The journey, not the destination

I don’t think there are any parents out there who deliberately set out to damage their own children, but because we have been damaged ourselves by our own childhoods and because society influences us to raise externally successful children, we unwittingly set those destructive wheels in motion.

Life is tough enough in the real world for adults without carrying emotional scars.

I am so blessed that my mother is a daughter of a humble fisherman, and she had no ambitions beyond raising happy, kind children. I am sure it frustrated my high-achiever father a lot. But when I failed my entrance exams to get into highly ranked private high schools, all my mother would say with her usual big smile was “Oh never mind, dearie.” Those years at home with my mother were always sweet; everyday was beautiful.

In time, I got into Oxford on full scholarship.

Ditto my mother-in-law. She was a cleaner, her mother was an immigrant who spoke little English. My mother-in-law didn’t have much ambition for my children’s father other than be a decent family man and raise a good family.

Did we lose out focusing on the journey rather than the destination and outward signs of success? No. Not in the slightest. We have built a lovely big family, which is our legacy of love.

Legacy of love

The best thing I will ever do in this life is raise my five beautiful children. They are beautiful not because of genetics but because they are filled with beautiful things only. No unkindness, no harshness and er, not much discipline but just lots and lots of love.

The amazing thing was, my children’s father and I weren’t ready when the babies came. But our amazing mothers showed us how to pass on their legacies of love to the next generation. Success was never in our parenting vocabulary, but magic, joy and beauty.

I am so moved each time I see the love of my parents-in-law for my children over 25 years ago, but lovingly preserved. These toys were made by them so painstakingly, with so much love. You can’t fake unconditional love like this, and this is why my children grew beautiful. We have not increased our wealth or social mobility this lifetime, but we have left a legacy of love. May they go on to raise the next generation as beautifully and as joyously as they have been raised. Amen.

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With Kindness, Not Love

Many of us, by our thirties and forties, have built and established the veneer and persona of a successful and happy person to fit within the social infrastructure and to gain peer acceptance even if we are a seething mass of unresolved issues beneath the surface. We accumulate those charges against us from our childhood years, from our early relationships, from days long bygone. And often, we do not do anything to heal the old hurts; we just suffer in silence and plaster over the pain. The prevalent belief is that if we are outwardly successful, the old inner pains will go away over time.

Thus, the ignored inner child within us is subdued in this head-led environment, forgotten except in private moments occasionally, because who would want to sound like a loser bleating about Mummy and Daddy and how hurt still we are about episodes that happened decades ago?

A few weeks ago, I was in a therapy session with a small group of good-looking, outwardly successful professionals who were trying to make sense of the bad hand Fate dealt us.

Here’s the story of a 38 year old investment banker whom we shall call Abby. Abby’s father left the family when she was four, and she has not seen her father since. She decided not to let that pain of abandonment ruin her life so she worked hard and became successful at her job. She had several good relationships but never felt the urge to settle down. Then when she was 35, she met Paul. Paul was her Mr. Right in every sense of the word. Though she wasn’t the marrying kind – possessing such a dim view about marriage based on her parents’ – she and Paul began to make plans for a life with each other. They even talked about having a child together, despite her reservations. All was going very well, until Abby’s inner child spoke up and ruined her perfect plans.

Paul was divorced with a young daughter. His ex-wife had met someone whom she was planning to emigrate to Australia with, taking Paul’s young daughter with her. Paul was inconsolable. He sought legal advice, he also thought about emigrating to Australia with Abby to be near to his daughter and remain a part of her life. After weeks of pleading with his ex-wife, Paul was almost suicidal.

But just when Paul needed support most, Abby’s hurt inner child lashed out. “Why are you acting like this? Men are not supposed to love their children. Only women love their children.”

Abby is intelligent. She is outwardly normal. She has a huge social circle. Though her father abandoned her, she had read books and watched movies where men love their children. She even had male friends who love their children. Intellectually she knows that there are men who love their children, but her inner child, not having experienced that love, refuses to believe in it. Her inner child, still suffering from the pain of abandonment 34 years earlier, wasn’t going to lose this opportunity to be heard, whatever the cost.

And here’s the thing: we can’t subdue our inner child forever. Now and then, especially at the most inopportune moment, he/she will lash out. We can build as many layers as we like through self-deluding stories, positive affirmations and outward signs of success, but he or she will break through the barriers, angry and destructive, speaking with the illogicality and unkindness of small children, often ruining the good for no reason, as in Abby’s case.

I am not a psychologist and I know that releasing childhood emotional trauma is a big complicated area. I wouldn’t know how to start advising people, but as a mother of five children, I follow the old adage, it is easier to raise a happy child than mend a broken adult.

Parenting requires some thought, some very deep thought, though many stumble upon it accidentally. And here’s mine from living a well-lived 48 years, 30 of which I was a mother: raise a child with kindness always. I said kindness and not love, because love can be harsh, whereas kindness is always the soft marshmallowy feeling that makes a child feel safe, secure, happy and loved.

But most of all, do be mindful of how you speak to your sons and daughters. Be mindful about the words and the intention behind those words, because your voice becomes your child’s inner child, who stays within them for life. I hear my mother’s and my mother-in-law’s voices in my children all the time. I am blessed that my kids have wonderful voices from their past because that is truly the best we can give our children, this Culture of Kindness.

In the words of Albert Einstein, “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value” if you want your child to be truly happy deep within himself as an adult. Outward success is a cold bedfellow when the inner child is still crying out.

Love is strong and kind

In my book-to-be, Catching Infinity, I wrote that life clusters around Zero and Infinity. When I first wrote that sentence several months ago, it was solely from a theoretical perspective. The female protagonist, Alice Liddell from Alice in Wonderland, now twenty years old and a postgraduate at Oxford, wanted to experience the breadth and depth of human emotions to root herself to this world.

Because for what purpose is life and the human body, if not to experience?

Do we just die, having left an enormous carbon footprint, with our life stories being remembered and talked about for one or two generations, three if we lead big, eventful lives? Or is life starker than that, namely human existence is merely about fulfilling biological determinism by passing on our DNA, creating a larger gene pool?

 I recently faced a serious health issue, which of course brought Infinity right up close and personal. There was this mad rush, this swirling chaos, all revolving round my unfulfilled dreams, two more babies yet to be born, a renewed vow to live a more meaningful life, to make every single day count, and yes, to experience the breadth and depth of human emotions NOW, should Infinity choose to absorb me before the year ends.

When the years and decades that I thought were mine by right were suddenly condensed into minutes, hours, days and weeks, my inner life suddenly becomes the event horizon of my own personal Black Hole. Black Holes, which used to be the most exciting thing in the Universe to me, suddenly became ‘not nice at all’.  Even light cannot escape its gravitational pull; in a Black Hole, everything will be gone, erased, scrambled. I was supposed to be getting married next week. How could I reconcile that beautiful, much dreamt-of occasion with what I am going through now, too sick to walk up the stairs? I don’t see myself when I look at the reflection that now stares back at me. In the short space of a mere two weeks, the woman that I had been was decoded into bytes and bits in a hologram-like Universe.

But in the case of life mirroring fiction, I wrote that order and chaos are not diametrical opposites. In Catching Infinity, the second female protagonist Karin Van Achterberg had to cope with her husband’s tumultuous mind in the aftermath of Alice’s destruction. But she, The Wife, found beauty and order beneath the chaos, because chaotic systems are an inseparable mix of the two. From the outside they display unpredictable and wildly random behaviour, ugliness even, but expose the inner workings and you will discover a perfectly deterministic set of equations ticking like clockwork to the steady beat of Love. Yes, according to Chaos Theory, there is an underlying order beneath it all.  It’s just that we don’t often have the wisdom or the peace of mind to see it.

Thus, I took myself and my chaotic mind off to church to fathom the underlying order when my life was spinning off tangent. Church for me is Westminster Cathedral, the bastion of Roman Catholicism in the United Kingdom.

He, on the other hand, is anti organised religion, believing instead in a myriad of Hindu philosophies and long-dead Eastern sages. He often commented – only half-joking, I’m sure – that he has to do the Sudarshan Kriya and invoke the protection of Lord Krishna each time before he steps through the doors of Westminster Cathedral. But he, who gets woken up when I can’t breathe at night or when I am just being a drama queen, has been sitting in Westminster Cathedral with me stoically as I prayed my heart out.

“Do I terrify you?” I asked.

‘Naw, but your church does, Jac. It gives me the beebeejeebies just sitting here.  But I pray with you, to your God, in your language.”

“Don’t,” I replied.  “Don’t compromise your own beliefs for mine, or you’ll lose the sense of who you are. And right now, more than ever, I need you to be strong for me.”

“Jac,” he began patiently.  “Beliefs, ideologies and even principles are just a set of rules to guide us by as we muddle our way through life. They are just ideals. They do not maketh us.  Love maketh us. It does not make me less of a man to yield to you sometimes, Jac.” He paused.  “Because I dare to. I have no fear because Love guides me.”

Being a mother of five, I resonated very deeply with his words. All too often we bring our children, especially our sons, up to be strong. We instill in them our values, our morals, our beliefs, and send them out to the world with siege mentality, to win, win, win, to be successful rather than to be of value to humanity. We prize success because in some perverse way, successful children are our justification as parents, our bragging rights to other relatives, neighbours and friends in our twilight years.

Yield is not a word in many parenting vocabularies, so over-written those vocabularies are by the word ‘success’.  We don’t teach our children to yield – there is something shameful even in yielding because it is mistakenly associated with weakness and relinquishing control – but yielding is oh, so important, because if we don’t yield, we break. Put this in ‘real’ terms: some of the tallest buildings in the world are built to sway in the direction of the wind before righting itself when the moment passes.  It takes an extremely strong person to put aside those childhood ideals, to be vulnerable even, to have the courage to go where life leads instead of clutching fearfully to old structures that stop us living meaningful lives. If life is not lived joyously, consciously and freely each day, for what purpose is life? The answer is in Catching Infinity, of course – big smile.

 

 

 

 

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