Nearly sixteen years ago I found myself thrust most unpreparedly into parenthood and determined to do a much better job than my own mother had; while Mum possessed some wonderful qualities, she chose to hide them often in her quest to find whatever it was that she sought at the bottom of the whisky bottle. I resolved to become the perfect parent.
I immediately proceeded to feel dreadful every time I noticed that knot of dread in the pit of my stomach that was triggered the moment my colicky little bundle started yelling. And he yelled A LOT. I fretted A LOT. I beat myself up A LOT. As well as trying (and in my view, failing) to be a good mum, I was trying (and again in my view, failing) to be a good wife. This was not how it was supposed to be.
My mother grew up in the light of harsh criticism from her own parents; she, in turn, having internalised this voice of criticism, would often direct this voice at me and my sister. She thought that this would make us better, stronger, more resilient, more motivated, keener to succeed. She was so very wrong. I too had internalised this critical voice, and this inner-critic was giving me a running commentary on all of my failings. The voice was pulling me down into crushing darkness.
The more I strived to do a good job, the worse I felt when I evaluated my performance to be catastrophically sub-standard. Perfect parenting – to my mind anyway – involved copious amounts of patience (after all, perfect parents do not raise their voices or get frustrated), serene scenes of contented little-one breast-feeding, immediately burping and falling into a blissful sleep in my arms at which point I would transfer the sleeping little angel to his cot and proceed to do the housework, the laundry and make delicious and nutritious home-cooked meals. My reality was starkly different – I struggled even to find the time to brush my teeth in those exhausting first six months!
The difficulties that I experienced around that time, along with the departure of my husband into more-welcoming arms, conspired to make life so uncomfortable that I was forced to find a new way to journey through life. What I did next surprised some people. I left my well-paid job. I became a Reiki Master, and then a meditation and mindfulness teacher. The process took some years. Along the way, I started to have a new sense of the ‘perfect’ parent.
And here I am, my eldest child due to turn sixteen in a few weeks’ time, presenting a very different idea of the perfect parent to you. You see, I’m a mess. A compassionate one. I parent the four amazing boys in my care from a place of presence, as best I can, and oceanic love. But amidst this is a willingness to be vulnerable and to sometimes feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark wishing that someone would please turn the lights on. At times I don’t know the best way forward, and do you know what? It’s really very OK not to know – in fact, it’s heroically brave! Resting in that not-knowing and taking time to pause and reflect, we often find that a different path – one that responds more skilfully to what is required – is the one that calls us, rather than the habitually trodden path of reactivity.
I get it wrong, and I do my very best to speak up and admit it as soon as I realise that I got it wrong. I don’t see these moments as mistakes but as growing pains – the path of cultivating self-awareness is often not a comfortable one.
My children are not always full of joy, perfectly confident, perfectly content, perfectly at ease. This, as I point out in my forthcoming book, Awakening Child: a journey of inner transformation through teaching your child mindfulness and compassion, is completely OK! In fact, it’s more than OK; the practice of cultivating mindfulness and self-compassion invites us to let go of thoughts of ‘not enough’ and shows us that we, and our children, are always enough – always were and always will be. We come to realise the glorious perfection of this oftentimes messy and imperfect life.
Awakening Child: a journey of inner transformation through teaching your child mindfulness and compassion will be in bookstores and on Amazon from 29th July 2016