Being a parent in times of despair
Fourteen years of being a parent and I can tell you what it is about in one line. Parenting is nothing but an ingenious self-improvement project.
If being a parent often makes you feel estranged from yourself and the world that was once familiar to you, if it derails your rhythm and causes cracks to appear on the surface of your sense of self, then you are on the right path.
Like all creative projects, the best way to see results is to allow the intuitive self to develop its voice. Like all committed artists, you will need skill training and a community of peers and experts who can support you. After that you let things happen. Allow events to guide you as they unfold.
Our eldest child is preparing for her role as an international media person in her school’s simulation of Model United Nations (MUN). As I picked her up from school, she told me that she had to write articles on human rights issues around the world. “Would I help her?”
“What do you know about the human rights situation in the world?” I asked her.
“It was very bad in the previous century but it is better now,” she said, referencing the world wars she has read about in novels.
I told her to read about the situation in Yemen, Syria and Palestine. About the global refugee crisis, as developed countries try to regulate the influx of families escaping from wars and famine. I spoke to her about the genocide and displacement of the Rohingyas in Myanmar. “And then there is Kashmir,” I said, lowering my voice involuntarily.
She has heard about all this in the news before. Now she is required to engage deeply. She is crossing a milestone in her own adolescence and all I can do is be around as she processes this. I do not have answers to her questions.
How does one raise children with any idealism, leave alone any happiness in these times of despair? This question has aged well. It could have been posed in any era and the answer would have been the same. The only way to raise children is with idealism and joy. The darker the times seem, the more critical it becomes to protect and secure the family unit. The more paramount it becomes to enable the next generation to become the ones who will confront and dispel the despair.
“Mamma, is it a good thing to be sensitive?” my 12-year-old daughter asked me late one night. I waited for her to reveal what was on her mind. “I feel like I am the only one who minds when children are being unruly in my class.”
“It’s an asset to be sensitive,” I said to her. “You will meet many like-minded friends as you go along.”
“Right now I feel like being sensitive is my disability,” she said, her voice breaking. “Everyone else is just trying to be cool.”
“What does one have to do to be cool?” I asked her.
“Our library teacher told my class that we are not cool, we are uncouth.” Something about the incident made her smile. Then she laughed a little, remembering the moment.
Learning to listen becomes an important prowess to acquire. Listen to know how our children make sense of what they experience. Pay attention to what you hear. Listen without taking offence or trying to offer solutions. What do they struggle with and what sustains them? What defeats them, what brings them back?
The more we learn to listen to our children, employees and parents, the less we will need to tell them what we want them to do. It’s an efficiency hack.
Being a parent means we are repeatedly confronted by situations where we feel small and helpless. We learn to summon our inner David to stand up to the Goliath that towers over us. We learn to allow our children to challenge the bully within us. All this is not as entertaining or uplifting as it seems in other people’s stories in books and movies. It breaks us a little just when we think we have got our act together.
There is pain in this process. You cry a lot. Or you cuss a lot, depending on your personal style. I recommend both. You find yourself in the central role of your own soap opera. It can be a heady feeling.
For all the distress I have expressed about how demanding it has been to be a decent parent, I also realize that parenting has rooted me. It has taught me to disconnect from the approval of others and belong to myself again.
Does the design of your life make place for falling ill? For fatigue and rest? For healing from hurts and aches? If we don’t want our children to become dependent on addictions, to not be workaholics and unhappy perfectionists, we need to back off and fix ourselves first. Don’t worry about them when you are healing yourself. This neglect is a favour to them.
The children will help you along. They will stretch you beyond your abilities, they will also compliment details you had forgotten about yourself. It will be a most pleasant surprise.
If you want the next generation to have the skills and confidence to build on their strengths and be able to negotiate an ever-changing world, then don’t be defeated by cynicism as the world changes rapidly around you. Know your history, understand the present and take ownership of the future. Create an ego that stands up for you. Destroy the ego that comes in the way of love and forgiveness.
The purpose of our life is not to prove that we were right all along. It is to reach the oasis of laughter and love. To find peace, power and light in one’s own inner core.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three.