Between the ages of 27 and 35, I found it really, really hard to see my kids’ point of view about anything, really.
If I was tired, they needed to go to bed now, regardless of how much energy they still had. If I wanted to spend the day traipsing around some ancient village (which I find endlessly fascinating, but which is the epitome or borrrringgg for most people under the age of 30) then that’s what we were going to do on our day off.
If I wanted to eat something interesting, and they didn’t – they were being too fussy, and they should learn to branch out a bit, and extend their palate.
Then, I hit a very tough stage in life, when God suddenly showed me that there was a small, immature part of me that had been squashed for years, and who was now causing me no end of problems as a result.
That younger me, or inner child, had also been routinely ignored, bossed around, emotionally crushed or neglected, and put firmly on the back-burner, and now, it was making me pay an enormous price in terms of my physical health and emotional wellbeing.
The more I listened to its complaints, the more I realised that all the bossing around, ignoring, shouting and neglect that my inner child had experienced had profoundly affected her (and me). It had made her scared of the world, paranoid, cynical, super-defensive, very angry and most of all, plain ill.
So for the next 5 years or so, between the ages of 35 and 40, I kind of switched sides, and,
I started to find it very difficult to see the ‘parents’ point of view about anything, really.
Sure, sometimes we’re tired, exhausted, stressed, all out of energy – but that doesn’t mean we can use our kids as verbal punch bags, or take out all our frustrations on them, or use them to try to patch all the huge, gaping holes we suddenly discover in our own lives and souls.
Not that parents do this on purpose, of course, because most of us don’t have the first clue what we’re actually doing to our children, when we repeatedly put what suits us over what’s truly best for them. I certainly didn’t, and I always considered myself to be a caring, compassionate parent (broadly speaking. I’d also have massive guilt-trips when my inner child would start whispering a few home truths in my ear about how selfish, manipulative, emotionally-absent or controlling I was actually being around my kids, but I could usually make it shut up and go away, sooner or later.)
I kind of got stuck in that place of ‘good kids’ and ‘evil parents’ for quite a while, and it had some huge repercussions on my relationship to myself, my kids and my own parents, most of which were ultimately very healthy and positive.
The third way
But a few months’ back, God started to clue me in that there was a more balanced, healthier ‘third way’, or golden mean. Developing some more compassion and getting past my own inner anger was the key to stumbling on this third way.
After spending literally hours, weeks and months asking God to help me reduce my anger, and up my compassion, God suddenly sent me a brainwave that changed the whole picture:
When grown-ups act like jerks, and treat other people horribly in whatever way that happens to be, it’s just because really, they’re still treating themselves like that. If they’re yelling at their kid, ignoring them, abusing them, getting angry at them, hating them, even, it’s just because they’re doing exactly the same thing to themselves, and their own inner child.
I have to tell you, this revolutionised the way I started to relate to ‘bad parents’ and nasty people.
It’s still a work in progress, but I’m starting to see a derech develop ahead for figuring out a system of parental education that is based on compassion for the parent, AND compassion for the child – because really, they’re suffering from exactly the same problems.
Rav Arush teaches that it’s a cast-iron spiritual rule that kids R us – whatever problems we have that we haven’t resolved, worked on or acknowledged simply sprout-up in the next generation, often causing the parent no end of heartache.
That’s certainly what’s happened to me.
The answer is to treat the kid more compassionately – but here’s the huge revelation: a parent can only really do that if they first treat THEMSELVES compassionately. If they’re beating up their kid, then they’re for sure also beating up themselves, someway. If they’re angry, super-critical and cold with their kid – guess what? Yup, they’re doing that to themselves, too. If they’re strict, unforgiving and expect perfection from their offspring, you already know who else is suffering tremendously from the same negative and unhealthy expectations: they are.
It stops being about parent vs child, what’s good for me vs what’s good for them, and instead becomes about what’s good for BOTH OF US.
I’m still trying to work out how to put flesh on the bones of this whole idea, but sharing it with you here is a good first step, and I’d love to know what you think about a parenting approach that would give compassion for the parent AND compassion for the child equal billing.