A Letter to Parents from another Parent
As a parent I worry about the future, I worry about the world my little person is growing up in and the difficulties he will face in the future. Apparently there’s a lot to be worried about, a quick scan of today’s news reveals the following headlines:
Human remains desecrated/Man dies after assault/Four cars set on fire in towing yard/Two men die with swine flu/Family escapes hail of gunfire/Accused spoke of plan to kill partner
And those are just today’s national headline, that’s just Australia, all this and more (worse) is happening all over the world. Well now I’m depressed….
So how do we have hope? Where is the safe future for our children? According to the headlines we don’t even have a safe present. Do we close our eyes? Take care of only ourselves and our loved ones and just pray and hope and wish that somehow our beautiful children will come through it all unscathed? Sometimes I find myself doing just that, just slipping into survival mode, it takes so much effort to deal with the mundane realities of life, I don’t have the energy to save the world most days. I’m exhausted trying to keep up with the washing, the dishes, the nightly reading and sight words, not to mention being a good friend, partner, mother, daughter, sister. I’m tired. So I put my blinkers on and just deal with exactly what is in front of me.
The little person who shares my eyes and many of my more unfortunate quirks came home from school a day ago with tears in his eyes. I asked him why.
My child comes home crying with deep tears in his eyes because of what other parents say through their children. We see what’s in front of us and think that is all there is. As another mother did when she said to her child that my son is an idiot and they shouldn’t play together.
We’ve all done it. We’re all in survival mode. We’ve seen another child doing something ‘silly’ or ‘unsafe’ and we’ve said quietly to our child ‘perhaps you shouldn’t play with so and so’. And we head off into our day congratulating ourselves for pointing our dear ones away from ‘bad influences’, never stopping to think that our judgemental and fear based attitudes are perhaps the worst influence of all.
I’m sounding didactic I know. Life is scary, life is hard. Of course we want to protect them, save them, buffer them from the cruel realities as it were. It’s not a bad thing. I wonder how many children have gone home with tears in their eyes because of words I’ve thoughtlessly and accidentally channelled through my child?
My son has been defined by experts as ‘special needs’ and many times I’ve asked myself what this means. Of course I know what it means and I know the consequences of those two little words when placed side by side. I face those consequences (and by this I mostly mean other people’s perceptions and judgements) every day. But I wonder what that really means ‘special needs’– what are a child’s needs? What are anyone’s needs really?
I know the universal declaration of human rights; I’ve read them, all the way to article 30. They’re beautiful, in an awkward slightly bureaucratic way. At the heart of what they say I think is this: We all need to belong, to feel loved and cherished and valuable in some way.
So how do we do this? How do we build this reality for our children and for ourselves as the caretakers and guides of our children?
They (who is this mysterious ‘they’? Has anyone met ‘they’?) say it takes a village to raise a child. And I believe it. I am lucky and deeply blessed to be surrounded by a network of family, friends and community who not only encourage and support me to be a better person and better parent but who take an active interest in my child. By this I mean, stopping to ask my child ‘how are you’ and listening to the reply, correcting inappropriate or unsafe behaviour and by role modelling safe and caring behaviour for my son. These people don’t stand back and wait for me to correct him or expect me to bear the full and lonely responsibility of being his role model and I thank them for that. I’m one of the lucky ones. Many people are left with the entire responsibility of raising their child on only 2 or 4 shoulders. How can a child learn everything they need to know from 1 or 2 people I ask? When there is so much to know? This does not make sense to me and brings me back to the tears in my son’s eyes a day ago.
I do not have all the answers to the world’s problems; I don’t even know where to start. I don’t know how we build a community where we can all feel loved, cherished, and valuable and as if we belong. I have no idea how to do that. I can only do small things. Very small things.
So what I will work towards is this:
I hope the next time I see another child behaving ‘badly’ instead of quietly warning my son not to play with them I’ll be the person I want by son to be, I’ll be hopeful, generous and I’ll put my hand up to help build a better world. I’ll be a part of that village and what I’ll do instead is this:
I’ll smile at that other child and at their parents and I’ll let my son make up his own mind about who he wants to play with.
It’s a small step, but it’s only the first.
Just quietly, one of my dearest friends said to me years ago ‘what is a perfect parent? What is a perfect child? Has anyone pulled through with this perfectness and said ‘here that’s what you do’?’
One step at a time.