The list of books I will never write is getting ever longer. Up there with “I Never Went to The Hacienda” is “The Pathetic Guide to Parenting” my handbook on how to bring up children.
The title pertains to the the level of care, concern and intervention parents must adopt at different points in their child’s upbringing. When your newborn child cries you have little or no idea what is troubling them so you just throw as much sympathy and care as you can in the hope that you will soothe away their strife. As they get older you are able to understand what it is that irks them, you may even recall the same feelings from your own youth and so you bring some empathy into the equation. When they are older still you have to appreciate that you can’t actually do anything to help the situation and you really should back off and let them work it out for themselves. You must detach your feelings and try to be more apathetic towards them.
Hence we have sympathy, empathy and apathy that we must blend together and apply to any given parental situation. Judging the correct level of intervention is the trick here and as your child gets older it, somewhat paradoxically, gets more and more difficult to get the balance right. It must be obvious to most parents that when their baby is crying that they should not in, the first instance, ignore them. There will be situations in which this might be appropriate (dummy withdrawal springs to mind) but essentially the child requires your intervention and it is pretty much down to you to make this situation better for them. Feed them, change them, wind them. Walk around, take them for a drive, give them calpol, eventually something will work and they will feel better. Don’t try this on your teenager that has just been dumped by their first girlfriend or failed their driving test. At these times it genuinely is helpful to recount how you were once jilted or to regale them with the story of how you reversed over the toes of the driving instructor on your third time of taking your test. It might not get a great reception at the time but it will sink in and it will help.
The really challenging one is apathy. Can you stop caring? No of course you can’t but you have to try to achieve a certain level of detachment. You owe it to yourself as much as your child that you make every effort you can to leave them to it. You have to let go of the idea that you can fix everything for them. You must disavow yourself of the sense that you know best (even though you do, of course).
This idea of letting go of things is a very beneficial skill to acquire and develop. I feel certain that everyone reading this can recall a time when they held on just too tightly or for too long to something they held dear only to find that in doing so they have damaged their relationship with and tarnished the memory of the object of their attention. This can, of course, be difficult and in many circumstances you won’t know that you let go at the right moment until you are able to look back and reflect on it later in your life. In my experience though, the signs are always there but, for whatever reason we choose to convince ourselves, we don’t always pay sufficient attention to spot them.
I am currently having yet another go at meditation. There is something about it that I have never been able to get my head around. I have subscribed to Sam Harris’s Waking Up course and I am slowly working my way through it. The basic thrust of what I have experienced so far is that everything happens in ‘consciousness’ which is basically the space where we think our head it. We cannot control what appears in there, be it a thought or a sound or a sensation, but we can train our minds to deal with what is and what is not important and thus learn to give our attention to that which will benefit us the most. It isn’t something that necessarily comes naturally to us and so we have to take time each day to practice it so that we can become better people and enjoy better relationships with those around us. So whilst it feels like it is a very personal discipline the benefits will be shared amongst our families and friends. A bit like wearing a mask during a pandemic.
Perhaps this then is the key to releasing me from my self-imposed bind to the care of my now adult children. I can’t just cover up these potentially damaging feelings and thoughts in an attempt to mask them. I can’t simply ignore or suppress them and carry on in the hope that they will get resolved as that will just lead to stagnation, regression and decline. I must recognise that they are there, that they exist in my consciousness through no fault of my own. I must learn to train my mind to release them and allow me bring my attention to thoughts, emotions and sensations that matter, the things I can control. Only in this way can I ensure that my relationships with the whole family will continue to develop and deepen in a healthy and nourishing way for us all.