The Gospel According to Mum and Dad
Lately, I have been pondering the best ways to parent.*
(*This is a complete lie. I am constantly worrying about it. I am frankly obsessed.)
The simplest advice I have heard so far, apparently given by members of the Jerrahi Sufi order from Turkey, is that the only things you can offer your child are a good name, good food, and a good example.
Names, check. Caveboy’s main name is Shamsudeen (Shamsie for short) – having Rumi’s spiritual master and poetic muse as a namesake can’t be bad. Rosa Nour is for her part endowed with hints of exquisiteness, resilience, Divine light… (let’s ignore the thorns).
Food, check, more or less. No deep-fried Mars bars on our menus at least.
Example…ah, now that’s a different story. It makes sense, of course. How many times have we heard the hackneyed phrase that ‘kids are like sponges’? They don’t learn how to live in the world from a how-to manual, that’s for certain. (Now that would be a book worth its weight in gold!) We parents are their blueprints, their paradigms, the pioneers in every habit and prejudice and turn of phrase. The gospel according to Mum and Dad is, without a doubt, the main reason people seek out therapy of one sort or another. Recognising the dictums your parents imprinted on you as a child as the ‘tape’ you run when in need of authoritative advice, and not your own, proven experiences, will (so the thinking goes) show that tape up as the cold, impersonal celluloid that it really is.
So, now that we’ve neatly wrapped up all our complexes inherited to us by our forefathers (hey, ancestors don’t get off any lighter! With the wonders of modern genetics they are brought right back, like a scientifically-endorsed psychic hotline!) we can move on to our children. And the complexes we will inevitably give them, like it or no.
For those interested in some great advice on how to parent with compassion and respect, check out this very thoughtful blog post on The Parenting Pathway. Alternative, Google ‘good parenting’ and spend the next fourteen years reading all the hits, by which time your kids will have grown up and will already be seeing a psychologist for your absenteeism.
Personally, I got stuck on the very first of Carrie’s basic steps for dealing with gentle discipline: getting the rest and time you need to be a centred, calm, balanced individual, capable of giving your children the best of yourself. If only this blog post were a personal promise to come to your house, give you a footrub, put your kids in the bath, make you dinner, put on a funny film and tell you you’re great, all wrapped up in one giant, sisterly hug. When I have one child who wakes up almost every hour, despite all my ‘good’ techniques (not letting her fall asleep on the breast, yadda yadda yadda) and another child who wakes up most nights several times to for various baffling reasons, my eyes will barely stay open long enough to read one paragraph of all that good advice.
(I have been trying to come up with jokes to help me laugh it off: ‘I’m so tired I went to visit my granny, in advanced stages of dementia, and she told me I was rambling.’ ‘I’m so tired I picked up my handbag and it miaowed.’ ‘I’m so tired I can’t even be bothered to work out a punchline for this joke.’)
In all of my reading to date, even the wonderfully helpful No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley, nobody has yet offered a cure for the mind-curdling exhaustion that looking after small children entails. It stands there, blithely ignoring all the tips and suggestions that concerned friends throw at it, like an obelisk in a hurricane.
I have come to the conclusion that after reading all of the advice, trawling all the forums, driving yourself bonkers trying to figure it all out, the only approach that does not involve a perpetual sense of disappointment in oneself is that of accepting it. The whole kit and caboodle: crotchety behaviour, imperfect affection, even wonky teeth and a predisposition to keeping pet newts. Run headlong towards your crummy, substandard parent-self and just give it the most enormous, loving, honest hug imaginable.
And if that is the conclusion offered to me in my chronically sleep-deprived state, then I believe that is in fact the point of it all. Bag all the hot tips, guys. Don’t even try putting money in the mental meter. Bewilderment is, as the Sufis say, the only way to witness to Divine Reality; ‘tear down the house to find the treasure buried beneath.’ It’s all in the best hands you could possibly imagine.
Now go to bed!