I overheard a conversation recently where one woman spoke of her brother’s unwillingness to travel over 24 hours and pay her a visit with his three, yes three, young children. The woman herself is a parent, the youngest of her brother’s children is a toddler and yet her tone was judgemental. I was perplexed.
Then came the missing piece of the puzzle. ‘Well, I backpacked around Europe with a six- and three-year old!’, she went on.
I walked away soon after that. I’d heard enough.
The world in some ways hasn’t yet woken up to the fact we, as human beings, are individuals, and it doesn’t yet realise that more and more children (and their families) are having trouble fitting into the models, expectations, systems and ways of life that are so engrained in our psyches and cultures. Yes, the cliché is there: we’re all different. But that’s the trouble; it’s a cliché. We need a new language to get people to pay attention.
I speak up not for me (none of that rubbish affects me very much nowadays; I got out of the way of all that some time ago). I speak up for the ‘old’ me that I see in so many other impressionable parents out there struggling to reconcile their reality in the face of so much bullshit that just doesn’t match up with what life has presented them. I am writing this for the other people who overheard that conversation who will probably go on to use it against themselves and for those who fall prey to the rampant comparisons and competitiveness, who feel they are somehow failing because none of it makes any sense.
When we moved to Australia five years ago with Luca, aged 18 months, we travelled along the east coast in a car and caravan looking for somewhere to call home. We romanticised about being free on the road, about doing it for a year and going beyond the east coast.
We lasted four months.
In a nutshell, the constant packing up and moving around and the unsettled feel it had made for an exhausting experience. It was too much for us. The truth is I was glad to see the back of it when it sold. We’d meet people with three, four children, who’d been on the road for months, years – working, schooling on the move. The lifestyle suited them, you could see it in their gleeful, peaceful eyes. My eyes told a different story – we were the family who couldn’t pull off this kind of adventure with all its spontaneity, with a child who was overwhelmed by the world at what seemed like every hour of the day. None of it measured up.
I judged myself on pretty much everything. I even judged myself for not getting in the car when Luca was a baby and visiting my mum more often (who was just over an hour away).
Nowadays, thankfully (and I really do mean I’m full of gratitude!), I try and approach life knowing that who we are, who our kids are is all perfect (and this perspective wasn’t a nice gentle evolutionary thing; it came about because I was so spent and weary-boned from living the painful way).
One of my finest moments as a parent was earlier this year. All kids love parties, right? Isn’t that how it goes? Not our beautiful blue-eyed boy. For his sixth birthday, he asked me if he could have just the one friend, because “last year’s party with seven friends was too noisy and I couldn’t relax”. I wanted to weep at his knees with gratitude that day. Gratitude that at not yet six years of age, he understood what made him thrive and what made him shrink. Gratitude that he came to me and expressed his needs.
We don’t and can’t know everything that goes on in a person’s world. A person’s world is complex enough without the added complexity and emotions that come with parenting. A parent’s world is complex enough without the rollercoaster journey that comes with raising children who want to do everything against the grain.
Who’s to say that woman’s brother isn’t an introvert with a very low threshold for stimulation and the idea of taking his kids across the world to be met with raucous family gatherings on the other side is just more than he can handle? And who’s to say that on top of being an introvert, his kids aren’t highly sensitive all with their own ways of expressing themselves? Who’s to say the mother who won’t drive that hour down the road isn’t battling depression (and just about managing to put a jacket potato on the table every evening)?
You just never know.
So let’s ask what expectations we have of ourselves, of our children and of other people. And then let’s send those expectations off with wings into the sky. Let’s judge less and accept more, because when more of that is common, we’re in a much better place to judge ourselves less and accept ourselves more.
So they backpacked around the globe? Well, they’re more comfortable with one-night stays, locally. They like big parties, while you prefer something more intimate. Their children are night owls; yours are ready for their beds at 6pm.
We all belong in this wonderful world, but no need to fit in, compare or compete. Stay in your own lane. We just need to fit into ourselves, melt into all our corners and own every part of us.
Let’s celebrate all the bits that make us who we are and let’s celebrate all the bits that make our children who they are. That kind of acceptance brings such sweet relief. Believe me.