More than once I’ve written from the perspective of a parent. It’s been on my mind to write a post from the eyes of a child, from the other side. So, here. More than the society, peers, schooling, teachers, advertising, and television, what really shapes a child is the environment at home. The physical comforts count but three things matter the most:
a. Parents’ relationship with each other.
b. Their view of the child.
c. Their behavior with the rest of the world.
A parent is often a child’s first introduction to the world. Everyone starts out with one, or both, of their parents as his role model. They are nothing short of a God for the little child. When he observes his parents fighting and arguing, it leads to a state of great confusion. Even an infant who can’t understand the words and language, effortlessly interprets the intended meaning from the tone of voice and facial expressions. Make a frowny face and they may still smile, but shout at the same time and you immediately instill fear in them. They know instantly that something is not pleasant, something is not right.
When two partners show little or no respect to each other, or if one of the partners is dominating and dictatorial, it wreaks havoc on the mind of the child. The thought of her role models not coming up to the mark feels unreal and this puts a tremendous burden on the child to somehow set things right. But, it’s not in their hands to fix it because a child’s behavior has little, if anything, to do with the quality of the relationship of her parents.
When two parents can’t get their act together for whatever reason, however plausible or preposterous, one of the parents start to look up to their child for comfort and emotional support. It’s natural; you look for support from the closest person. As a result, the suffering parent clings more to the child. But, a child who is growing up is not ready to take on that burden yet. Nor is he experienced enough to understand the underlying complexities. Always comforting his mother, he has to play the role of a father, an adult. And, this causes an irreparable damage to a child’s understanding of himself, of this world and of his own personal relationships in times to come.
Later on, such children may succeed in their careers, they may win international laurels, they may be accomplished scientists, but their ability to have a functional relationship often remains greatly impaired. Why? Among many other reasons, the primary one being that they try to act as a parent to their partners as well. There will be no equality in such a relationship and it’ll either fall apart or fail. Please read this again: when a partner does not treat the other as equal, but exercises control and stewardship, the relationship is bereft of any sense of belonging and togetherness. A child whose one parent was more dominating, often ends up in an unfulfilling relationship in his own life.
A child is completely dependent on his parents. A hundred percent. Kids between the ages of four and eight often have parents in all their drawings. They cannot imagine a world without their parents. The need for their parents’ attention, support, love and care is non-negotiable. Their survival and their growth depends on it. The word of the parents is absolute for them. Therefore, when parents pass judgment about the child, his first impression is to believe it. The labels parents give a child are the ones most children carry throughout their lives. A beautiful life of a capable mind turns into a struggle because they weren’t good enough in the eyes of the parent(s).
Labeled as inadequate, worthless, undisciplined, brat, careless and so forth, such a child either resigns completely or is forever searching for attention and approval. Both are victims of low self-esteem, and, either way, they lead a life of denial. At work, they may succeed because of their relentless effort to get an A+ in their performance appraisal, or by being promoted, but, this need of adequacy and attention has a damning effect on their personal relationships. I frequently meet people who are still like little children in adult bodies. They are constantly looking for attention, for approval, for a pat on the back.
When children observe their parents lying to others, when they see them living a certain way, this becomes their truth as well. For a child, it’s hard to imagine that her parents are not perfect. Such a realization often comes much later and even when it does, at first, they feel guilty for thinking this way, for not believing in their parents or for being ungrateful. Especially when a child grows up and goes through a broken relationship, she’s drawn back to the parents for comfort and support. It happens because the brain automatically recalls the happy moments she had with her parents. But, the parents haven’t changed, unfortunately. So, now, when they reuse the labels they had assigned earlier, this reaffirms a child’s sense of lacking. This, in turn, sets them up for another failed relationship or a broken life altogether.
It’s not for me to say whether parents do such things because they don’t know any better or for any other reason. It’s for them to ponder over. All I want to say to all my grownup readers who had a difficult childhood is that it’s not your fault. When your parents were squabbling and arguing, when they were whining and fighting, it was not your fault. When you couldn’t set things right, when you couldn’t comfort them, when you became the target of their wrath, it was not your doing.
Their immaturity was never a reflection on you, they had their own problems; it was not about you. You were not the reason but the victim. There was nothing you could have done to fix or save their relationship or solve their problems. It’s terrible that you went through what you did, you didn’t cause it. Please don’t hold yourself responsible. Even if you made mistakes, they were in the past. Let them go. Drop your past. Try. Free yourself.
Each one of us is entitled to a life of meaning. Go, find yours; not in your past but in your present.