Happy Families – A game of comparisons

I attended a parenting course many years ago and apart from the mind-numbing rigidity of the rules-based strategy they espoused, I came away with a bit of advice that has stuck with me through the years.

‘If you want happy kids, focus on creating a happy marriage.’

It’s simple and yes, a little simplistic, but there is a gold thread of truth in this statement.

There are no, one-size fits all formulas, or magic tricks to raising happy healthy kids. We instinctively know that, yet strangely we often believe everyone else seems to have found the solution. In parenting, perhaps more than any other role in life, we buy into playing the comparison game to excess. From the moment a baby is born, many parents start the endless measuring, comparing and judging as to whether the child is ahead or behind in achieving those ‘vital’ milestones of development. Parents who play this game aspire for above average, will grudgingly accept ‘normal’ but are often left confused and dismayed with anything less than that. Somehow, a parent’s identity, value and effectiveness is linked to this freshly-hatched little person who, must prove to the world in each stage of life, that we’ve ‘done good’ in raising them.

Some of us feel secret relief when another parent confesses to having a troubled teen. At least ours isn’t that bad! We can feel a niggling shame and guilt when our child is the one in trouble at school most days. We try hard to duck and weave while other parents’ eyes are on us as we rush through the school carpark.

I have experienced all those emotions if I’m to be honest. In our family we ranged from having a child who was the ‘teacher’s pet,’ the ‘good kid,’ to having teachers lining up in the foyer of the school wanting to vent at me as they battled to deal with our ‘class clown, always in detention,’ child. We also had a child who quietly slipped on through in his usual, ‘don’t notice me, I don’t want to make any waves,’ style.

At the time my reactions probably landed somewhere between humiliation and smug satisfaction, but as realists we came to the conclusion that we couldn’t take credit for the ‘teacher’s pet’ and avoid taking responsibility for the one who made the teachers work harder to earn their money every day.

I look back now and know that the bigger issue for us as parents was to ensure our children knew they were loved, accepted, treasured and respected. Why? That’s what my husband and I wanted for us in our relationship too. We sought to honour their unique personalities and ways of seeing and dealing with the world. Our job was not to create clones, not crush, but shape their uniqueness, helping them deal with the situations where they didn’t always find safe landings.

We sought and still do, despite major and minor hiccups, (’cause that’s life) to provide a loving safe space, where we as a couple intentionally invest in our shared relationship. Our focus has been on ‘fighting’ to keep it as healthy as possible in every season and stage of our lives together. For the most part, we’ve been very happily married and we hold no ‘smug satisfaction’ in that at all. One of life’s miracles is ‘to have and to hold until death do us part.’ Sometimes it’s just not possible.

Have our children always been happy? Only they can answer that one. I, one day, want to be brave enough to ask them how our marriage ‘for better or for worse,’ impacted them as they grew.

But what we have learned over time is to quit playing the comparison game and focus on building and maintaining a happy, healthy partnership as a couple. We consider our adult children to be dear friends and companions in life. We enjoy their unique personalities and perspectives, we laugh together, face challenges together, listen to each other and learn from each other. We are happy, together.

James 2:13 ‘Mercy triumphs over judgement.’

Crazy good – Family

Here is my second response to what’s most important in my life and why?

I still remember my husband’s reaction as he carried our firstborn out of the maternity hospital on a sizzling Sydney summer day. He gently placed our precious cargo in his bassinet in the back of our blue 2 door T-18.  His face was beaming with pride, joy and delight. He could barely contain himself, constantly gazing at our precious son and saying in wonder, “He’s ours. He’s ours and no one can take him away.’

My husband grew up in a children’s foster home and his words rang of the understanding from his childhood that some families for various difficult or traumatic reasons, had to give up their children to government social workers, who would deem them safer in the care of others. Phil’s parents had become foster carers and gradually added to their homegrown brood of six children, (of which my husband was the eldest and only boy), until eventually their household expanded to an average of sixteen children. Most of them became permanents, while others came for temporary stays, before returning to their families or other carers.

My family of origin on the other hand, was a more traditional housing commission, mill worker variety of mum, dad and the pigeon pair, with me being the eldest.

Our childhoods were so vastly different and created an interesting melting pot for us to become a family and raise our three boys.

Our sons grew in the nourishing soil of being loved deeply by a devoted gentle, playful father who has always delighted in spending quality time with them at every opportunity, paying attention to their interests, sports and hobbies. And now with the uniquely characterful trio in their mid-thirties, we have the pleasure and privilege of calling them sons and dear friends.

I learned to be a mother over time, mostly through the lense of hindsight as I dared to vulnerably own and learn from my mistakes. Unlike my husband who had been surrounded by babies, toddlers and troubled teens, I had never handled a baby, let alone a new born prior to having my own. I was more the sporty, outdoors type. Always on the move, blissfully self-absorbed is a fair description. I wasn’t and am still not one of those nurturing maternally inclined women who make comforting or celebratory cups of tea to go with their home baked goods, while gushing and gooing over tiny babies.

I brought my own brand of parenting imprinted from my family of origin with its strengths and weaknesses. But, over time, and not altogether without inner resistance and struggle, I melded more and more with my husband and my offspring who have taught me to be less intense, live lighter, love and laugh more and accept imperfection in myself and those around me.

This love has expanded in us and through us over time. I’ve learned there is always more love to go around. We have always chosen to love whomever our boys loved and with that in our hearts, our family has grown, blended, strengthened and been changed for the better with each inclusion in our lives. Some have come to stay and some have gone, but our love, affection and life lessons learned from them, has remained.  A wonderful part of that embracing and engaging has resulted in the birth of three delightful granddaughters. And yes, I have rather enjoyed the gushing and the gooing.

For me, our family has been a safe place to grow up. I’m still growing up. It has been a messy, non-linear, jarring, jolting, joyous journey, of small tentative steps with stumbles, falls and stalls. With equal measure of tenderness and terror entwined in my psyche. ‘No-one comes out unscathed,’ a friend said recently.

It has been and continues to be a place of unlearning in so many ways. Of re-shaping, re-forming, recovering and restoring. A place of amazing depth and delight in the deceptively ordinary, surprising moments of giving and receiving love.

And I’d do it all again. It’s been that crazy good.

What price safety?

We received a touching phone call this morning from a close relative living in a nursing home, finding the loneliness of 2020 almost too much to bear.

“I feel like I have no family or friends. I know that’s not true, but day after day with no visitors, not even friends here in the nursing home are allowed to come for a chat and a cuppa in my room. Not wanting to complain but I just feel so low.”

I know there are many who have similar stories, ageing relatives feeling like their nursing home has become a safely sanitised prison where nurses, orderlies and cleaners are all they have to bring some small measure of human connection and brightness to a day.

One friend shared how she tried to arrange for her father to attend a Christmas family dinner in her home, only to be told by well-meaning Rona savvy staff that this year all inmates must stay in the home and are only allowed 1 visitor through the day. And no, the home will certainly not be providing Christmas lunch for the potential visitors as well.

What price safety I wonder?

While we err on the side of caution re physical health and re-elect Premiers to reward them for keeping us safe from the serious health issues associated with the current pandemic, I do wonder how we can support and care for those in our society who are experiencing the emotional, mental and relational impacts that are a direct result of our emphasis on ‘safety.’

It’s like a ‘living death’, sitting day after day alone in a nursing home room and this year of 2020 has made it all the more difficult for families who have been unable to travel across state borders to visit ageing relatives to bring hugs, chatter and comfort.

I hope we can together find ways to provide companionship and care to those in our community who are both alone and lonely, isolated in institutions or apartment blocks in suburbs near us.

Please feel free to contact me at C-Change Counselling and Coaching if you know of anyone who needs support during this difficult time. Together we can creatively and genuinely consider strategies to meet people’s needs.