I am doing it all wrong, I'm afraid!
For the most part of my life, and most recently, in the past four weeks or so, I have been told that I am doing it all wrong. I have apparently engaged in grossly incorrect forms of executing many common, everyday acts such as dress, talk, nurture, care, advise, empathize, feel, hurt, choose, write, cook, think, see, perceive, encourage; meaning anything and everything that I had a part to play in, had an opinion about, or was something that involved me and a situation was handled wrong. I was told I was handling my business wrong, my work-life-balance wrong, and (gasp) even my marriage wrong. These were not factual or objective methods of discerning right from wrong, but subjective forms of distinction.
The most lingering, haunting and disturbing of all, was when my role in my own child’s life, her emotional stability, shaping her view of the world around her, what kinds of strengths and values I was building into her, was questioned, and of course followed by the passive aggressive note that I should be happy that I am ruining my child’s life. Believe me; that was all kinds of WOW.
As a show of hands, knowing fully well that no one can see you read this blog let me ask you this – how many times were you told that you were wrong in just this past week? And how many times did you choose to correct someone and tell them they ought to do, say or approach a scenario differently v/s telling them they were wrong?
Now let me ask you this, how many times did this statement come from your subconscious voice to yourself v/s from someone else.
Not the multiple personalities that reside within all of us; I am just asking you to take a minute to reflect on your interactions. I have been at both ends, more at the former than at the latter.
Of course I know that we are not always right. But I also know that we are never always wrong.
Most people who are patient enough to navigate the minefield of self-doubt I often set up around myself; know I speak from personal experience . . . because I became an old soul at 13. For me, there is really not enough time in the world to go on a wild goose chase when the answer to one’s quest is two steps away.
As my father puts it, I am very frank; I don’t beat around the bush or mince words. True friends, who know me now, accept that trait of honesty, as part of the package.
After I came to the realization that I had lost 12 years of my youth, my life and relationships with people I loved, to all sorts of unnecessary fears, I had to let those fears go.
Over the past twenty years, I have relearned to face and overcome my emotional fears. I learned that our emotional fears bind us, hinder us, curb us, bog us and tie us down. It is not our private, quiet fears about us or about the people we care about and love and reside close to our emotional core. Sadly, it is the fear of those who are outside our emotional core that seems to paralyze us and all that we do. This emotionally debilitating fear make us question our intent, our motivation, our creative spirit, our visions, our drive and our ability to give or act freely. This debilitating fear makes us question how we think, feel, interact, and unfortunately, how we love and nurture as well.
My daughter and I have a rather simple parent-child relationship. We agree not to be hurtful or disrespectful of each other, or other people, we care without question, apologize and make-up when there is hurt involved, and most importantly, recognize that sometimes a hug is more useful than a half-hearted apology. We agree that we each take responsibility for our actions, our jobs and roles in our equation of family, and nothing is taken for granted. Every day is not a day in Disneyland / Disney World, Santa is not real (sorry), but spirituality is important. She is old enough for these conversations. Our house is not Buckingham Palace, princesses need to earn their kingdoms, there is no magic pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, we don’t own the Gardens of Versailles, or hire the grounds men that keep them, we don’t have keys to Paradise, and definitely do not have the fountain of youth in our backyard. Good surprises are fun. Bad surprises are not. We are not endowed to raise her as a debutante who can twirl a wine glass and a whip with equal ease, and be able to wear large hats and tasteful jewellery to a charity event, but whatever she chooses, she must pursue it until she enjoys it no more. Neither of us owns Dorothy’s red slippers, and there is no Wizard of Oz, Good Witches or Fairy Godmothers to make it all better, but there are enough crazy flying monkeys around us and there is only one true home.
So, when the whole ‘WOW’ situation happened, I had to make a choice (a) apologize to my child who was being bullied at school for being apparently ‘being s/mothered’ and ‘weak’, or (b) explain why I was not apologizing for myself or my actions, to her or anyone else. I chose the latter, she understood, and we moved on. But it did not end there. She was being told repeatedly that she was not strong enough to be her own person. She was beginning to become fearful of others and their opinions. She also began to protect me. And in my quiet moments, I began to question myself. Perhaps I should not volunteer at school because it might bring up some latent critiques, or perhaps I should play a smaller role in being involved in her life. Perhaps.
Thankfully, that feeling did not last.
A few days after WOW incident, my daughter asked me to check on some of her grades. We are a strict household when it comes to education – all else can wait. For a particular subject, she had received a C. However, much to my surprise, her grades had been changed to a B to reflect grades from a make-up test that was supposedly offered by a teacher. I was happy: “Oh, good, so your grades are up. When did you take the make-up assignment?” To which she replied: “Oh, no, mom… those grades are wrong! I never took that make-up test. I don’t deserve a B.” As a parent, I wondered what would be the best way to handle it, so I asked: “So, what do you want to do about it? That teacher is no longer there. I can’t make that change; you’ll have to figure this one out.” It was a question of deciding what was right v/s telling a lie. I was not going to decide that for her. My daughter replied, without a skip in her step: “I will go to the principal tomorrow before class, and ask her to change it back. If I did not do the work, I do not deserve the grade.”
In those minutes following that, I was so proud of her. I smiled quietly inside, knowing that she had learned to take responsibility for her actions. I did not verbally praise her for doing the right thing because in this household, doing the right thing is not a matter of choice – because it is part of the program.
This cheered me up a little bit and then yesterday, something happened that erased any doubt I had, about what I was doing as a parent.
I was really fortunate to listen in on a talk yesterday by Arianna Huffington, of the Huffington Post at SCAD. I had taken my daughter with me to listen-in, hoping she would learn how to get rid of her writers block and creative fears, even though she believed she was going to doze off in this lecture, since it was meant for grown-ups. We had talked about creativity before, the process, and all.. so I assumed, perhaps this will help. I even told her, she would thank me in about 35 years for bringing her to this lecture, which was met with a mini eye-roll from her and a finger wag from me. That was that.
Ms. Huffington talked about many things; and one of them was about releasing the creative spirit by freeing ourselves from the disruptions we bring into our own work processes. She talked about how we are all born with a great creative energy, and yet lose it all to the disruptions as we grow older. I reflected - for me, these disruptions included personal fears and those projected onto me, by others.
When the Q-&-A session came around, much to my surprise, my daughters’ arm shot up. She tried to grab the moderator’s attention. Ten minutes later, she stood up with this little intro.: “Hi, my name is ___, and I am 11. What is your advice to a young person like me, to keep up their creativity?” It was a simple question but earned her the invitation from Ms. Huffington to join her at the podium and ask it again. The crowds cheered encouragingly, as my unusually tall nervous 11 year old walked through the aisles, and ran up to the podium to talk with one of the most influential people in the world! Ms. Huffington said: “How often does an 11-year old get to ask me a question?....” and proceeded to answer the query. There was no fear.
After the lecture, many grown-ups came to her and praised her on being brave enough for standing up and asking a question. Although short-lived, this much envied opportunity came through just because my daughter felt confident about herself and her opinion. Her question and opinion was just as valid as anyone else in the room. Although she was nervous she was not shy. She showed me the strength she has developed, about being her own person. She was not letting the fears of others determine who she was. She remained on cloud nine all evening. She came home, finished 4 sheets of homework, studied for a French test, and wrapped up the long day with a smile on her lips. As I tucked her into bed, I asked: “Ariana Grande or Arianna Huffington”. She replied: “Arianna Huffington.”
I retired for the day knowing that my fears created by the nay say-ers, those people outside my emotional core were just as real as a mirage – I could not live my life believing those mirages meant anything. Being caught up believing that those mirages were real - can make one absolutely delirious! I know that differentiating between truth and opinion is important. Differentiating between right and wrong is necessary. I also know that helping and raising a child to identify their strengths and weaknesses in their own space without being afraid of being themselves or being afraid of what others will think of them - is crucial. There is no reason to fall into the trap of peer pressure and do things 'just because'. Teach a child to differentiate between self-propelled willingness and peer-induced pressure. There is no reason to build an image or a persona that will not stand up on its own.
Being a mindful parent and building a partnership with your own child to become a self confident individual who chooses the right thing to do, can be the single most important task you can have in being a parent.
I realized that the parenting process I had agonized about and was so often critiqued on - was actually the most rewarding life experience for both of us.
And so this morning, as I dropped her off in the carpool lane, my daughter asked me if she could brag about that at school. I said: “Yes, but just a little.”
‘Cause, I know I will be bragging about her for a completely different set of reasons, fearlessly. And like my friend Amy says, 'I've got this'.