Whenever my 6-year-old daughter catches me complaining about something she is quick to chastise me with “be in the present moment” – I kid you not!  Whilst I am not sure that she can fully grasp the profoundness of the maxim, nevertheless from as early as possible I have tried to teach her the value of observing and appreciating the present moment.  Each time she says it, I chuckle to myself and remind myself that teaching mindfulness is just one of the ‘musts’ of good parenting today, which may well be obsessed with trying to make sure you have everything covered (you may have read the meme); from ensuring your child’s academic, emotional, psychological, mental, spiritual, physical, nutritional and social needs are met, to being careful not to over-stimulate, under-stimulate, improperly medicate or neglect them in a screen-free, processed foods-free, plastic-free, body positive, socially conscious, egalitarian but also authoritative, pesticide-free, multilingual home!   That’s a lot of plates to keep spinning already and as I have two children under 7, it can feel like double the work.

When did raising children become so complicated? Yesterday my little girl was ‘shouted’ at by a male gymnastics teacher for losing her red sticker which was stuck to her leotard, or wasn’t stuck to her leotard, as the events unfolded.  She felt he was mocking her – he said he was just offering to help.  She ended up in quite a state, inconsolable (it’s not like her) and bottom line is that out-of-the-blue she doesn’t want to do gymnastics anymore. She says, it is because she doesn’t want to get physically hurt – but as her parents, we think it is because of the incident with the teacher. 

Playing inside my mind is a recent podcast of Gabor Mate a multi bestselling author and a world-leading expert on trauma and how it affects us throughout our whole lives.  Gabor’s words that trauma is not what happens to us but what happens inside us resonates loudly in my mind.  We don’t want her to give up gymnastics because she is scared of the teacher but at the same time, we don’t want her to be forced into any situation where she feels she is too vulnerable or feels unprotected and that these feelings are being ignored by the very people -her parents – who are responsible for listening to her and reacting to her needs.  Mate says people can be wounded not just by bad things happening to them but small children can be wounded in loving families where they don’t get their needs met.  Now that’s obvious in the physical sense;  if your child doesn’t get the proper nutrition their body will suffer;  but we are creatures where our physical needs are as important as our mental needs so that when a child’s emotional needs are not met that child becomes wounded; now while this may not be a ‘Capital T’ trauma like child abuse, neglect, poverty, death of a parent etc….the need to be seen, to be responded to, heard and not have their emotions be stamped on in the name of discipline can be certainly be wounding to a young psyche.

Gabor perfectly illustrates how our minds create the world around us; how the early experiences of, for example, Donald Trump, contributed to his worldview (Trump had a very traumatic childhood; his father was a psychopath who demeaned and harshly treated his children) so Trump decided subconsciously to adopt grandiosity to fulfil his need to make himself bigger, more powerful, more aggressive. Trump said in his autobiography that the world is a dog-eat-dog place where everyone is after you, where they want your house and your wife and your wealth (this is your friends, never mind your enemies).  That world he lives in, says Gabor, reflects his childhood home and he becomes highly successful, despite being harsh, aggressive and beating others down before they beat him.  For Trump, these are not choices but survival techniques.

This should be enough of a warning for me but fighting for a voice in this debate waging in my mind are early voices from my childhood, real or imagined, saying ‘suck it up’, ‘grow up’, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, etc.  Add in that the days of precious, little princesses are over and the pressure is on to raise girls not as victims, but strong individuals equal to the patriarchy.  Beyoncé may have one answer to this “As the mother of two girls, it’s important to me that they see themselves in books and films… as CEOs, as bosses, and that they know… they can speak their minds and have no ceiling.  They don’t have to be a certain type or fit into a specific category.”

When I think back to my own upbringing, I think the only responsibility put on parents was to feed and clothe their offspring with a caveat ‘if you can’.  Perhaps I am being unfair on the older generation but without Google, the ‘me too’ movement and a world consumed with social and racial justice, surely parenting wasn’t as complicated? As for gymnastics or not, I am going to resist making a definitive decision this week.  Unlike the typical pressures of today, I don’t need the answer right now:  I can reflect with her, see it in perspective and hopefully the answer will come to us; and I won’t be blamed for raising a future world leader who could be responsible for Armageddon because she was shouted at during gym class.