Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The role of parenthood

It doesn't take a massive leap to imagine I'm thinking about my role as a mother these days!  What is expected of me?  How can I best support my child?  It's a mine-field!  And people have - unsurprisingly - very strong opinions on the subject. 

These opinions appear to fall into two camps, to crudely divide them.  The first camp is child-centred: the child gets 100% attention, love, affirmation and affection at all times.  The second camp could be conceptualised as being more family-centred: attention, love, affirmation and affection flow through the partnership (or marriage) as much as through the children.

For me, this distinction is important.  While I appreciate that the child-centred approach begins to redress some of the imbalances in previous models that over-emphasised discipline, I (currently) think any approach that presumes to show 100% positivity potentially suffers several weaknesses:
  1. it's impossible to give 100% all the time, so it sets up standards that are unattainable, resulting in increased stress, feelings of failure, anger and resentment
  2. it creates a shadow side and does not acknowledge that there will be moments when children receive less than 100% affirmation because of external pressures and the flow of daily life, rather than accepting this as part of daily life and building it into parenting, and helping all members of the family develop acceptance and resilience in the face of day-to-day life events
  3. it sidelines the importance of the parents' relationship, making that secondary to children and I suspect that this crucial foundation stone for happy family life deserves more a little more attention
All that said, I'm very much in favour of supporting children to believe that they can do anything, and that the only limits are the limits we impose on ourselves. But the nub of my argument is my belief that, alongside positive parenting, there needs to firm boundaries because, I think, it creates an artifical world for children if they think that any form of behaviour is acceptable and that they are above sharing and caring for others.

I didn't always have this belief.  When I started working with at-risk teens, I naively assumed that what they really needed was unconditional love and appreciation.  How wrong was I?!!  I learnt very quickly that approval and support has to be coupled with boundaries and consequences for inappropriate actions.  It never ceases to amaze me that these boundaries actually make teens feel safer and increase their trust level. But, in my experience, they really did work.

So, for me, it will be a lot of love, alongside Time-Outs in the Naughty Seat!  But all this is a distraction from my heading: I'm talking about the process here - not the purpose.

For me, the purpose of parenthood, is to provide a platform for our children to express the very best of who they are: to identify and follow their passions; to become clear about what they love to do, who they love to spend time with, and what gives them a sense of joy and fulfillment in life.

I've seen parents try to shoe-horn their children into careers that the parents wanted for themselves, but that were entirely unsuitable for the children.  I've seen parents push their children to be rounded, to have an interest in everything, but, to me, if they dislike the violin, they shouldn't be forced to practice it daily. 

There are few human beings who are genuine all-rounders: Leonardo Da Vinci is the only example that readily pops to mind.  Almost everyone else who has succeeded at something did so because it was their passion, because they specialised in it, and because they truly were absorbed, engaged and fulfilled in the pursuit of their passion. 

In this regard, I'm always encouraged by an interview with Deepak Chopra: he said that he never forced his children to work, but to do what they loved during their holidays, and the irony was that they were always able to support themselves.  Meanwhile, other parents he knew found themselves constantly supporting their older children who were consistently quitting jobs they didn't like!

So, in a nutshell, (and having no practical experience of motherhood yet!) it appears that my role is (at least) two-fold:
  1. to help my children identify and pursue their interests and passions so that they can do what they love in life
  2. to hold a balance between love, affection and affirmation of who they are alongside boundaries around how they behave, so that they can fulfill their potential as caring members of their family and communities.
These are my ideals as they currently stand.  How will they hold up in the onslaught of reality and time?  I have no idea.  I'm passionate about them, but I realise they will probably change... see you back here in 2020 for an update!!

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