As I grow older as a parent of three children, I grow to have a deeper appreciation for my own mother and come to understand the decisions she made and the way she raised us. I feel grateful when I realise that, apart from the Lord, she has been my guide and my inspiration for the person and the mother I have become.
There were definitely some tough lessons, but always from a place of love. I see how much we as parents are the role models for our children and the pressure I sometimes feel because I cannot live up to being the ‘perfect parent’. However, I realise that as long as I am a ‘conscious parent’ who can be aware of and guided by the needs of my child and supported by the Lord and His Word, then I am doing the best job that I can do.
My children are certainly a well-designed means for me to do some of the spiritual growing I need to do as part of my journey to consciousness. There are many lessons to be learned and I have come to reflect upon those I learned from my own mother many years ago.
I grew up in a household where the traditional means of parenting were upheld: ‘children should be seen and not heard” was a phrase I often heard from my father in particular. Discipline was strict and tough at times, and I often wondered why my mother never stood up for me. Over the years, I felt angry at the way I was raised, and often blamed my parents, especially my mum, for not being there for me when I needed them most. I think I tried to run away a few times when I was a teenager, and was sad that no-one ever came to find me.
I had the opportunity to ask my mother about ‘running away’ recently on a trip home to the UK to visit them. Her response to this was simple. She said, “I always knew where you were and that you were safe. I wanted to give you the space to process what you were feeling and thinking and I knew when you had done that, that you would come home.” Not necessarily the answer a teenage girl would want to hear at that time, and my perception at the time was one of loneliness. However, it is the message that I hear now and understand how this has come to help me in my 40’s to better understand myself. I often take the time to process what is going on for me and for my children.
I grew up blaming my mum for not being there for me; for not sticking up for me; for not believing in me; and for not being proud of me. I was a very quiet and shy child because I was the shortest and littlest and had been taught, as I mentioned before, that I should be seen and not heard. This meant for me, looking back, that I was literally not heard. I grew up not knowing who I really was underneath it all and have spent many years since that time on a journey of self discovery. As part of that, I have been on my journey to discover my own spirituality.
That journey is still ongoing, but I had a beautiful moment with my mum in January when I went home after 6 years of being away. My dad has been through some difficult times in the past 5 years with his health (he has a brain tumour) and the side-effects of the treatments he has had. He has become more short tempered and I can feel his frustration at not being able to be the person he was and do all the things he loved. I feel sad that he is in such a dark place emotionally, physically and spiritually.
However, what I saw on our trip to the UK, for the first time, was that my mum is a source of great light and I had never noticed how brightly that light shone. I asked her how she copes with my dad on a day to day basis and she was open and honest with me. She told me that she genuinely likes to help and to do things for other people. She does it always from the heart because that is what brings her peace and joy. She goes to church every week and finds the strength in the Lord and no matter how difficult the days are, she finds the most peaceful path through it. Sometimes that is at church on a Sunday or helping at the church during the week. Sometimes she may just go out for a walk on her own, or attend a Tai-Chi Class. Sometimes she volunteers at the local charity shop. There she is supported and loved and heard.
I realised more than anything, that all these years, I have been putting myself in her shoes. But she and I are very different personalities and have very different life experiences. I know now that I need to accept my mum for who she is and for the journey she has been on and continues on through her life. I may feel frustrated for the choices she has made in her life, but have learned to respect them and love her for them. These choices have certainly made me the person I am today through watching my mum as my role model.
My mum grew up in a working class Glasgow household. She lived in a tenement building and her father worked as a painter for the local corporation (council). He painted schools and ships and council buildings. My grandmother, her mother, was a seamstress, who worked from home making clothes and upholstery for extra money. My mum grew up with a severe squint in one eye and no sense of balance. After many operations she could see better but never regained the sense of balance (she cannot ride a bike). She went to school, but was told that she would never pass exams (o’levels & highers in Scotland) so left school to become a secretary. She met my dad when she was 20 years old, got married and had two children.
My mum stayed at home with us children for many years until I went to playgroup, then she started to help out at the playgroup I was at. When I went to primary school, she decided to go back to college and do a diploma in Nursery Nursing, which she got and worked, until retirement, in many government nursery schools as a nursery teacher.
When I was in High School, she took her o’levels and higher exams and passed with great grades. She took night classes in computer studies with me and loves to sew and knit. She always has something to keep herself busy and happy. She seems to be content in her own space, most of the time. I realise how much I miss having her nearby and wish that she was close to our family to share in our joys, our sadness, our excitement and our rough times. I know now how much she did support, inspire me and teach me the lessons of life as I grow into my role as wife and mother.
I remember, with a small chuckle as I write, a very tough lesson I learned when I was about 11 years old and in Primary 7. I desperately wanted a pair of shoes that were the latest fashion, instead of the clumbsy, unfashionable school shoes I was made to wear. They were light gray, pointy toed, shiney shoes with a little heel that went ‘click clack’ as I walked. My mum refused to get me some because she felt they were bad for my feet and my knees. I tried everything to get her to buy me some, including the age old line of, “but everyone else has them…”. To which her response was always, “Well, if your friends all jumped off a cliff, would you do do it too?” A line I have found myself using with my own children!
To cut a long story short, she bought me the shoes. But there was one condition: that I wear them all day, all week to school. I was so excited and readily agreed. After day 2 of wearing the shoes to school, I wanted to take them off. My toes were sore, the soles and heels of my feet were sore and blistered. They were the most impractical shoes… But I stubbornly wore them all week and at the end of the week took them off, only to be worn, from then on, once in a while. I have never wanted to wear the most fashionable, uncomfortable shoes ever again and I would rather hang out in my bare feet, slip slops or my tekkies (South African word for sneakers), than in uncomfortable shoes. Even when I worked in a corporate environment, I wore my tekkies to work on the train and kept my work shoes under my desk. I usually walked around the office in my slippers or bare feet!
It has taken many years to discover the role model my mum is and was and to really appreciate her for all that she has done that I never really noticed. And that’s really what being a parent is all about: doing things that our children never really notice or appreciate, but that we know are good for them now and in the future. I hope that my own children will find a time later in life to reflect, as they too become parents themselves, and appreciate the role model I tried to be in their lives, as my mum was to me.
We all find it hard to do the right thing in parenting and be the best we can be – but what challenges have you faced in becoming a ‘conscious parent’?