Please don’t think that because I am practiced in mindfulness that I do not face the same challenges you do. That is to misunderstand why I stay spiritually healthy. I’m not free of suffering, I have accepted it.
As a child in a toy store who could not conceive of the concept of money, we all cried when our parents wrenched a beloved toy from our hands. But as we age and learn about respect for other’s work, and about paying for things as a sign of that.
People like me simply stop crying because we realize it does not change the fact that we still cannot have things that exceed our ability to repay their value. Likewise with people. They are free. If one doesn’t want to be with us, we must respect that. I still go through that initial stroke of pain. It’s my reaction to that pain that makes me different.
One of the most challenging things in life for me is when a parent is cruel to their child. It’s almost as though I’ve been stabbed it pierces me so much. It’s as though my brain ripples out in every direction, calculating all of the extrapolations of the words or action.
My problem is that, knowing how brains tackle reality, I can largely predict the general direction that people will take as their egos suffer in an attempt to resolve the unresolvable.
There is never anything really wrong with any kid, there are only unproductive responses and ones that foster strength and wisdom. But the simple truth is, many parents never witnessed their parents responding to their needs in ways that fostered strength or wisdom.
Parents very innocently cannot offer lessons in emotional languages they never even had the chance to learn. That’s why it’s okay to not-like the parenting we got, but that shouldn’t extend to blaming our parents.
The simple fact is, most parents get the job being very poorly equipped for it by their own parents. And half the time books and classes will have many approaches, most that disagree with at least one other approach so those often just make things more confusing.
Rather than look for an external way, we are better to look at the approaches and responses of the people involved and move them around to see what balance of choices suit us each as individuals. Every way of raising children has both positive and negative consequences, so the most important thing to find is what makes the child’s enthusiasm blossom that then leads to natural effort?
A Case in Point
I recently heard a story that made me wince in pain. It involved two sisters I know who live near one of my family members. Their parents emigrated from India, and their father holds a very traditional patriarchal view of families: the man is the boss and the women do as they’re told.
I remember when my family would have dinner at their house, it always struck me as strange and uncaring that the man would completely ignore every woman at the table, even if they were his family members. In fact, he seemed to treat them the worst. I didn’t know any other Indian family who acted that way. Most of my friend’s Indian fathers seemed particularly gracious, as though macho-ness wasn’t in the way of their kindness.
Every relationship has its arguments and in summer time people have windows open and they forget what they’re doing in the heat of a moment. Over the years my family has been made aware that the husband has had a gambling problem, he had to learn to control himself because of repeated cases of domestic violence—and absolutely worst—his two daughters confided to a member of my family that their father had permitted them to be molested!!!
They were taken to a day home where they were being touched inappropriately—they told their father—and his only reaction was to say “tell him to stop.” And he continued to drop off his two young daughters into that terrifying situation. It angers me to think about that so I have to focus a great deal to make sure I don’t entertain those thoughts.
Despite the challenges of growing up with a parent that was at that time almost completely self-absorbed with his own personal struggles, and another who was loving but too obsequious to teach strength, both of these young girls have grown up into remarkable women.
Some people let adversity destroy them, others use it to temper their steel—because it is true that what does not kill us often makes us stronger. All strong people have many battles in their background, the largest ones being with their egos.
Today the two daughters are very compassionate, quick to respond to people in need and they are both very brave about standing up for what they believe in. It’s blackly comic to me that their father has referred to each of them as failures.
Both are leaders in their fields, they never beat up anyone, or gambled away anyone’s money, and they certainly would never in a billion years deliver their child to a horrible situation. Almost inversely, he raised them to have high standards for themselves. It’s weird that they really do have him to thank for that in that strange way.
There’s two kinds of bad parents. Ones that leave and ones that stay. The ones that leave do a strange sort of favour to their children. They still exact a price, but it’s better than the costs associated with having the bad ones stay.
Firstly and most importantly, they create the egos that suffer the most, although thank goodness in a minority of cases they actually create people who use their pain to find clarity. The people who achieve that can easily look back and see that there never was anything wrong with them when they were young, even if they have flashes of that old insecurity rise up on occasion.
Strangely the father’s judgments prevent him from fully witnessing the success of his own children. He really would benefit by stopping his judgment of others, his quoting of religious texts and his giving of advice.
If he focused instead on doing a little more introspection about how grateful he should be that his family even associates with him he would be better off. After all, after how he’s acted, at least for at time, even talking to him like a civil human being could only have been an act of love worthy of gratitude.
I don’t want to leave readers worrying about the two girls. They’re actually both quite amazing. One’s used her remarkable career success to move her to somewhere far enough away that she doesn’t have to deal with her father, and her sister changed when she had kids.
Once one sister was a mother, she didn’t want to expose her own daughters to the type of behaviour that her mother taught her to accept. She didn’t want her daughters to learn to be disrespected like that. And she also didn’t want her daughters to ever have to listen to any parent telling their child that they are a failure.
As of this writing the mother simply won’t see her father very often –for now. She’s not angry or bitter or unloving, she’s just doing the practical management of herself, while also ensuring her kids can retain good mental health.
So how do we forgive the father? I know —it’s a tough one. It’s hard to see the value in violent, untrustworthy, insulting and otherwise cruel behaviour. And it agonizes people even more when it’s coming from someone who’s very pious. But this is when we need a big-picture view.
This is when a person needs to understand how we fit in to everything else. As Shakespeare said, “Nothing is good or bad only thinking makes it so.” Everything we experience is merely cause and effect.
To illustrate; think of the bad dad as the Yin. The associated Yang in his daughters was an effect that rebounded and helped motivate and create two vibrant, brilliant and capable young women.
Precisely because they had to climb out from under that rock of tough parenting, they became stronger, more flexible and more capable. Thanks to that early unpleasant experience, they are loving to their own children and they are courageous in their daily lives. Dad Yin, good parenting skills, Yang.
Both women will have happier lives than their father’s. It’s just a shame that they will have to stand vigilant to ensure that their consciousness does not get infected with his lame and unjustified opinions. But we all deal with that, no matter who we are.
If you had a parent who undermined rather than built up your confidence, then please remember to stay vigilant. Do not choose to replay crazy, useless opinions about you in your thoughts. There are tons of people whose personalities are totally inappropriate for parenthood so do not replay one of their judgments of you just because that’s who happened to be your parent.
The problem isn’t with us. We can still love struggling parents no problem—I encourage it. We just shouldn’t look to them for approval. They can’t give it because they did not have a parent that lead them to have that skill.
If you’re a parent and you’re worried about how to be the best parent you can be, then just remember that if you have a child you can get every single thing wrong and you’ll still win if you just ensure one thing: that your child knows that they are loved and accepted just as they are. You are allowed to ‘make mistakes.’ Kids learn from those too, as the case above makes clear.
If any child begins its growth with a solid foundation of unconditional love, then they can reach for the stars, leaving them free to pursue any life that they can imagine is theirs. That being the case, when impacting children, let’s all try to be as conscious as we can.
With love to you all, s
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.