On Being A Parent

Being a parent is the most difficult job you can ever do. I am no expert I have only one child, and two step children. When I had my child I was aware that many people don’t think about parenting, they just repeat what their parents did to them.

My parents thought about how they had been parented (bear in mind they grew up during the world war 2). They tried to be better parents than their parents were, I tried to better them.

I started from the belief that no child asks to be born, and, whilst not everyone who becomes a parent wants to be one, they do at least have the advantage of having some knowledge of what’s going on (though I doubt that anyone fully understands just how demanding a job it is until it’s too late). So, as I had consciously chosen to become a parent, it was only right that I put my child’s needs before my own.

This doesn’t mean that I didn’t take care of myself, but that I did so in ways that I hoped would be helpful to her. I was very lucky to do a ParentLink course (before it got muddied by outside pressures). It reinforced some of my ideas and challenged others.

I learnt that saying “no” is sometimes the most loving and supportive thing you can say to a child. I learnt that I didn’t have to be a perfect parent, just a “good enough” one. I learnt that I didn’t have to know everything, or be right all the time, I just had to be honest (congruent).

I already knew that the most important thing for my child was for her to know that she was loved. I also knew that a certain amount of structure in her life was important to give her a sense of security. But I learnt to think about what I wanted her to learn from me (through my behaviour, as well as what I thought I was teaching her), and what would be the best way of helping her understand.

I already knew that many parents have little understanding of their child’s age and how this impacts on both their behaviour and what they are capable of learning. It was a steep learning curve for me, to work out just what was appropriate to expect from her. I saw mothers shouting at their children for being to young to understand what was expected from them. I had to stop myself from intervening.

I also saw mothers who had handed over all control to children too young for that level of decision making. I found that scary, I wanted my child to know something of the freedom of childhood. I wanted to allow her to be a child, and to see that I valued her play at least as much as I valued her work. I wanted to give her the time to grow up at her own pace.

I also realised that I had to provide her with a role model. There are so few positive role models, especially for girls, that I had to show her that she didn’t have to conform to anyone’s stereotype, she could be herself.

I struggled with all these things. I made lots of mistakes. But I tried.

I love my daughter very much and I am immensely proud of her. Every now and then I apologise to her for the mistakes I made, for the fact that I was also trying not to succumb to depression all the way through her childhood. And I am so grateful for all the fun we had together, and for the joy she still brings me.

And I wish I could have done more of these things with my stepchildren. But things don’t always (ever?) turn out the way you want, let alone expect, them to. I will have to live with the feeling I have let them down.

And I remind myself that very few people have a wonderful childhood. Most of us wish things could have been different. But the past is gone, and, whilst it’s shadow may still hang over us, all we can do is make the best we can of today – and make sure our children know we love them.

The Future…

How do you see the future? Is it more of the same dreadful, uncaring nonsense? Further and greater austerity, because we have to? Why do we have to? What are these cut backs supposed to achieve? What beliefs are they based on? None that I adhere to.

Before we assume that there is a real reason for the impoverishment of the already poor, we need to ask if the actions being undertaken by various governments will actually achieve what the politicians claim they will. And the answer is… NO, they don’t. The evidence already tells us that the espoused goals of our government are not being attained through their policies.

As that is the case, we then have to ask ourselves, why is that? Is it because the policies are ill thought out, that incompetence and stupidity stop them from being effective? Or, could it be that the current Conservative/Liberal Democrat alliance actually have a different agenda from the one they publicly assert? Are they aiming for something other than that which the media tell us?

These are frightening questions, ones that very few of us want to engage with. Either answer is horrifying to contemplate. We’re either being governed by an bunch of complete incompetents or, duplicitous bastards… It’s hard to know which is worse. I suspect the truth is that the answer is far more chaotic: there are some who are stupid; some who are liars; some who are well meaning; some who are principled; and, between them they continue to make bad decision after bad decision on our behalf.

You see, to me, the vast majority of politicians (and a large proportion of the general population) are missing the point. No longer should the government be there to govern us, it should be there to serve us. I believe that the wrong things are seen as important by people in government.

Can I ask, what is important to you? When you wake up in the morning what would you be devastated to be without? What makes you smile during the day? What gives your life meaning? I know for some people their answer will be their job, but I’m pretty sure they are in a small minority. For the majority, I think, the answer will be “other people” (I include the four legged friends in the category people).

When you, or a member of your close circle are ill, do you want to spend time weighing up which hospital is best? Or do you want to just go to the nearest one and be confident that the people working there will do the very best they can to heal you?

When your child is ready to start school do you want to spend time going around different schools, checking out prospectuses, even moving house, so that they get a good education? Or do you want them to go to the school down the road and be confident that the teachers will do the best they can to provide your child with knowledge and skills that will help them through life?

My future, the one I hope comes to fruition is one where your local school, your local hospital, your local everything, is the very best it can be. Where people come first and money gets back into it’s role of being a means of exchange. Where the jobs we do have a direct connection with feelings of self worth. Where creativity is as valuable as any other skill. Where being a caring, generous human being, makes you a role model.

Do you see where I’m coming from? I can’t pretend it will be an easy life, but I can hope it will be a future full of love and laughter, work and care, community and negotiation. Are we strong enough to make this future? I think so, if we join together and refuse to be distracted by the slight of hand merchants, who are still trying to sell us snake oil, our current government.

What is Home?

On a personal level we all think we know what home is. But home means many things, and for some people it is not a happy place. I believe that home should be a safe place where you can be totally at ease and comfortable.

There is an obvious flaw in this belief. Home is often a place you share with other people, and no one can can always get on with their house mates (family, or otherwise). So, however lovely the people you share your home with are, there will be moments of tension.

But some people live in a state of almost constant tension because of their house mates. This is not a happy or healthy way to live. I, for one, think that most people should be able to have happy and healthy homes.

So, what can we do to help people whose homes are neither. Well, I suppose we could expose them to the idea of a happy and healthy home. But, if we do this, it is important to not judge or put pressure on people who may already feel bad about themselves.

This is an area I have problems with, I have a tendency to be judgemental, and I sometimes forget that my answers might work for me, but they may well not work for other people.

Before I go any further I want to talk about living alone. Living alone is not a bad thing when it is your choice, when it gives you time and space to do things that feed you emotionally, when you still have contact with friends (and strangers who may become friends).

Living alone is a form of torture when it is a choice made from fear or the belief that you are unlovable. No one is unlovable, it is a matter of finding the right person to love you, who you can love back. Coming home to a house that is always empty can be dreadfully lonely, or it can be a haven.

It can be a really useful learning experience to live alone. It is an opportunity to learn about ones own priorities without outside influence. It is an experience that many people would benefit from, even if they only did it briefly.

When living with other people something to bear in mind is that each person experiences their home differently. You might find your home environment happy, warm and nourishing. You cannot be sure that it is the same for your house mate/s.

One person’s delight is another person’s torture. For example: some people like to have loud music playing from the moment they wake up; others like to sit in silence as they come to (of course this could be the same person on a different day).

When someone else in your household does something that you cannot avoid being part of it can either be an inclusive experience, or, a bloody annoyance. This is a frequent experience for parents, it is normal for children to assume your inclusion without seeing a need to check in with you about it’s appropriateness or desirability. Parents can hope that over time their children will learn some sensitivity to other people’s moods and needs.

But many of us struggle with being sensitive right into our adult years, either because we have isolated ourselves as much as possible; or, because the people we have lived with have not been honest with us about their feelings (some times because they are not honest with themselves).

Living happily with other people is partly about choosing the right people to live with, and partly about developing both tolerance of, and sensitivity to, their moods and behaviours. Sensitivity to know when to approach (or not), and also, how to approach. Tolerance, to understand that their behaviour is for a reason, and that reason may have nothing to do with their current situation. And in the hope that they will be tolerant of us.

Wishing happy homes to everyone!

Responsible

I am responsible for my life, incontrovertible and undeniable. But once again, misleading. I am, as is everyone else, the product of the socialization I received when I was a child. Those early experiences and understandings have been modified and/or built on by later experiences.

I consider myself to have been very fortunate to have been in receipt of counselling for extended periods in my life. That process helped me to question some of the things I held to be true when I was younger, it helped me to evaluate my childhood coping strategies and decide whether they worked for me as an adult.

Counselling also gave me a much greater awareness of my responsibility for myself and my actions, as well as highlighting the things that are not my problems. I learned that I, and only I, am responsible for my actions. When I undertake and action I am not proud of, it is still my action, my responsibility, but if I work at understanding why I have done that thing I may firstly be able to forgive myself (to the same degree as I would forgive someone else), and secondly I might be able to work towards not repeating such an action.

As a young adult I frequently struggled with making my own decisions. I felt I should comply with parental pressure. I should do what my parents wanted, otherwise I was letting them down. It took me many years to realise that that isn’t the issue, the only person I should, at any time, worry about letting down is myself.

This does not mean other people are not important, of course they are, especially parents, but if we do not respect ourselves enough to take responsibility for our own choices and our own actions, if we do not respect ourselves enough to make our own choices and to act according to those choices, then our parents have not taught us the things they needed to.

They are not necessarily bad parents, they just didn’t teach us the level of self-respect or self-reliance we need (probably because of their own problems). The only person you can truly take care of is yourself, you can offer to look after other people, but they can reject that offer, it is their right. And if they do reject that offer it does not mean they are rejecting you. If they accept that offer, they will probably only accept it in part, and they will quite likely resent the fact that they have given you responsibility for something that is rightfully theirs.

Our culture has twisted so many things, it has told us that being responsible is boring. There is nothing boring about being responsible. Being responsible is part of being fully alive, it is part of engaging with life to the fullest possible extent. It is avoiding hiding behind other people, it is about learning how to be who you are, and liking it.

Balance, ah, balance

Gandhi said that we should be the change that we want to see. It’s a wonderful sentiment. I love Gandhi for his strength and his gentleness. But it asks a lot of a person to live up to his pronouncements. He is not offering any of us an easy life, and maybe that is part of his attraction. We know we aren’t really meant for an easy life. It makes us nervous and uncomfortable when that’s what we choose.

I’m not saying we all should have difficult lives, too many people have to struggle to survive awful situations. I’m just suggesting that maybe, as a risk taking, problem solving, species, we need a taste of risk, a grain of difficulty, to keep us feeling right with the world.

If you look at children who are brought up in risk free, sanitised homes, what do we find? Are these kids well adjusted, happy, great examples for their peers? I suspect not. We need many different forms of experience and stimulation to make us well rounded human beings. These children are deprived of some essential opportunities.

To grub around in the mud is a wonderful play time and learning experience for any small child. To meet people from different backgrounds can give huge insight and humility. To be exposed to normal human interaction, in (nearly) all it’s glories, helps us realise what is important and what is not. But we need a safe place to retreat to to analyse and absorb these lessons.

Our home should be that place. It’s very sad that it frequently is not. Too many people have children because they had sex, rather than because they thought about the risks and rewards of parenthood. Too many people have children because… they want to… with no thought of the responsibilities of parenthood. Too many people repeat what their parents did with no thought of the effect it had on them and their siblings.

No child asks to be born. If you did not choose to be a parent, you need to think about why you allowed yourself to become one. If you have chosen to be a parent you need to think about why. To my mind it is a privilege and a responsibility to be a parent, and once you have become one I think you should put your child’s needs first.

That’s a lot more difficult and complicated than it sounds. Your children will not be learning what you think you are teaching them. They will be learning something you do rather than what you say, so it’s important to be a role model as well as a parent. It’s important to think about just what your behaviour toward your children is really teaching them.

Privileged children learn that many things can be bought, but they struggle to learn the real value of anything. Parents who spend huge amounts of money on gifts for their children without spending time with them are teaching their children a variety of things, firstly that they think money is more important than spending time with people, that spending time making money is more important than relationships… do you see what I’m driving at?

It is our responsibility to give our children what they need, not what they want, not even what we think they want. What they need is our unconditional love, but NOT our unconditional indulgence. They need to be respected as individual human beings, but they also need to learn that we deserve some of that respect as well. It’s all about balance.

Life is all about balance, give and take, win and lose, being centred and happy with who we are without being self-satisfied and self-serving.

Ah, balance.