I’m finding it hard to be inspired to write anything at the moment. I’m very tired and much of what I have to do is monotonous. But ideas do pop in – like yesterday when I was working out and listening to an online talk with Dr Shefali Tsabary, an American clinical psychologist. She was talking about projection as a parent. I realised that most of the things I get cross with Ethan about, or I worry about for him are not about him at all. They are me projecting my lack or my fear onto him. I worry about him not making friends and being isolated because I struggled socially at school. And when I stop and think and look and listen, I realise that he has so many friends that sometimes he finds it stressful when they fight over who gets to play with him!
I am constantly concerned that we are not pushing him enough academically because I would have loved the opportunities and support of a private school context, but he is not me, and I know that we don’t want him pushed, we don’t want him stressed, that we have decided that the most important thing for us is that he is confident, happy and curious. The niggle in the back of my mind that if we don’t push then he won’t reach his potential is me bemoaning what I feel is my own unreached potential. My issues are not his issues, and if I am to connect to him as his own person, to really notice his soul, then I need to check myself each time I am about to snap, each time a particular behaviour annoys me, each time I compare him to other children. I need to work out whether this is something that needs to be addressed with him, or whether it is me who needs the work.
Dr Shefali, in her book The Conscious Parent says that the first task of any parent is to parent themselves, not their child. Our task is to raise ourselves to be as present and aware as possible. Everything we do as parents comes from an effort to either recreate our upbringing, or do the complete opposite. This essentially means that we end up not actually parenting our own child, but who we think they should be.
“Our children come to us so that we may recognise our psychic wounds and call up the courage to transcend the limitations these wounds place on us. As we uncover the way in which our past drives us, we gradually become capable of parenting consciously”
~ Dr Shefali
Ethan’s instincts are not my instincts, his experiences are not my experiences. His personality is not my personality.
I am aware that he has anxieties. He is not a carefree little boy – it would be remarkable if he was after everything that he has had to deal with in his life already. For example, he doesn’t like to go upstairs by himself. For a while it frustrated me that he was being so ridiculous. And then it suddenly hit me that there is an actual reason, but it is completely unconscious. During a formative time in his life, a figure who was meant to be stable and secure, suddenly disappeared and he didn’t really comprehend why. So this now sits at the back of his brain, niggling away, and giving him the fear that if he is away from any of the other stable people in his life, there is a chance that they will also disappear. He wouldn’t be able to articulate this, it is not part of a line of conscious decision-making, but it is something that Nick and I need to take into consideration every time we are confronted with his nervousness and anxiousness. His childhood was framed around an instability, no matter how much I desperately focused on combatting it (often to the detriment of aspects of my life and other peoples). And much around him makes him feel uncertain, even if he does not know why. There is no point in berating him, in trying to encourage it out of him. We must be present in his struggle, and acknowledge his uncertainty, whilst being a stable base for him to slowly venture out when he is ready.
The book is well worth a read, by the way. Or a listen on Audible while you clean the house/do the ironing/run off your stress on your daily exercise!