Today I sat down at my computer ready to write. I stared at the blank screen, typed a few sentences and hit a brick wall. As I stared at my fingernails, waiting for inspiration, my eldest child (9 and home ill from school) said, “Can I go on Pottermore?” If you’re not familiar with Pottermore, it’s JK Rowling’s interactive Harry Potter-based online experience. At the moment, every conversation with Iona reverts back to either Harry Potter or music, so she always wants to ‘go on Pottermore.’
She sat down at the desktop computer and turned to me, “Mummy, I have a great idea. Why don’t you go on Pottermore on the laptop while I’m on it here and we can do it together?” My heart sank. The baby was napping and I thought that if my daughter went on Pottermore I could have a few minutes to sit down and write. I sighed, turned to her and gave her a few excuses. She persisted, saying it would be fun. Irritated, I put the laptop on ‘sleep,’ resentfully clicked it closed and grudgingly turned to watch her on the computer.
Well, we couldn’t find my username or password, so we opened the laptop again. She sat beside me and once we’d worked out how to log in, she guided me through the different rooms and pages, pointing out items you could ‘collect’ for your ‘trunk.’ Her hand brushed against mine, she put her arm around me and I smelled her little girl smell. When she laughed I noticed the straightness of her teeth and the sprinkling of freckles across her nose. In a moment I realised how short-sighted I had been. I had nearly turned down an opportunity to connect with her in favour of an opportunity to connect with my computer. Yet again, I was wrapped up in my adult world of ‘important things to do’ and I failed to see that something infinitely more important was tugging me by the hand and I was only following along resentfully.
The irony wasn’t lost on me. Here I was, a woman who mainly writes about mothering, feeling resentful that my child’s desire to be mothered was getting in the way of my writing. But I was that stubborn mule, and my child, holding the reins, was tugging and tugging, dragging me towards something wonderful.
We adults think that we know so much. We have more life experience than children; usually we have more qualifications, have spent more days sitting in a classroom or reading enriching books. One of our jobs as parents is to impart our greater knowledge on our children. We are their most important teachers.
But let’s not get carried away with our own self-importance. Just because we guide and teach our children about the world, doesn’t mean that we know everything about it. What person is finished learning? We are all lilfelong learners. And even if we know an awful lot about the world, it is the rare person who has the deepest knowledge of all: self-knowledge. Indeed, what many people don’t realise is that children have so much to teach us. And if we would only allow ourselves to be taught, we would learn so much about the world and (most importantly) about ourselves.
Baby-led breastfeeding and baby-led weaning (introduction of solid foods) are currently in vogue. Experts are now teaching that letting the child lead the process of latching on or starting solids can make everything easier for mother and baby and confers countless benefits. “Throw away the rules” they say and let the baby lead the way. I say, why not throw away the parenting rules? How about leading a child-led life?
A child-led life. What does that look like? Living a child-led life isn’t about dropping everything to obey your child’s every whim. A child-led life involves allowing your deep connection with your child to lead you. It means recognising that in guiding our children toward self-discovery we are following our own paths of self-discovery. It means seeing our children as the catalysts that will bring about greater self-awareness and an understanding of who we are at the deepest level. Our children are our clearest mirrors, reflecting back to us all that we may not see ourselves. Leading a child-led life is not necessarily about letting your child tell you what to do, rather it is about letting your child lead you toward who you really are.
This week, Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton tweeted this:
How tough one is on the unreasonable demands of kids often reflects what life has done to one’s own deepest hopes.
This short sentence was food for thought. The first half of the sentence, about ‘the unreasonable demands of kids’ instantly put me on my guard because what is considered ‘unreasonable’ is subjective. Who decides that their demands are unreasonable? Is he saying that children are always unreasonable? Is it that we adults decide that they are being unreasonable? Which brings us to the second half: ‘often reflects what life has done to one’s own deepest hopes.’ There it is. How we react to our child’s requests (when we decide that they unreasonable) says more about us than it does about them.
My reluctance to play with my daughter today (which was what she was asking for, even if it doesn’t seem like ‘play’) revealed a side of myself that I would rather ignore, though it also reminded me of the feeling of genuine happiness. At first I heard a familiar recording of thoughts in my mind: complaints, victim thoughts, catastrophic and hyperbolic thoughts (‘but if I don’t do it now, I’ll never get it done!’). I didn’t want to let go of what I wanted. After spending some time playing with her, I experienced a sense of contentment and elation unequal to anything I have ever felt when crossing off yet another thing on my To Do list. I had loving thoughts, a calm sense of satisfaction at sharing this time with her. In a word, I was having fun. I was happy. When I eventually let her lead me, I found that not only did I share a wonderful moment with her, I also found out more about myself than would have otherwise been revealed. I am glad I let her lead the way.
Photo credit: Florent Pecassou, Wikimedia Commons