Tuesday, 4 December 2012

I think I finally know what parenting is about

I had an epiphany today, about what the priorities of a parent should be.

For the last week or so, I've been on a quest to hunt down photos of myself from the period in which I was abused (age 4-16). My first port of call was my family members, but none of them have any photos from that period in their possession. I finally managed to ascertain that my old school still have copies of year books that should contain photos of me. I will go look at them tomorrow.

While I was dealing with this, an old friend asked me to send her a recent photo of my daughter. I started up my laptop last night, but I couldn't get past the long list of folders containing hundreds of photos of my daughter. The contrast was too much to bear. Sitting there, staring at the screen with tears running down my face, I saw the photos as a metaphor for a parent's love.

No one ever cared enough to want to preserve memories of my childhood.

No one ever loved me like I love my daughter.

Three years ago, I was feeling totally and completely overwhelmed at the thought of being a single parent. I had no idea what to do, so I joined a parenting forum. Some of the first advice I received there was to simply follow my instincts, and to love my daughter.

In the little over three years since then, I've learned a lot - about parenting styles, about child development and about psychology. I've tried a lot of things, discarded some and kept others. From what I've read about parenting, from my pre-existing interest in psychology and from my experience as an abuse survivor, I've even formed (and changed) a few of my own opinions .

And then I look at a list of folders and it brings me straight back to the beginning, and I realise again that sometimes we get so caught up in the science and the research that we forget about the single most important thing a parent can do for a child - to love her, whole-heatedly, unconditionally, and unwaveringly. Just that - love. We can read as much as we want, we can spend our lives studying the science of psychology and childhood development, and we will still screw up. One - we are human. Two - the science is incomplete, and always will be. That is the nature of science - scientists are continually learning, finding out more, refining our theories.

After everything, the most important thing I have figured out is that it will all be OK in the end, as long as we remember love.

Perhaps, one day, my daughter will be sitting on a psychiatrist's couch, telling the good doctor about all the things I did wrong. And you know what? It would be OK  as long as her conversation includes the words - at least he loved me - I never doubted that. He did his best.

Does that mean I will stop reading and learning? Hell no. I wouldn't want to give her unnecessary things to tell that psychologist. But I think I'll stop beating myself up about every tiny little mistake. Parenting is not about getting everything right.  It really doesn't matter whether spanking is abusive, or whether anything you do will damage your attachment link to your child or your child's self esteem. It's not about artificial or natural consequences. It's not about whether your should encourage your child to do better or ease the pressure. It's about whether or not your child can see your arms as a safe place to fall when the world appears to be against her. It's about whether or not your child knows that regardless of anything else, you will always be there for her - daddy will always catch her if she should fall.

It's about doing your best, and about love - the one thing I never had.

It's about giving yourself to your children, heart and soul, to the best of your abilities...

3 comments:

  1. If nobody has told you I will, you are an amazing father to realise this. If everyone just loved their children there would be a lot less suffering in the world. Daughters are amazing creatures, I have two, the best thing I did as a mother was to be there for them - whatever. They were able to come to me with anything, good and bad.

    I have been reading your posts lately and I apologise for not responding, I know that you put a lot into them. I accompanied Rees (my husband) to the Malesurvivor conference in New York. An amazing experience especially for him. He had an opportunity to take part in a panel explaining the absence of help for victims and survivors of male sexual abuse in South Africa. There are a lot of plans for South Africa including a "Recovery weekend"" with Mike Lew, he wrote "Victims no longer". Rees attended one of his weekends in Scarborough, England this year and he came back a new man.

    Keep writing.

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    1. Thank you. (But please don't feel obligated to comment...)

      It sounds like your husband is doing wonderful work helping men in South Africa. We need more men like him...

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  2. Hey there! I just found your blog while doing some research and wanted to say this post is right on. My dad is a survivor of severe abuse of several types as a child. He decided he wanted to do better for us kids and my parents set out very deliberately to figure out a better way to raise us. It was nowhere near a perfect childhood, partly because they tried SO hard to do things right that they didn't relax enough, but I've never doubted their love even in the worst of times. It sounds like you're the kind of dad whose eyes light up when you see your daughter, so well done you! L

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