This article first appeared on Positivepsychologynews.com
My oldest daughter returned home a couple of weeks ago. She was back from her first year of university in Montreal. I had missed her terribly. I had longed to hug her, have her lie in my lap, braid her long tresses. Now she was actually here…
She was jet-lagged for the first few days. As her fatigue wore off, I searched for signs of the daughter I had left behind less than a year ago, the child who loved to rest her head on my shoulder, who staunchly backed every word I said, who laughed with glee at my every joke. I did not find her in the adult before me, who voiced her own opinions, preferred solitude to the noisy company of her younger siblings, and found greater comfort in her friends’ texts than her mother’s lap.
I was hurt. I knew our children eventually fly from the family nest. But no one had told me that they return as different people. I found it hard to accept the change in her and my mind fought against it. My inner lawyer worked overtime, especially through the wee hours of the morning, collecting evidence to justify my hurt. Hume was right when he said that reason is slave to passion. Passion fed my hurt tirelessly and began to transform it into anger. Like blaring sirens next to my hand-covered ears, the voice of anger penetrated my mind and kept my passions alive.
I turned to my mindfulness mat for relief.
In the uninterrupted chambers of solitude, the onslaught was easier to handle. I let its noise and racket wash over me. It took its time, but eventually it did subside. Then like a wild animal making its appearance in the stillness of the moment, my inner unrest spoke to me. In its fleeting images, I realized that my unease and anger was not about my daughter at all. She had awakened my inner child and ignited the fears I had kept hidden for so long.
I tried to dismiss this idea, and my rational mind kicked in again, making me doubt the transient presence of my soul. But in my quieter moments, it came back to me, stronger, more vivid, more daring. I saw the 6-year-old me sitting alone while everyone played. I saw the sixty year-old me in the future waiting for my child to visit with no one coming. Was it a personal fear of rejection or a cultural need for a child’s undying love? It may have been both, but I did not need to dig in much further. Once heard, my inner child seemed to calm down. Having made its appearance, the wild animal within me turned around and walked away in silence, into the darkness and depth of the jungle from whence it came.
We all have our own little bubbles of fear resting deep within the subconscious. Our relationships with our children take us back to these bubbles. If they burst, we risk scarring our precious babies and affecting their own parenting styles in the years to come. Looking inwards, we also have a chance deflate our fears into nothingness simply by recognizing that they may have once served us well, but now it is time to let them go.
Given the generational implications of our actions, I think we as parents have a responsibility to search inside ourselves for the past baggage that we carry in order to understand our reactions and curb the desire to control young lives. But there is another reason. When we act out of fear, we suppress our capacity to connect to our own goodness. We lose faith in the compassion, the altruism, and the deep desire to make a meaningful difference to the lives of others within us.
I am learning to see my fears as shaped by my circumstances and to have compassion for a part of me that has long been in hiding. I am beginning to recognize my reactions as based on these fears and to forgive myself for being human, so I can embark on the journey to change. I am reconnecting to my own goodness and beginning to embrace the parts of me that want to love unconditionally and accept non-judgmentally.
I wish I could say it is easy! In the countless moments I backslide, I have to remind myself that change is a work of a lifetime and that nobody is promised a smooth ride. But every day I am rewarded by the gratitude I feel for my daughter’s presence in my life, by the compassion I have for the struggles she undertook alone, and by the awe I feel for the strength with which she overcame them.
In so doing, I hope I am teaching her to value her own goodness, so she can find a way to live it too. Our world needs more of this goodness. Our fears certainly brought us this far in our evolution. But they’ve also given rise to the myriad challenges we face today. The difficult journey ahead requires a different approach, one that is founded on the goodness in others that we tend to take for granted, and in our own selves that we often forget to feed. It is not a feel-good option any more. Our very survival depends on it.