there are many folds within the origami of their young lives. We need to pack those chutes well to give them the best chance to survive and survive ‘well.’ Independent of us…their ‘parent-chutes.’
Teachers, coaches, clergy, mentors, all have a hand in packing those chutes, but parents need to be at the head of the assembly line making sure our children feel loved, safe, and supported from the moment they enter our lives. Those are the first critical folds in that parachute.
The world is a busy place, and we all get distracted by the chaos from time to time…The greatest toll taken has been on our work/life balance as most households these days require two incomes just to get by. And the cost of living is going nowhere but up. We work harder and harder to make sure our income goes up with it, all while raising our families. That leaves us with precious little time for ourselves let alone our kids.
Not an easy task I know but being available for our children is an absolute must. Otherwise, their fragile little psyches begin to compartmentalize feelings of inadequacy, of being unimportant or invisible to their parents…Like their lives do not matter to them. While feeling neglected or ‘over-parented’ is painful enough… (think ‘hover-mother’) the most profound impact comes at the hands of physical and/or emotional abuse.
While they may suffer in silence, those feelings fester over time and can very easily take on the energies of grief, pain, self-loathing, and rage in their inner world. Interesting to note here that males tend to lash outward when expressing such energies while females tend to turn inward towards ‘self-harm.’ Those are the ‘red flags’ to be nipped in the bud and not ignored.
When those energies are unchecked for decades, they begin to bubble to the surface and surge with unexpected feelings of rage when ‘triggered’ to expel the tension that has been building in the subconscious for so long.
IMHO, it is this ‘arrested development’ of the emotional body that has led to all the violence we see in the world – past, and present. But hopefully, if we all do our jobs well as parents going forward, (that may even mean re-parenting ourselves) it will not be our future.
To add insult to injury, having the world wide web at their fingertips via the internet has made it easy for the ‘darker’ social media sites to target our children for ‘radicalization’ and human trafficking.
Drugs are easier to obtain online than it is to book an Uber. Now that is scary because the drugs coming through these channels are laced with Fentanyl, an enormously powerful, addictive drug that can kill in miniscule doses. And our children are their ‘soft targets.’
That is why it is so important for parents to monitor closely what their children are absorbing on the internet. They are very impressionable and easily led astray, especially if they harbor feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and pain. Predators are professionals at recognizing and exploiting this kind of energy.
Inspired by the American drama series, Blue Bloods, my wife and I resurrected the Sunday ‘family dinner’ with my sister-in-law and her children as a means of having our fingers on the pulse of what is going on with our kids. The weekly ‘check-ins’ give them an opportunity to discharge whatever internal tensions they may be feeling in a supportive environment surrounded by family.
Thankfully, the discussions tend to be happy and healthy. But there have been those moments where we, as parents, recognized incredibly significant ‘red flags’ that required immediate attention. Those interventions were the ‘shapeshifters’ for healthier outcomes. A lack of awareness in these pivotal moments could very easily lead to tragic consequences.
It does not help when everything around us reflects tragedy. Be it Pandemics, wars, gang/gun violence, economic downturns, cultural crisis, the breaking down of the ecosystem, we adults struggle to maintain our own connection to humanity under such enormous psychological stress. Imagine what an incredibly helpless feeling that is for our children.
Like countless others, my daughter slid into deepening depression and anxiety during the Covid lockdowns. She was just beginning to emerge from her shell after spending years struggling to make those social connections when the world shut down.
It has always been a challenge for her to reach out for fear of rejection. Being extraordinarily sensitive and a bit ‘quirky’ in nature, she was not too adept at recognizing social cues, and was often feeling left behind when friends would gather and leave her alone and uninvited. Girls can be especially brutal. Any of us who were pre-teen girls knows exactly what I mean.
We always encourage her to swim in warmer waters, (a little piece of advice I have adopted for myself lately) and she eventually reconnected with a group of kids she knew while attending Charter School. They were other quirky peeps just like her, having been through similar challenges. They understand and support each other in their differences.
They do not judge people by the color of their skin, or hair, or whether they are gay, straight, or somewhere in between. They give each other the space to be who they are without judgment. I wish I had met a group of friends like that when I was in junior high and high school. It would have been nice to not have to hide for so long for fear of ridicule.
Not only are they incredibly compassionate young people, but they are also brilliant and extraordinarily talented. (Mom brag). They are scholars, artists, and musicians; all involved in the theater. The whole lot of them graduated with high honors and GPAs of 4.3 and above.
These are the souls I pray will one day be running the show. Our children are our greatest natural resource, and we owe it to them to exemplify the best of humanity. That means being at our best, most compassionate selves so the concept of judgment, war, and hatred become a behavior of the past.
Encourage your children to speak up for themselves, and to speak up for others who may feel marginalized as well. Let them be bold and do not hush their spirits. If it makes them happy, then give them the space to be who they are without judgment. Your children’s happiness does not require your approval. That is a bitter pill to swallow for a parent, but it is true.
If you do this for them when they are young, they will grow into strong, healthy, and loving adults unafraid of what the world throws in their direction. If they fear that speaking out or being ‘different’ will cause others to hate them, just tell them to relax that little voice in their heads. Because the people that really matter in your life are the ones who love you just the way you are.
As a side note…At her graduation dinner later that evening, my daughter received a standing ovation when she entered the restaurant filled with our family and friends. The joy on her face was so palpable I could feel my heart swell in my chest. A precious ‘mom moment’ made even more special by her words…” Thanks for being my parachute!”
All Things Wellness, LLC
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