As the world evolves, so humanity remains essentially emotionally the same. One part angel, one part devil, all of us suffering from the influences of religion, society and our parents. All of it crystallized in sharp relief within the hellish prison of childhood. I always said I’d never forget…and yet now I have children, I find myself getting annoyed because their drama doesn’t meet my criteria for what merits hysterical crying and slammed doors.
I swore I’d never belittle their problems.
I swore I’d meet their angst with compassion and understanding.
I swore that our relationship wouldn’t suffer the same kind of breakdown that mine did with my parents.
But here I am. Despising myself for being angry and impatient… it’s the beginning. Before I forget then, I commit to paper my top five worst experiences of growing up, so that I remember that what my parents called a ‘Storm in a Teacup’ …was at the time, life’s worst tragedy.
1. At aged 5: Being punished for cutting holes in the curtains by my mum cutting up my favourite pastel notebook. The thing was that I thought holes in the curtains would look beautiful (in my head it was some kind of doily effect). My devastated reaction afterwards had more to do with thinking they would be pleased at my artistic endeavours, not to do with the notebook.
My learning: The huge reaction of your child to something minor will no doubt have another cause than the obvious one.
2. At aged 10: Told off for not smiling in photographs. But I felt ugly; with scars on my face and train tracks on my teeth (long before the days of the clear braces touted by celebrities nowadays).
‘Why are you always so godammned miserable?’ Err. take a guess, low self-esteem? self-conscious about my body? Totally misunderstood by parents?
My learning: There’s a lot children have to be unhappy about as we try to make them fit into a counter-intuitive world built by grown ups, full of pressures to aspire to impossibly perfect role models.
3. At age 11: Stealing from my dad’s wallet, lying about it & being found out. Oh, it was horrible. Sure I brought it on myself, with no idea of why. I was severely punished for it (in those days we were spanked). That was also humiliating. And the guilt was horrendous (stealing was – as I was told – one of the worst sins).
But when I was 25 and chatting to my mother, we recalled those days that I used to be a stealer and she said –
“Well, we naturally assumed it was because your father and I were fighting all the time and we were going through a horrific divorce. You were unhappy.’
My learning: If you do have some kind of understanding why your kid is misbehaving, let him (or her) know closer to the time instead of letting them lug around guilt for 14 years.
4. At age 14: Being dumped by my first boyfriend (who was 18), for not being sexually active enough. And being forced to tell my mother the reason why.
My learning: If you’re kid doesn’t want to confide in you about the reason for a relationship issue, don’t force a confidence. And certainly don’t go in for platitudes like ‘he wasn’t worth it’. Just hold the space and understanding.
5. At age 15: Mum reading my diary after having picked the lock with a hairpin ‘for my own moral wellbeing’. I’d just lost my virginity. Ouch. She may have had every right to look in my diary but our difficult relationship had already become one of distrust and deceit.
My learning: Start by trusting your kids, trying to understand the deeper motivations to their behaviour, rewarding the truth and accepting them for who they are.
In the final analysis, they’re going to make mistakes and you, are just going to have to live with it. Because their journey is not about you. Don’t make it about you, because it’s about them.