Sunday, 6 April 2008

Childhood Ponderings

I've been thinking a lot about my childhood. It's something that I've thought about a lot over the years. My perspective has changed over time. The reason it's been on my mind recently is because Ciarin has said he is uncertain about being a Dad because there are certain things he wouldn't want to repeat.

Well, I certain
ly understand where he's coming from.

I'm very happy with my l
ife now and have good relationships with my family, but it hasn't always been that way.

The last years at home were the worst. As a family, we had been through a lot – three bereavements and moving back to the UK after years away. We went through all the symptoms of culture shock returning to our home country. We had a lot to get used to. This was a time of transition, where I was supposed to be to gaining independence. This appeared to be in opposition to my parents, who seemed to feel that the teenage world I was exploring was threatening/ dangerous.

In reality, I was far more sensible than many of my peers. Perhaps I didn't convey this very well to my parents, who seemed very fearful about what would become of me. I felt misunderstood. We argued a lot and no one was willing to back down. I grew tired of hearing about my mother’s sleepless nights, where she was tossing and turning in worry for me.

I was depressed and had no idea what to do to make things better. Some people make suicide pacts. I made pacts with myself to keep living, just three more days and after that, just three more days. My approach for improving the situation was just to wait it out. I had no idea how I’d ended up feeling like this, so it was hard to know what could help. I was cutting my wrists with knives and scissors. This seemed to help my frustration and ‘cut through’ my feelings of dread and numbness. I was quite unable to focus on my studies and despite having a history as an excellent student, I failed my A’levels and spent a miserable year doing them again.

When I left home at 18, I wasn't ready. Although there was a sense of relief that I'd made it out of home, I was numb and terrified, too. I had little idea how to look after myself. I had a lot of learning to do. Some of this learning was practical - how to cook, how to pay bills, how to drive. But there was other things too.

I needed to heal, release lingering self-doubts, and unlearn ways of being in the world that no longer helped me. I wasn’t sure how to begin, but I read a lot of self-help books! I wrote down my thoughts. I got counselling. I befriended people who had qualities that I admired and studied them hard, trying to adopt their ways of being. I read books on Parenting, Psychology, Sociology, Progressive Education. It isn’t so surprising that this led on to training to be a counsellor myself, since this gave me the opportunity to discuss theory, undertake more counselling, begin journal-writing and group therapy. I was honouring a pledge I had made to myself when I was still at home: If I ever make it out of here, I’ve got to get better.

And things did get better. I learnt to relax and play. I learnt how to get my needs met and to be real with people. I healed and then I blossomed. Several times, I worked on problem areas, got knee-deep into the pain and allowed things to fall apart so they could settle down in a new formation. I learnt how to trust people. I developed firm, intimate friendships rather than rotating a circle of acquaintances. I began to trust myself and trust the people I cared about. I learnt how to ask for help and get my needs met.

I wanted to get better for myself, but also because I knew I wanted kids one day. I wanted to pass on this emotional learning onto my children. My parents wanted me to grow up to be a morally sound person and I think they achieved that. I want to do that and something else too: I want my children to know how to manage their feelings. There is always a risk that I could repeat the unconscious experiences of childhood, but I hope that I have reduced this risk as much as possible through the work I have done.

I think my parents really wanted my sister and I to have a much warmer, more supportive experience than they themselves had, but they lacked the tools to do this. When they became stressed and anxious, they naturally reverted back to their old ways of being - the more punishing, more emotionally deprived experience of their own upbringing.

I’ve thought long and hard about what sort of parent I would hope to be. The following ideas feel important:

  • I don’t want to hit my kids. (Really, what do we teach children if we hit them - that it's okay to be aggressive/ that you can’t trust people?)

  • I would like my children to feel that they can trust me and themselves.
  • I want my children to be able to think for themselves as much as possible. I would like to help them come to their own opinions.
  • I would like my children to have plenty of choice about the things that matter to them, but for these choices to be informed by their thoughts/ research/ discussions with us. I would intervene if I thought they were at undue risk.
  • I would want my children to feel safe.
  • I would like my children to feel that they could ask for help and know that they could get it.
  • I would like my children to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance.
  • I would like my children to develop a feeling of pride and self-worth.
  • I would like my children to feel loved.
  • I would like my children to feel that it’s okay to be themselves.
  • I would like my children to know that we all make mistakes sometimes and the important thing is what you do after you've made the mistake - taking steps to put things right if appropriate and learn from what has happened.

I now have a pretty balanced, happy relationship with both of my parents these days, which is brilliant. We've come a long way.