Raising a child is possibly one of the most beautiful, exciting, interesting, but challenging, difficult and respon¬sible tasks in life for a parent. For some parents, the task looms so large and scary, that it drives them to rather give the child up for adoption. Having a child – especially the first – can and often does unexpectedly turn the parent’s lives and routines totally upside down. It takes away the freedom and independence they enjoyed; the child becomes the centre of their world; it is demanding and needy; there may be little to no time for themselves; and so on. What begins as a wonderful and exciting journey, for many, this may change and become a state of frustration, anxiety, stress, anger, or depression, which start surfacing and begin to strain the bonds of the relationship. If things were fine before baby came along, the child is likely be held responsible for the issues the arise between the parents. In many cases, the child becomes the object upon which the parents vent their dissatisfaction – with some cases even resulting in horrific abuse and death of the child.
But there is another level of “abuse” we practice that we do not recognise as such because it does not fall in the categories of being physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Instead, it is considered and accepted to be good, responsible parenting – as I elaborate below.
The part of conceiving a child is generally one of joy and fun. When it is confirmed that mom is pregnant, there is even greater joy. But at the same time, the realisation begins to set in of the responsibilities that are about to be taken on – creating the ideal home environment, afford it the best education, provide an upbringing the child can one day be proud of, and of course someone the parents will be proud of.
It is generally believed that new-born children are born with a blank mind, that they know nothing about life; that as parents we “own” it and so are entitled to decide what is right for the child. Parents thus take on the role and responsibility of ensuring the child is taught, equipped and educated about all its needs to be successful and socially acceptable. These teachings will take the form of schooling, religious instruction, guidance for conforming to social norms and values, acceptable behaviour and all the many other things we need in life.
As a child, of course, we have no idea of our parents’ ideals or the plans they have for us. We just do things in the only way we know. Such as:
Crying when we are hungry, have a full nappy, want attention – don’t like to be left alone.
Eating our food with our hands; pounding our hand into the plate of food and make it splatters all over (great fun).
Not welcoming mummy, daddy, granny, grandpa with a hug and kiss – we might more readily hug and kiss the dog ... no disrespect intended; we just found the dog to be more important in that moment (isn’t that what free choice is about?).
Knocking things off the coffee table out of curiosity to see what happens.
Throwing a tantrum in the middle of the supermarket – do we really care or worry about what other people think? Hell no, we just want what we want.
To our parents, this is misbehaving, naughtiness, disrespect. Something they feel must be corrected, taught manners, obedience and discipline. How do they achieve this? By reprimand and punishment – physical, emotional, screaming and shouting, threatening and all the many things most of us will likely have experienced in our childhood.
As we grow and learn to talk, we note that what we say is considered pretty insig¬nificant; we are not given the space to express what we feel or want – even if we are, no one really listens. And our parents keep reminding us that they know what is best for us. As a child, how can we argue or question that? Through these experiences we begin to wonder, question and eventually conclude that maybe the way we are is simply not enough; and we internalise the belief that we are "not good enough." This leads to us deciding that unless we change, we will not be accepted and loved - our greatest fundamental fear and need. In order to make it with our parents (be accepted and loved), we decided that perhaps we need to change our behaviour and attitudes to conform and meet their expectations of how we ought to be (our first compromise on who we truly are).
Then one day we are sent off to school – a daunting and terrifying step for some children, an exciting “adventure” for others. In this new environment we encounter other children, teachers, rules and regulations, disciplines, etc. For example:
Learning to read and write.
Learning the multiplication tables et al through repetition.
Having to pass tests and exams to prove our level of competence, intellect and acceptability
Behave in class in a manner that is acceptable to the teacher, conform to the school’s rules and regulations else we are punished – from both the school and (likely) our parents (we are so terrible).
If our standard of work is not to the level of others, we get classified as "abnormal", in need of specialized education or psychological assessment – measured against what society has determined to be the accepted norm.
No one is really interested in our unique individuality and talents. We are required to meet and conform to the expectations of our teachers, peers and school environment.
From the above we realise that to be accepted, we need to behave and do things in the required manner if we are to avoid rejection and punishment. We also learn that in these social environments, if we do not do things as expected and required, we again will not be recognised and accepted. And so we experience how also in this environment we are not allowed to be ourselves – who we are. All of which reinforces our feelings and belief that perhaps we are truly just, "not good enough" – a belief that is becoming more and more our reality.
We also come to experience and realise that this cycle of needing to conform does not end at the school going years. Even as adults we experience and face the same situation in our world of business, politics, religion, and ... practically every other social environment. The requirement to compromise ourselves for the sake of being accepted eventually becomes second nature. And this ultimately results in us living and experiencing our life as victims of our circumstances; unable to exercise freedom of choice to be who we really are. The same way it has been for our parents; and their parents; and their parent’s parents.
To address these “challenges” in a constructive and meaningful manner, we need to reassess the parenting processes we are practicing - as handed down from generation to generation. And unless we stop, reconsider and have the willingness to change, we shall continue to exacerbate the problem and also shall pass on the same teachings and practices to our children for their children.
Our role and responsibility towards our children is far greater than what we are doing. The way we are doing things is, in my view, comparatively easy to do because all it requires is for us to exercise control.
What we need to recognise is that our children do not belong to us, we do not “own” them. Whether we believe that children are sent to us by God, or that they chose us as their parents, or whatever other belief one may identify with, what all of us ought to be doing is to feel honoured and respectful of having been granted the privilege to conceive and give birth to such a wondrous creation and Being of “God”. Our responsibility therefore should be one of guiding and helping our children to be who they really are by creating an environment that is supportive and allows them to manifest, or “showcase” who and what each child brings to this life. We should not be in fear of letting go of the beliefs we are holding on to; want to hold on to our senses of rightness at all costs; we need to have the willingness to be wrong and create a truly win-win environment where everyone can be who they really are – unconditionally.
In the words of Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet which possibly sum all this up best:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”
― Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet