January 3, 2011   Inheritance

Becoming the Parents We Want to Be

By Martha Hartney, J.D.

Estate Planning is an Initiation in Parenting





You are the bows from which your children as living ar­rows are sent forth. The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
 ~Kahlil Gibran 
 
Parenting is a Spiritual Discipline
What being a mother of two sons brings to my legal work is certainty that parenting is a spiritual journey, as much as it is a care giving role, and a never-ending set of tasks. Parenting consciously is a discipline requiring study, diligence, surrender, humility, gentility, and most definitely, grace under pressure. Parenting refines us like a lump of coal turned to diamond—if we let it.
 
Parenting brings up our old wounds, nudges our still-sleeping places because children, by their very nature, are oblivious to the baggage we may be carrying around. Kids’ objective is to be unapologetically alive and they remind us, sometimes pain­fully, of how we once were young and vibrant.
 
Parents’ objective is to raise children to be civilized human beings capable of taking care of themselves and contributing to society. The natural tension between our children’s goal (to be alive) and our goal (to civilize them) requires us to grow in skill and mastery of ourselves and awareness of how our unhealed wounds affect our ability to show up as parents. When parent­ing is approached with the mindset of self-mastery, we strive to become more than we ever thought we could be—and to raise self-disciplined and creative children.
 
Estate Planning is a Moment Marking Growth in Awareness
As I began my practice, and focused my work on parents, I noticed some parents were being dragged into the planning by their spouse. Some parents, once there, resisted revealing the facts about their lives that would affect their plan. One husband refused to disclose any financial information at all, to his wife’s dismay. “He doesn’t want to open the kimono,” she said, “to anyone. He won’t even talk to a financial planner.”
 
Parents who engage my services have reached a milestone: They are willing to embrace their mortality. They’re no lon­ger willing to remain in the dark about what happens to their families when something happens to them. They’re ready to sift through their life, their work, their failures and successes. They’re ready to accept responsibility for their family’s well being not just while they’re alive, but when they’re gone too. They’re stepping forward to be initiated into some of the deep­est, darkest parts of our lives—our relationship with money, our beliefs about death, and our trust in our loved ones.
 
For some, the process of disclosing our lives to an outside advi­sor is frightening; in the same way as filling out a Living Will form just before a surgery. As attorneys, we can be aware of how daunting this is—and we can help parents embrace to the task by gently asking about their fears and concerns, listening closely, and reflecting back our acceptance of their feelings of fear and concern.
 
Allowing our clients to talk about their fears, we sit with them and bear witness to the struggling. A physician friend of mine once said, “Don’t just do something, sit there.” In this way, we have the opportunity to draw parents deeper into this journey by asking, either overtly or energetically, “Are you ready for the next level of your parenting commitment? Are you ready to accept your mortality?”
 
Facing the specter of death demands that we sit in our fear and let it make us uncomfortable until it’s power over us lifts. Then we will be ready to look more closely at our own lives, at what we are sending out into the future, if we are doing our best to prepare our children, if we are passing on our hard-won values, if we are ensuring that our loved ones get the best start in life whether we are there or not.

As our clients’ guides, we can honor this initiation and lead them through it. We have the opportunity to help the Archer take his mark on the infinite and encourage the bow to bend ever more gladly. And so we, too, make our mark upon the future.
 
About the Author 
Martha’s estate planning practice serves families with children and non-traditional families because she is committed to helping moms and dads bring their greatest gifts into parenting fearlessly and with joy. She knows legal planning for parents is part of the parent­ing journey and a primary responsibility to ensure that the children entrusted to us are cared for the way we want them to be should the unthinkable happen. Martha graduated from the University of Denver while being a full time mother of two sons. She focused her studies on family, juvenile, and estate law and served in the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office; Larimer County Domestic Courts; and the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center. Martha has served as a pro bono guardian ad litem representing abused and delinquent children. After law school, she was certified as a Child & Family Investigator through the Colo­rado Bar Association. She has also supported new mothers as a La Leche League Leader and been an advocate of attachment parenting and natural parenting. 
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