Tag Archives: druid parent

Letting them fly

All fledglings must at some point leave the nest. My son was telling me this morning that when it is time for bear cubs to go it alone, the mother bear chases them up a tree and then abandons them. He said he’s glad he isn’t a bear! For him, it’ll be a slower, more gentle process over the next eight years or so, but it is a process we have most definitely started. This week he’s away on a residential thing with the school, having adventures. By slow degrees, he will learn to leave the nest and fend for himself. My definition of being a successful parent is that I will get him to the point where he doesn’t really need me anymore.

There is a lot of similarity between teaching and parenting in this regard. Getting it right means getting them to the point where you wave them goodbye and watch them strike out into the world. Students and offspring alike must not be under your sheltering wing forever. The trouble is, keeping them there can be really tempting. It is very human to want to be wanted, to need to be needed. And so we can easily hang on to children, and students because we like the comfort of them being there and needing us. It can tempt us to hold back a few things, to not tell them everything, so that they still need us for a few bits and pieces. It’s not the right way to go.

In many ways students are easier, because they are more readily replaced. Most of us, on waving the newly adult offspring goodbye, are not going to go and create a whole new person to replace them with. Some of us will get a puppy instead. Students tend not to be around for so long in the first place – perhaps a few years. That makes the letting go easier, and if you’re any good as a teacher, the next one will turn up soon enough.

It can be tempting, with students, to take them on when they aren’t right for us, or to try and keep them once we find that we aren’t the teacher they need. Saying ‘there isn’t anything I can usefully teach you’ is hard. Having a whole flock of students feels like kudos, feeds the ego, helps us feel important and worthwhile. Pushing just one away feels like admitting defeat, or being a failure. It isn’t. Failure is keeping them when you can do them no good.

Of course once you’ve got a child, you’ve got a child and this is a very different scenario most of the time. It’s much less usual for a person to have to consider that they cannot parent the child they have in the best way. But it does happen. Seriously physically disabled children, or ones with profound learning difficulties can be more than it is feasible for a parent to manage. Sometimes what you need are professionals who do not have to manage things 24/7. I can’t begin to imagine how hard and painful a decision that must be to make though. There are the parents who fail so badly that social services intervene and tell them they can have no role in the child’s future. There are also the parents whose offspring reject them. That can happen at any stage in life, and as they get older, if we have messed up, they are more likely to flee from us.

What of the parent who tries to hang on to the child they are unable to properly take care of? We may feel every sympathy for them, may pity their problems, recognise their grief, but it’s not enough. Regardless of the age of the child, no amount of thinking you love them justifies trying to hang on to them when they really need to be somewhere else. It’s far easier to recognise when you aren’t the right teacher for the job than I imagine it must be to recognise that you aren’t the right parent for the job.

Getting trained as a teacher isn’t difficult, but how many of us are trained as parents, or know where to go for help when we can’t manage the workload? It’s one of those issues where I can see the problems all too clearly, and the solutions seem hard to imagine in the context of the kind of society we have.

Adult druid, with child

Negotiating the relationship between adults and children is challenging enough at the best of times, but once you get courts, social services or any other facet of officialdom involved, the complications are many. I’ll stay away from the legal side, but felt obliged to flag up that there is one.

My approach to parenting has always gone like this: Children are complete people with their own thoughts, feelings, needs and ideas that could well be entirely different to mine. They are also not adults, in the sense that their minds and bodies are developing, and they don’t have much life experience to fall back on. Therefore while they need treating with care and respect as unique beings, they also need help, support and guidance.

There is a school of thought that separates ‘adult issues’ from ‘things children need to know about’ and postulates that children should be protected from said adult issues, that they do not need to know, should not know, even. I think there is nothing more frightening than having no idea what’s going on or why. I also think that children tend to grow up and become adults themselves, and things they have not been allowed to understand along the way can easily come back to haunt and torment them. Information has to be tailored to the individual in a way that makes things better, not worse. Finally, I do not think that children in a family situation are ever oblivious to ‘adult issues’ and never unaffected by them. I do not, fundamentally, believe in simple isolation of one generation from the next.

As a child, the things that I was most afraid of were the things I could not get anyone to explain. Knowledge was always less frightening than ignorance. Knowledge is power, always. I have observed that when my child does not know what’s going on, he is far more likely to be anxious than when he has some kind of decent explanation to work with. He also asks a lot of questions. It is my belief that if a person is able to formulate a question, they need a good answer. Fobbing them off is not enough.

I also think about the longer term. I don’t want my child to work out, five, ten years down the line, that I lied to him to ‘protect’ him. How can you trust someone you know has lied to you? It’s all about dealing with the child as an individual, as I see it. Here’s an example. Yesterday I found a dead swan in the canal. I sent the boy inside while we checked to make sure the bird was dead, and what condition it was in – I would have spared him anything horrific. He knew something was up, so I explained what had happened, and we grieved together for the dead bird. It was still on the water this morning – we had no way of getting it out and nowhere to appropriately dispose of it. So he has seen the dead swan, and pitied it, and not seen anything he couldn’t handle, and he has learned a thing or two about life and death. Sheltered, but not lied to, he knows he can trust me.

Learning about the harsh realities of the ‘adult’ world is not an easy process, but I think it’s less of a shock if it comes slowly. Adulthood is not a state that is magically conferred when we hit 18. We grow towards it, striving, learning, maybe always carrying that sense of lost child on the inside. The ‘normal’ way of raising a child is to lie to them. Hide all the nasty bits of the world, all the thing that fill us with shame and despair. I have come to this conclusion – if you feel ashamed of something, or horrified by it, the answer is not to pretend it isn’t there, not even for the sake of your children. The answer is to do something to fix it. The world is only this way because we are all allowing it to be so. We could do differently. But if we start out lying to children to keep them in a fantasy world of imagined safety, we teach them that the only thing to do is pretend the bad stuff doesn’t happen. We also teach them that adults lie, and that nothing can be trusted. That doesn’t sound very honourable to me.

Being a druid parent does not make me popular some places. I can live with that, not least because I have a brilliant, bold and realistic child who is not being set up to be horribly disillusioned.