Those of us who have reached the dizzy heights of adulthood will already be aware, from our own experience as well as that of our fellow travellers, that a large portion of that state is spent in trying to unravel the kinks we picked up in childhood. It is quite common, though, to manage to remain wholly unaware that that is what we are doing. We are vaguely conscious of some kind of niggling awkwardness in the way we relate, perhaps, but we can’t quite put our finger on what it is or why… Generally speaking, in an open and honest partnership, we are able to discover those kinks as we see them reflected back at us in the mirror of our partner’s eyes. Sometimes it is a conscious awakening, and sometimes that kink grates, causes friction, pits us against one another, until we are forced to confront it. And if we don’t like what we see there, we attempt to figure it out; for the sake of our relationship, and for the sake of our children and their emotional health, too.
So what is our role as a parent? To keep our children clean, clothed, well fed? Sure, but I think everyone would agree that it goes far beyond the physical. We have a duty of care to ensure to the very best of our ability that our children grow with a healthy image of themselves, their worth, their value to society, their place in this world. There should be no room for doubt in their minds that they are capable of being and achieving whatever it is they wish to be and achieve. And in order for that to happen, they must know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are loved; that their thoughts and opinions are valid and heard, even if we struggle with them ourselves! I read somewhere recently that children are not empty vessels into which we pour all our own value systems and beliefs. Surely, part of the wonder of parenthood is watching this entirely independent and marvellous being emerge and become someone you never imagined! An entity not of your creating; someone who might even – and you may marvel – teach you a thing or two! In fact, I firmly believe that children are a great source of learning on our own human journey. They are able to provide us with a perspective on things that, until they have arrived and begun their interaction with us, we would have been utterly incapable of perceiving. It begins the day they are born, when an overwhelming and protective new love flourishes in our breast never to fade, no matter what. And over the years, as they grow and individuate, begin to express their own thoughts and desires, take their first autonomous steps, we must learn to push our fears for their safety aside and rejoice in their strength, courage and confidence. We must trust them to know their minds, even when we fear they are losing them! We must allow them to make their own mistakes, rejoice in their successes and support them through their failures, all the while knowing that each of these milestones is just another leg of their voyage through this life.
But we must be prepared, too. We won’t always get it right, and part of that legacy is that our children, too, will carry with them some kinks that will need ironing out as they mature. Kinks that we, in our ignorance, helped to put there and which they, in their autonomy, will learn to fix. With gentleness, love and compassion, perhaps they will learn to forgive us our errors of judgement just as we must learn to forgive our own parents.
It isn’t always easy. In fact it will sometimes feel fraught with peril and pain, but it is absolutely vital for healthy emotional growth.