Losing Mum – Again

Can there be anything worse for a child than to lose his or her mother? That person who should bond with you, gone from your life, whether by accident or design or sheer selfishness.

For a neglected child, losing the neglectful mother is harsh. She wants a relationship that will last forever, and that will comfort and support her. However, not only did her birth mother remain aloof and oblivious to her and her brother’s needs, but then she and her brother were snatched away from their mother and put in someone else’s care.

And learned to form an attachment to new mum; a mum who did care and who did love her; a mum she could love and trust in return. A mum that helped her and her brother overcome their feelings of abandonment.

And then new mum went to see the doctor. And new mum had to go into hospital.

But new mum never came home, and never will.

And a few days later, she and her brother have to say goodbye to another mum. A mum they could trust and love. Because they knew that she loved them. And they will stand by his side, holding hands with new dad, and crying together.

And death is the ultimate abandonment, with no going back.

And recovery from abandonment has to begin again. But this time, with no new mum to turn to.

Only new dad. And new dad is just as sad. But she knows, and her brother knows, that new dad loves them. And new dad will try to be their new mum, too.

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Mindful Lying

One of the big developments in mental health care is the adoption of mindfulness techniques to help people overcome their past and to evoke feelings of wellbeing. The idea is that we live in the present; not the past, not the future, but the present. We don’t have to worry about most of what happened yesterday, and we don’t have to worry about what might happen tomorrow. Even this morning’s or this evening’s events are unimportant as of this afternoon.

Sufficient for each day

There’s nothing wrong with that concept. I don’t often quote religious literature, but even Jesus pointed out that we need not be anxious about what tomorrow will bring. Sufficient for each day is its own badness.

The fact is that the past has passed. It’s gone. Yesterday’s pain has left us. Sure, we still have pain, today, but it’s today’s pain. It may even have been caused by something that happened yesterday; but it is still today’s pain. And tomorrow, maybe the pain will be gone. We don’t know.

That’s mindfulness.

The plans of the diligent one 

Having said that, of course, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan for the future. After all, how many people are over their heads in debt because they spent tomorrow’s money on today’s luxuries.

We need to plan, budget, schedule, do whatever it takes to have some level of organisation in our lives. That’s what makes us dependable, valuable members of society. People get to know that they can rely on us.

That, too, is mindfulness.

Letting go of the past 

Another aspect of this practise is the need to let go of the past. Ah! Herein lies a small problem.

Rightly, mindfulness embraces the concept of the past being in the past. So, if our parents made mistakes in our upbringing, that’s in the past and it’s up to us to change the future. If someone treated us badly, that’s in the past and it’s up to us to change the future. Even if we were treated exceptionally well, that’s in the past and the future is in our hands.

So far, so good. That’s all mindfulness.

Acceptance

All of this is based on the mindfulness concept of acceptance.

What a great concept. It means that we accept what has happened without judgement, we let it go, and we move on. We dictate the course of our own future.

We also accept, without judgement, the choices that other people make and we let them get on with their own lives while we get on with ours.

We even accept, without judgement, the mistakes that our parents made when raising us. After all, there is no trial run for parenthood. No matter how many children you have, each one is unique.  Accept, too, that most parents, even the worst of them, believe that their actions were in the best interests of their children. Maybe the parents got it horribly wrong. But relatively very few parents actually set out to harm their children in any way. How often has a father, accused of physically abusing his child, claimed that he really believed it was reasonable chastisement? That he was only doing what his father has done to him? That he believed it was in the child’s best interests? I’m not excusing or justifying such behaviour. And I don’t believe that we can accept that behaviour without judgement. But that only adds weight to the argument against non-judgemental acceptance. It’s a discussion for another day.

The mindful lie 

However, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. There is a major flaw in the way that many people practice mindfulness, today. They learn just enough to be able to cope with their miserable existence. And then the problems start.

The basic concept of acceptance is that we all have the right to self-determination. Nothing wrong with that. We are not robots. Our intelligence is not artificial. We have freedom of choice in everything we do. Our future really does lie in our own hands.

We also have a responsibility to accept the choices that others make. As parents we only want what’s best for our children. However, as they grow up we start allowing them more and more freedom of choice. And there will be times when, because of our experience, we can see the flaws in their choices and we offer warnings and advice. But the choice is still theirs, and we accept their choices. And, when the consequences fulfil our greatest fears, we are there to support them, if we possibly can. But they may have to accept those consequences, despite our best efforts to protect them.

Entitlement – The greatest lie

The problem with the limited knowledge that many people have, or the limited way that they apply it, is that they have come to believe that acceptance equates with entitlement. “I am entitled to make my own choices and you have to accept it,” is the mindful rallying cry. Or, “I have to accept her choice. She’s entitled to choose that way.”

That’s fine, of course. It leads to greater acceptance and tolerance of the diversity of life as humans.

However, entitlement is a bit of a problem. Let’s take a simple example. There is one candy left in the jar. It is too small to cut in half. Both children are entitled to it. But they have to accept that they can’t both have it.

A more subtle example is that a disabled driver is “entitled” to park in a family parking bay, but woe betide a parent who parks in a disabled bay to prevent her children from denting the adjacent car.

Now let’s look at the more serious aspects of it.

Commendation

One of the side effects of entitlement is the concept of commendation. We have raised a generation of children who rarely receive criticism because, according to the do-gooders, it’s not good for them. “Children need to be praised all the time,” according to some so-called experts. “Never say negative things to your children. It harms their self-esteem.”

How wrong can they be? Correction has its place in our lives, just as commendation does. Additionally, the two go hand in hand. Correction is usually best received after commendation. So we might say, “I like the colours that you’ve chosen for your painting. But did you really need to paint the bedroom wall at the same time?”

Why is this so important? Because, if children do not receive balanced correction and proper critical analysis, we are setting them up for failure and disappointment. As the book, Generation Me, put it, when you hand your boss a bad report he’s not going to say he likes the colour of the paper that you chose to print it. (Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–And More Miserable Than Ever Before – Paperback – 30 Sep 2014 by PH D Jean M Twenge PH.D.)

So what happens when we turn mindfulness into non-judgemental acceptance and entitlement?

We no longer need prisons. Honestly. We don’t. If we accept all actions without judgement then the mass murderer is just reacting to bad things that happened in his life and we have to accept that. The child abuser is just carrying out his natural instinct and we have to accept it. The wife beater is entitled to be the head of his own house and impose discipline in his way. So we can empty the prisons and turn them into hotels!

And when it comes to commendation, when someone stabs us in the back, we praise them for being able to find a soft spot.

When their drunk driving destroys a life, we praise them for knowing how to steal a car. And, anyway, it wasn’t their fault that the car owner left it unlocked.

When a chief executive steals the company pension pot, we praise him for making it grow so big.

Plus, of course, when a child plays with matches and sets the house on fire, killing half the family, they were only being inquisitive, which is the best way to learn.

Even our own actions come under this self-aggrandizing rule. When we jump off a cliff we are entitled to have the whole universe accept our choice and it has to change the laws of gravity to save us, and then we expect the rest of the world to praise us for our scientific experimentation, instead of rightly ridiculing us for our stupidity.

It’s a lie 

Can we really equate a child flooding the bathroom with a mass murderer? Of course not. But there are too many people, today, who demand preferential treatment just because they expect you and me to accept their choices without judgement, and to praise them for making those unwise choices.

It’s a lie we tell ourselves. We lie to ourselves to pamper our egos in the belief that everything we do is acceptable to us and it should be acceptable to everyone else as well, whether they like it or not; whether it hurts them or not.

Are we really to believe that we can go out of our way to assassinate someone’s character, and they have to accept our choices without judgement, and then they have to commend us for our efforts? Are we really meant to accept that we will be maimed for life without judging the actions of the person who maimed us? Are we to commend the parent whose extreme neglect ruined their children’s lives, just because we are supposed to accept the parents’ choices without judgement?

Forgive and forget

The problem is that this acceptance and tolerance without judgement are based on the concept of forgiving and forgetting.

Actually, forgiveness is the easy part. Forgetting is a little more difficult.

“I’m sorry you had such a poor upbringing. And I forgive you for causing me to lose my legs. But I’ll never forget it. I have to live with it for the rest of my life.“

“I’m sorry that you had such a bad experience. And I forgive you for murdering my child. But I’ll have to live without my child for the rest of my life. “

“I’m sorry that you made a poor choice of marriage mate. And I forgive you for neglecting my grandchildren. But I can’t forget it because my life has been permanently changed now that I am raising your children. Oh. And by the way, I have the daily battle with their attachment issues which were caused by your neglect.”

“I’m sorry that the bartender put his profits ahead of your health needs. And I forgive you for dying when you crashed the car. But I now have to deal with the pain and loss for the rest of my life.”

Mindful lying

Mindfulness is a wonderful concept. Learning to accept our circumstances without judgement is one way to deal with the issues that we face in life. It helps us to maintain our equanimity in the face of trials.

But may we never impose our entitlement on others. May we remember . . . No . . . May we be mindful of the needs of others. May we remember that although the people we hurt may accept it without judgement, and that they may even forgive us, it does not mean that they can forget. They may have to live with the consequences of our actions for the rest of their lives. And they are not going to commend us for that.

Additionally, just because the people we hurt have forgiven us, it does not mean that they will be willing to accept us back into their company any time soon. They are most definitely entitled to protect the interests of their family. And that may mean keeping their distance from us.

So it’s time to stop lying to ourselves. We cannot excuse our actions on the basis of mindful, non-judgemental acceptance on the part of the people we hurt. We cannot condemn those we have hurt, just because they refuse to be reconciled, preferring to keep their distance. Indeed, if it’s time for non-judgemental acceptance, let us accept, without judgement, that we burned the bridge, and the person we hurt has the right to stop us rebuilding it.

Don’t Air Your Dirty Washing in Public

On the vagaries of blogging rights

 

Swathes of Glory 2

 

I am not a full time blog reader/writer. Still, I follow a few blogs that interest me, and I try to keep up to date with them as far as I am able. If I see someone new who has either ‘liked’ one of my posts, or has followed me, I try to check out their blog to see if we have enough in common for me to show an interest in their work.

Every now and then, though, I try to click on a random blog that shows up, perhaps in the WordPress Reader. Alternatively, I look at those who have visited one of the pages that I am visiting, and simply select a ‘random’ person to check out their blog. This way, I have found some very interesting characters with some very interesting things to say.

I have also discovered some really weird blogs! Let me say, at the outset, that I do not follow blogs that contain bad language, or those that are overtly religious, political, or violent, or that spout ridiculous notions. Still, I try to remain fairly open-minded, and I have read some interesting blog entries, over the years.

Strange Revelations

There is, however, one category of blogger that really fascinates me: Those who “air their dirty washing in public.” The concept is that of someone who inappropriately shares private, potentially embarrassing information with those who are not entitled to it.

In my previous post, Are You Sure You Want to Share That with the World? I commented on those who share embarrassing personal information which, to be honest, very few others want to know. Rather than the uplifting tale of how they have overcome their personal trials, they simply wallow in their misery and try to elicit sympathy from the world.

In this post, I want to address a far more worrying concept: That of sharing potentially embarrassing, or even damaging personal information about other people.

Dirty Laundry

What follows is not a true story. It is based on a distillation of a number of blog entries that I have read over the last few years, together with items from the news media, and a fair degree of imagination. However, if you see yourself in this story, get some help. You need it!

Let’s consider a situation that is, sadly, becoming more and more common. Janet and John begin courting. They get married and have children. During their relationship, they send each other text messages with some fairly explicit comments. Eventually, they share explicit photos of themselves with each other.

(Before we go on, let me just say that I do not approve of this activity, commonly called, ‘sexting.’ Parents, especially, should be on high alert to check their children’s electronic devices regularly, and take immediate action against any such activities.)

The couple subsequently break up, and, in order to exact revenge, John posts the photos on his social media page. This has been dubbed illegal in many places, but by the time the law gets involved it is nigh on impossible to retrieve and destroy all copies of the photos. Once they are on the Internet, they are public, or can easily be made public.

Where does the law stand on this? As mentioned, in many areas it is now considered to be illegal to post ‘revenge porn’ and John could be prosecuted, especially if Janet presses charges.

When the Victim Becomes the Criminal

Now let’s consider a fairly strange scenario that I have seen in my online travels. Again, this is not a true story, as noted, above.

Consider a person who maligns another. Going back to Janet and John, let’s say that instead of posting the photos she sent him, John starts blogging about how Janet mistreated him. He says that she was always demanding money off him and would get violently angry when he failed to provide it.

She finds out about his rants but, wanting a peaceful life, says to herself, “Yeah! Whatever. I’m free of him, now, and I have no intention of validating his childishness. I will not even dignify his rant with a response. I will just ignore it.” Good for her. She has moved on, and is probably protecting her children from harm, too.

Worse than that, maybe John has blocked Janet from accessing his social media accounts, so she does not even know what he is saying.

One day, though, Janet’s sister, Mary finds out about his posts. Mary is incensed, and, against Janet’s wishes, she responds to John’s blog posts, making comments about how he is not telling the truth. OK. She calls him a liar. She points out how he failed to provide housekeeping money for Janet and the children because he was always in the pub, drinking his wages away. When he eventually got home, the children were crying with hunger pains, and Janet, not having the resources to feed them, started crying inconsolably, while he complained about her spending too much on the children and herself.

So what happens, now? John makes a complaint to the police, and Mary is cautioned about her online behaviour, being labelled as an Internet Troll. She is told that if she keeps abusing John online, the way she has, she could be prosecuted for harassment. She is not to contact him, nor is she to visit his social media pages.

Now, I know what you are thinking: “No way! John is the one at fault.” Yes. You are right. But, until Janet makes a complaint, there is nothing that the police can do about it. Mary is interfering in a domestic situation that even the police will not get involved in without permission.

And the result is that Mary now has a note against her on file with the local police. Meanwhile, John can continue his allegations without fear of retribution.

Why Do They Do It?

Why would John do something like this when he knows that he is not painting a true picture of their life together, and that Janet could, in a very short time, and very easily, expose him for the liar that he is?

The answer is quite simple. John wants attention. Specifically, he wants attention from Janet. Oh, he hates her with a vengeance. He wants nothing more to do with her. But he is so demanding, so selfish, so abusive, that he wants to control her.

Janet, however, knows how to deal with John. She knows that by ignoring him she is helping him to overcome his controlling behaviour. Eventually, he will have to come to terms with himself and, hopefully, become more rational in his thinking. Eventually, he will either learn to be at peace with Janet, or he will find someone else to abuse.

In the meantime, by spouting his lies all over the worldwide web he is eliciting sympathy from those who do not know the truth. He is also trying to make himself look good by making Janet look bad. As I noted in my post, Looking Good, that is the worst way to elicit praise for yourself.

The result is that he surrounds himself with ‘friends’ who would drop him like a hot potato if they knew what he was really like. But, because they are unlikely to ever meet him, he can get away with it; he can elicit their sympathy and try to justify himself to himself at the same time. His conscience is bothering him, but he is not listening to it. Rather, he is trying to prove his own conscience wrong.

The Danger

There is, however, a real danger, here. He is calling Janet’s integrity and parenting ability into question. She could end up having to justify herself to Social Services if they ever get hold of what John is saying.

True, it would be fairly easy for Janet to clear up the situation. Yet the process will be very stressful for her and this is stress that she could well do without.

The Solution

So, what is the solution?

I was always taught, and I tried to teach my children and grandchildren, that if you do not have anything positive to say, don’t say anything. I don’t say I have always managed to achieve that, but it is a good maxim. Alternatively, never say anything bad about someone unless it is with the intention of helping them. And then, only say it to the right person, the person who can provide that help.

In this hypothetical scenario, John should not be speaking to the world, he would do better keeping quiet. Alternatively, if he really wants attention from Janet, he might try admitting to and apologising for his failures rather than trying to justify them.

Mary should not have become involved without Janet’s permission. She only aggravated the situation and got herself a potential police record into the bargain.

As for Janet, could she possibly resolve the situation? We don’t know. Maybe she has tried. Maybe she has pointed out to John that he needs to be more careful with what he says, especially in public. Maybe she has expressed her concerns that he could be putting the children at risk. It certainly seems that she had discussions with him about his failure to provide for the family. Then, again, maybe he blocked her access to his web pages so that she cannot find out what he is saying about her; she doesn’t know! Either way, she is at least trying to keep the peace.

John knows what he has to do to be reconciled to Janet, but his pride will not allow him to act on that knowledge.

Janet, though, has the right idea. John is airing their dirty washing in public. By not engaging him in this battle she is keeping the peace, and protecting the family to the best of her ability.

Janet knows that she has true friends around her; friends who refuse to enter into the battle. Instead, they keep encouraging her and helping her to cope.

Indeed, the best way to conquer evil is with good. Refuse to engage with it; don’t pamper to its ego. Then, maybe these sad, self-centred people will simply fade away.

Water Under the Bridge

Mindless comments hurt.

Yet how many stories do we hear about people who haven’t spoken to each other for years, but they cannot remember why. 

Water under the bridge. It’s gone. And half our lives have gone, too. And the quarrel is forgotten. But the pain remains. 

Like the river bank, worn away, by the water under the bridge. 

Let it go. 

Losing Everything

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I watched as a pigeon landed nearby with a piece of bread, far too big to eat. He started to wrestle with it, his beak shaking it about trying to break it into smaller, bite-sized pieces.

All this activity did not go unnoticed. Another pigeon saw the commotion and flew in to investigate. Seeing such a grand feast, he challenged for possession.

The defendant dropped the bread and stood his ground. But the challenger was intent on getting the prize. He moved in, aggressively. A fight ensued, with both pigeons slugging it out, beak to beak. No quarter was asked, and no quarter was given.

The two antagonists kept up the fracas for a short while, making lots of movement and a great deal of loud noise.

But the fight was being observed from on high. At the opportune moment, a seagull swooped in, his great beak aiming at the target. He landed, gulped the bread down, and left, just as quickly as he had appeared; all in one smooth movement.

The antagonists looked on, stunned, and went on their way, hungry.

Watching this drama unfold, I realised that whenever we focus on our disagreements, we lose sight of the bigger picture.

And we risk losing everything.

Talent? What Talent?

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Watching a talent show, you wonder what the family are thinking when they allow their son, daughter, or whatever, to subject themselves to such public humiliation.

Most of us sing, from time to time; usually for one of two reasons. Either we feel happy, and burst into song, or we want to distract ourselves or others from what is going on around us. Lullabies are a classic example of the latter; a concerned parent tries to distract their child from pain, or send him to sleep, despite the excitement all around. Or a child will sing in a disruptive manner when she doesn’t get the attention she thinks she deserves.

Yet, how many of us really believe that we could make it as the next big pop star? No. We keep our singing to ourselves.

OK. Let’s put this in perspective. There was an advertisement for a famous chocolate bar, many years ago, that showed a new group auditioning with a record producer. During a break for refreshments, the producer says, “Can’t play. Can’t sing. You look awful. (Pause for advertised product.) You’ll go a long way.” Now, that was meant as sarcasm. But it seems that many of the people entering talent competitions, especially the televised versions, think it works. And I often wonder, “Do their families really hate them so much that they would allow them to go through such public humiliation?”

So why does it happen?

1. Hatred. There are several reasons, and overt family hatred is not among them, most of the time. Only the most perverse parent would want to humiliate their child in such a public fashion. Mind you, that doesn’t stop many parents from shouting derogatory comments at their child in public.

2. Don’t Upset Him. One reason is that people don’t want to upset their child, parent, or sibling. So, rather than cause upset in the family, they say nothing, or even encourage the foolish attempt to make it in show business, art, or the chosen talent. Maybe the would-be artist believes he has a great voice, but he also has a bit of a temper. So no one wants to upset him. They forget that he’s going to be upset, anyway, when the discerning public humiliate him.

3. Hatred Disguised as Love. Yet a far more insidious form of hatred is disguised as love. The current trend in parenting says that we should not provide a child with a negative view of himself; always try to find something good to say about his efforts. As commendable as such sentiments may be, do they really help to prepare the child for life? Self esteem is important. But to be valuable it has to be realistic. I once read a comment by a father who said, “If you present a bad report at the office, your boss isn’t going to say, ‘Hey, I like the color paper you chose.'”

Nurturing a positive view of one’s self without good cause is not loving. It is a form of hateful abuse. By nurturing the view that a child can do no wrong, a parent is setting the child up for failure. Children need to learn to be self-critical, not in the negative, self-harming sense, but in the way of having a realistic view of their own abilities and achievements. They need to identify when they got it wrong so that they can have the pleasure of problem solving without recourse to a parent masking the child’s failure. They need to learn to reason on their own work, find the mistakes, and fix them on their own.

The same is true of talent. When a parent, or other significant family member, presents an unrealistically positive view, they are doing their child a huge disservice. Protecting a child from harm includes protection from self-inflicted abuse caused by an unrealistic view of your own abilities. And that can only be achieved by being tactfully truthful.

Children need to learn that the universe does not revolve around them. They need to learn that they can’t be right, all the time. They need to learn that they will make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean that their life is over. The safest place to learn this is in the warm, loving environment of a warm, loving family, with parents who care enough to point out the failings in a gentle, loving way. They need parents who help them to identify and correct mistakes, rather than hiding the child from the consequences of their actions.

While it is important to encourage a child’s self esteem, failing to identify their weaknesses is failing to be a good parent. It produces children who greedily assume that the world owes them a living, and that they don’t have to do anything to deserve it.

Would it not be better to give the child a balanced, realistic view of himself. Maybe, then, they can become better parents, when it’s their turn.

Acceptance vs Approval

There’s a big debate going on around the world about acceptance and being non-judgemental. We are told that we have to accept people, even ourselves, for what they, or we, are.

I’ve always struggled with this concept. Here in Britain, for example, there have been several court cases revolving around discrimination against people’s chosen lifestyle. Yet allowing one section of society to exercise their rights usually ends up trampling on someone else’s.

Consider the case of a religious person who runs an hotel and refuses to accommodate a homosexual couple. So the couple has the free will to choose their lifestyle. But in doing so, are they allowed to trample on the rights of the person with strong religious feelings about who he allows into his home?

I often see this in car parks. Most car parks, these days have a section for disabled people and another for parents with children. Then I heard a case of disabled people parking in the child spaces because the disabled spaces were all full. That was viewed as acceptable. Yet when a parent parked in a disabled bay, it was unacceptable. Is this some form of negative discrimination and trampling on each other’s rights?

So we come to the idea of acceptance. I was once asked how I would feel if one of my children announced that he of she was homosexual. (I don’t use the term gay. I’m old enough to have been brought up with the correct meaning of gay being happy.) My answer was that I would accept it as his or her decision. Does that mean I approve? Not necessarily. I have my own conscience. And none of us has the right to impose our conscience on anyone else. I also have to make a judgement as to whether it is a safe option.

The same goes for the non-medical use of addictive drugs. I may accept people’s right to choose that lifestyle, but my judgement may tell me not to approve of it because of the dangers involved. And I may encourage people to give up that life because of those dangers.

Let’s get this clear. Acceptance does not demand approval. We accept that everyone has free will. But we also have a responsibility to be safe and to ensure that others are safe. And that requires a judgement call.

So where does this lead us? It means that we have to stop demanding approval. Just because I accept your choice, it doesn’t mean that I approve. I have to make a judgement based on my conscience. And that means that I don’t have to allow your rights to trample on mine.

So let’s give up this non-judgemental bandwagon and accept that we all have a right to judge for ourselves what is acceptable and what we approve of. And bear in mind that acceptance does not have to mean approval, and it does not have to mean refraining from making a judgement.