I'm in the middle of a rather dark teacher training course. As I'm sitting here, people are getting up one after the other to report things that have become apparent to them after too much yoga, not enough sleep and plenty of prodding.
My first thought is, “Holy shit, I have to get out of here,” and my second thought, “How can these people be so messed up about their parents?” One after another, they stand and reveal how their parents didn't love them in so many ways. It was horrifying for me. I had to get out and go see my children and apologize for all the ways I had messed them up. I was guilty of the lot. I was a terrible parent, systematically screwing up my children until one day they would stand up in front of 40 people and tell them what I had done wrong. I had to stop it. I had to find a way to ban teacher training courses, landmark courses or any other forum for these revelations!
So, how do we stop screwing up our children right here right now? And, how does it even happen that some of us carry this suffering with us, and some of us just get on with things? By all accounts, I should have been the keynote speaker at that training with my own podium revealing to all who would listen about my childhood. But, something was missing. I didn't feel that way; I didn't feel messed up even though I had a pretty dramatic childhood.
Here are my new golden rules about raising children.
Part 1: How to screw them up.
1) Expectation versus Failure
Expect something of them that you never achieved. So, you didn't go to university, but you are damn sure your child is going to go. Keep pressuring them and telling them that they are going to college. Don't worry about what they want to do; it's vital that you make them understand the mistakes you made and the ones you don't want them to repeat. After all, you know best right?
Studies have revealed that when your child is younger, they believe everything you say is correct. If you keep going like this, studies will reveal that they think nothing you say is correct.
2) Fear versus Faith
Pass your fears on to them any way you can. Let me give you a simple example: Our neighbor hates animals. When we walk by with our dog, she yells at us to restrain him – frantically shouting – and tells her now quivering child that it’s okay, she is now safe from the dog. The child now has a fear of animals. The child will have that for a long time and probably pass that one on down the family tree.
I now watch as my daughter squeezes my son's hand to the point that it goes blue when they cross the road. Hang on, didn't I do that to her from fear of her running on the road? These are just wee fears. Here are some big ones: body image, fear of people, limiting beliefs about your intelligence, selfishness or hoarding due to fear of not having enough, jealousy for fear of not having enough, thinking people don't like you.
3) Anger versus Love
Get peed off with them, because you are having a bad day. Oh so easy to do, so hard to stop. You are tired, hungry, stressed and your little person is happy, loud, painting on walls, crying as well. Shout at them, throw your own toys, act like a baby.
4) Communication versus Advice
Don't listen to them; just give them advice. My own research shows that I am pretty much off the mark with communication with my children. Instead of trying to work out what it is they are trying to tell me, I prefer to get through my own agenda of advice and helpful comments when most of the time they just want to talk and be heard. What are they asking you for?
Part 2: How not to screw them up.
Love them as much as you can. When you do screw up, say sorry. Children are very forgiving. Try again. Understand what your own issues, fears and dramas are, and catch yourself as you repeat the pattern to your children. Work on the dilution principle: pass down a drop of your fears but not the whole glass. Take time with them. Listen to what they are saying. Give them lots of hugs.
I really like this explanation of love from Judith Hansen Lasater’s book Living Your Yoga. When you react, you are not in a state of love. When you can love without expectation, you are in a state of pure love. Love in its purest sense is not what you get from the relationship, but what the relationship allows you to give. The depth of your love is not reflected in what the other makes you feel, but in your willingness to give of yourself.
Message in a bottle.
Maybe this is the reason I wasn’t the keynote speaker at the teacher training. I was raised on love without expectation in all its forms. Even though my parents messed up, I had a deep underlying sense that under everything was this constant smile of love.
I read somewhere that all a child ever wants is for your face to light up when they walk in the room.
This is one thing we can do every day.
This is our practice.