I’ve had cause, lately, to reconsider things I’d believed unquestioningly. It’s an astonishing moment when you look on things you’d always seen a certain way with the eye of a child, seeing something for the first time.
Recently I had cause to revisit my own childhood and to review an unhappy moment of time in that slightly longer brief period of time. This set me on a certain pathway and coloured how I saw myself, my family and my place within it, as well as my own abilities and self-worth. It’s of course very painful to have to re-frame the foundation of your whole belief system and to wonder, after all, whether what a child saw was in fact reality. But after the initial realisation of all the lost time and false limitations, if you are very lucky, this is replaced by forgiveness for those you’ve been angry with and a sense of limitless personal power.
Parenthood can do this too. Frequently, it seems to me, the false foundations upon which you parent are challenged and – if you are also very lucky – swept away. This has just happened to me again. Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that the two incidents of which I write took place within a few days of each other.
I’ve been honest about how challenging I find parenting and how I’ve been dogged with this underlying feeling that I’m doing it all wrong. Turns out, I was right, not paranoid and I really have been doing some of it wrong. I can hear you challenge me as I write this. But trust me, I have. I have my doubts about returning to work when I did, my reactions to being made redundant, my overwork, my emotional neglect of my child… but the fundamental thing I’ve cocked up is just being so completely uptight. All of the above was for the most part outside of my control and not without upsides. But even the ballsed-up bits are as nothing to being actually so uptight about screwing her up and getting it wrong that I ended up not knowing how to talk to her. That’s right. I ended up talking to her like pre-child me talking to little children who would back away from me and look at me as though I was weird. Probably because I found it so hard to talk to anyone because I felt so very uptight about failing. Things feel ever so different now I have found a way to talk to her and that odd voice that I can hear outside of my head is actually MY OWN VOICE. Who knew?
I write this because I am convinced I will not be the only mother, working or otherwise, to feel this way. But. I feel like I have been blind to the fact that many of us treat our kids like an extension of all the other outward signs of success… Not that I’m sucessful. I’m the saddest underachiever you never met. Unfortunately, not being “successful” seems not to be any kind of protection from all of the pressure of measuring-up to all the others who are. I do wish I’d got my head out of my bum and realised this and not lost so much of her first 3 years to my sense of inadequacy. But I’ve been really, really lucky, that a very kind successful person spent some time talking me through this on Friday and explained that my daughter, like so many other sons and daughters, are paying the price for this and whilst she’s doing just great intellectually, emotionally she’s a bit behind but that is fine and she will catch up. This is why she’s so angry and why she is so aggressive towards me. I’d known all of this deep down, but thankfully, really, really thankfully, it’s not too late to go and meet her in her trapped toddler self and to revisit the bits she missed out on to help her mature. It’s quite comforting. Since then, I’ve found myself looking at her as a bit younger than she is and that really helps. Especially when she’s trying to bite me to death. Doesn’t exactly act as an anaesthetic but it helps.
I had a conversation with a Swedish parent who has a child just a little older than Monkey-face. She mentioned that sending British kids to school so early stems from poor-schools and preparing the working classes for child-labour. I’m not sure if that’s completely true, but it did underline just how arbitrary the goal-setting is for children’s emotional and intellectual progress and it did make me wonder who exactly it benefits.
I still catch myself talking to her in an odd voice occasionally and yes she has head butted, punched and bitten me in the last few days. But things are much much better.
So, you may be wondering why I’m yet again confessing my short-comings and what on earth this has to do with books. Well, a lot actually. I really hope you are spared the mistakes I have made, but should this ring a bell, I thoroughly recommend Love-Bombing by Oliver James. He and his astonishing book have helped my family immensely. Little did I know as a teenager that Network 7 wouldn’t just inform me about organic farming, make me a vegetarian and give me the lifelong hots for Sankha Guha but it would reach down the years and sort out my parenting too.
Whilst bonding, we’ve read some books too:
Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen
Gruffalo/ Gruffalo’s Child
There are No Cats in This Book by Viviane Schwartz
We Honestly Can Look After Your Dog by Lauren Child
Father Christmas Needs a Wee by Nicholas Allan (oh I wish it wasn’t Christmas every day)