I was going through a messy divorce, and lived in daily fear that my daughter would be ‘snatched’ from me. I don’t think this fear had any basis in reality, but fears are often like that – they come from nowhere and completely take over your life. In those days, I must have said and done many things that my daughter must have found incomprehensible or weird (because fear held me captive – I was parenting from fear – a literal fear, different from the kind of fear I spoke about yesterday, but fear all the same), but I don’t remember them now. Neither does she.
Thus far, I had managed to prevent my daughter being summoned in court, but that was at an end now. Tomorrow was the day she had to meet the judge. I trembled at the thought that my 4-year old would have to wait outside the judge’s chambers with the lowest of the criminal classes till our case was called. She would be exposed to crass looks, talk and behavior, and there was nothing I could do about it. The big fear, of course, was the possibility that she’d be kidnapped from the court itself, where my soon-to-be-ex-husband might have hired goons waiting for the opportunity to do so. (Ridiculous, isn’t it? 🙂 Today I can smile, but let me tell you, I couldn’t then. Fear is utterly illogical. And it is scary. You have your own fears, so you know exactly what I mean.) By late evening, I was hyperventilating.
My family kept telling me to get a hold of myself. I had to stay in control, else how would I keep things ‘normal’ for her? But sometimes you are beyond the reach of the most obvious, commonsense, loving logic. I was beyond it then.
Somehow, I got through the night and the court appearance. I was limp with relief as we drove back home. When a few days had elapsed, I thought about the entire episode.
Why was I so scared? What was the worst that could happen?
As various dire scenarios flashed through my head, I pondered each of them. If A were to happen, what could I do? If B were to happen, what could I do? Let’s say there’s an outbreak of meningitis. What can you do? Maybe you’ve inoculated your child, but she might still get it.
You can’t prevent things from happening. You can do your best to protect, secure, preempt the negative, but you can’t fool-proof your child’s life against troubles. When a situation arises, you will deal with it to the best of your ability. And that’s the best that you can do. It is the best that anyone can do!
Bad things will happen. To everyone. Including your child. Including my child. Good things will also happen. That is all there is to it.
Everyday there are accidents, natural disasters, earthquakes, quarrels, fights, misunderstandings. Innumerable bystanders get caught in them because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time – ‘collateral damage’ is the hi-tech name for it. What can you do?
When once you truly accept that there is absolutely nothing you can do beyond a point – to influence anything, the fear begins to loosen its hold on you.
You can’t fight fear with logic – not if the fear is deeply ingrained. You have to approach it from another direction. “What if my worst fear comes true?” Well, what if it does?
Most parents would say they can’t live without their children. But some parents have lost their children – lost them to illness (when the child is alive but doesn’t recognize its parents), to death, to the vagaries of life (being unable to meet your child because you are in the middle of a divorce, for instance, and your partner has custody and ‘prevents’ your meeting the kid), to uncertainty. Their fear has come true.
But the parents continue to live. Not only do they continue to live, they learn to smile again, to take an interest in life, to be alive. As they should! Getting back to life doesn’t make you a ‘less good’ parent. It doesn’t mean you don’t (or didn’t) love your child, it doesn’t mean you don’t (or didn’t) do your best for your child.
You are a parent, yes. But you were a person long before you became a parent. Heartbreak will always be a part of life, but denying that you are alive is not the way to deal with a broken heart.
When you are gone, your child will be sad (hopefully! 🙂 ). Would you want her to mope and lose interest in life and becoming a living corpse? NO! She is still alive! And she should live her life with all the verve and gusto at her command! Isn’t that what you would want? After all, she only gets one chance at life!
Why should the rules be different for you?
You are now beginning to deal with your worst fears.
Come back to your daily fear – the one you’re parenting from: what will people think/say?
They will think and say exactly what they want – no matter what you do! There’s no way you can please everyone all the time. It is a waste of time and effort even to try doing so. The only person you can be certain you are pleasing or not is – yourself, so you might as well go ahead and please yourself.
If you’ve got this, you have already lightened fear’s grip on you. You can now parent from love. You can now evaluate: how much of your fear is concern for the child, and how much of it is fear of what others will say / think.
You might still be concerned that being a sculptor or teaching English is not the ‘best’ career option for your child, but you won’t withhold your love or approval if he chooses either of them. So when you ask him to evaluate other, more conventional careers, your motivation will be concern for his future; the driving force will be love, not fear.
And because the driving force will be love, your child will listen to what you have to say, whether or not he goes by it. You will continue to enjoy a loving relationship with your child.
If you are parenting from love, you will be more concerned that your child be true to herself than that she behave like a hypocrite. If someone in the extended family has died (someone she didn’t even know), what’s wrong with her chatting quietly with someone or reading a book at the wake? Who cares if people think she should behave ‘suitably’, sitting mournfully in a corner sniffing into a handkerchief? Not you!
In the abstract, parenting from love involves two people: your child and yourself. In reality, parenting from love focuses on just one person: your child. 🙂