“Last night I realised that my mother had a 4-year-old when she was my age”. How my friend started a conversation about motherhood yesterday, a topic that has been concerning both of us for quite a while now, ever since we understood that training little humans for life is a mind-boggling business, which we must first train ourselves for. I am turning 30 in a few months, and by that age, my mum had two daughters, eight and two of age.
I have been extensively reflecting on what makes a good parent lately. Thankfully, the Universe blessed me with the most gratifying example of parenting that one could possibly hope to encounter in a lifetime. Having spent last evening in a video-call with my mum, talking about everything and nothing, keeping each other company from worlds apart, I know that my mother and I are a match made in Heaven, and I am infinitely grateful for our relationship.
One of the things that popped up in the conversation with my friend was parents making their children feel unloved and burdensome, because they are projecting their own lacks, their own ingratitude, their own unaccomplishment, their own misfortune, their own incapacity of action and they own lack of self-knowledge on their children. They live with the resentment and the constant feeling that their children are obstacles between them and the life they want to live. Now, that angered me and upset me beyond my imagination, so I asked, “Mum, have you ever felt burdened to have us?”
Obviously, the answer was no. She said that my sister and I were her safe place, her pillar, her cornerstone in times of worry and doubt, that we have contributed to whom she has become, that we are her pride and joy and she was happy to grow into her role as our mother as a natural, beautiful part of what she had to become.
My mum takes pride in remembering that ever since I was three of age, she used to engage in debates about God with me, and she made me her ally in her journey of discovering the Universe. I recall that, when I was around the age of 5 or 6, my mum was teaching, and this one time we went on a commute with an old, rusty train, to the school where her students witnessed quite a show of English nursing rhymes and poetry, directed and interpreted by myself, under my mother’s proud gaze.
When I was few months short of turning 18, I needed gynaecological investigations, and, being underage, my mum had to accompany me during the consultations. The instant the gynaecologist asked “Virgin?” was when my mum found out I had started my sex life, in what felt like an eternity to articulate the word “No”. The shame of having hidden that from her, because of the shame I had imagined I would have felt while making such confessions was so great, that I decided it was time to come clean about everything that I experience in life, because my mum is my ally and together, we will figure it all out.
Since then, my mum has witnessed tons of laughter and quite some tears, doubts and worries, plenty of epiphanies and realisations, massive growth, some slacking and hesitation, a bit of stubbornness, a lot of determination, numerous experiences, countless stories (some of which she may have not wanted to get all the juicy details about)… overall, the making of a lifetime. Each time, I felt 100% free and open to share everything, and ask for her opinion, perspective and input. She never imposed, although there were times when her opinions were stronger and firmer than others, I was always in my full power of deciding for myself and for my life. Most importantly, I felt accepted and understood.
What I came to understand about parenting is that there is not one right way of doing it, it is a fluid, ever-growing and evolving process, which requires only one thing: doing your best, for your child’s best interest. The pressure of being the perfect parent is the biggest enemy of successful parenting. You are simply expected to be there when needed, to be compassionate, to be empathic, to be grounded and firm in what the hard limits are, to be disciplined and consistent about your own expectations and behaviours, to strive towards remaining calm and composed even in stressful situations and most importantly, to be loving.
When you act from a place of love and care, doing your best comes naturally. You do not need to go above and beyond, finishing all your mental and emotional resources. When you have a burnout, you cannot do your best. When you push yourself too hard, you have already stopped doing your best, by trying to do better. You don’t need to prove your parenting skills to your kids or anyone else. All you need to do is want the best for your children and do your best to offer yourself and your children a loving, safe, nurturing environment, so that they become capable to independently decide what is best for them.
Whole libraries have been written on the topic of parenting, yet I hope to only take this lesson with me, as I build towards a life as a loving partner and loving mother: offer consistency and reciprocity in your relationships, and do nothing more and nothing less than your very best to nurture those relationships. Allow all other parameters to flow naturally in the right direction, playing along, learning along and, most importantly, loving along.