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Your Stories Are Not Their Stories
“If you ever, ever embarrass me like that again, I will never clean up my room! I will play Fortnite 24/7! I will lose my toothbrush on purpose!!!!” Psycho Teen. On a school sleepaway trip. Hissing down the phone so his friends can’t hear.
I am genuinely bemused. Did I fail to spend enough money on overpriced trainers only to have them ruined by hiking? Did I neglect to pack enough explicitly banned sugar laden pseudo-foods? I decide to ignore the fact that he never cleans his room, already plays Fortnite 24/7 and last brushed his teeth in 1972.
“What have I done wrong this time?” I ask him, perplexed.
“The note woman! The note! Everyone’s laughing at me! They’re passing it round on the coach!”
“Maybe they’re jealous?” I suggest hopefully, comprehension dawning.
“You never wrote letters when Majesty and Alien went on autism camp!”
“Majesty can’t read and Alien would have eaten it so I didn’t bother.”
He hangs up on me.
The note. Of course. Just a few lines, left on top of his suitcase for him to find when he unpacked. I love you. I’m going to miss you. I’m proud of you. Total lies of course, but the kind of thing I feel a mother ought to write when her son goes away for the first time.
It was also a chance to settle a score from my own teenage years. A chance to right the wrongs I felt were inflicted on me.
When I went away for my first school trip, every girl opened her suitcase to find a note from her mother. Everyone except me. To my teenage thinking, I didn’t warrant a note. I’ve carried this around with me for thirty years. Like I don’t have anything better to do. So of course I jumped at the chance to close this circle by writing a note to my own teenager. Who hates it. Who feels that I have administered social euthanasia and is now going to be even more unbearable on his return.
Something is wrong here. This isn’t playing out like it does in films. There’s no sense of narrative resolution. There’s no feeling of ancient wounds being gracefully and finally healed. The younger generation is not learning from the mistakes of the past, whilst ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ plays in the background. The kid hates me even more than he did before.
Brief interlude to eat chocolate. Could it possibly be that the story I’ve been telling myself for years has no eternal meaning whatsoever? Have I taken an incident, layered it with thinking, iced it with significance, placed bloody great candles of symbolism on top and then presumed this confection of thinking expresses a mythic truth about life?
Have I imposed my vision, my truth upon my child and presumed it will be true for him?
Move on to biscuits. The stories that we tell ourselves about our childhoods are just that. Stories. They do not represent the final truth about how we should bring up our own children. They may be precious yes, they may be painful. But they are filtered through the highly subjective lens of our own thinking and it is helpful to remember that our child’s subjective experience is very different to our own. To raise our kids with respect, we need to start from where they are, not from where we are.
Quick trip down to the sweet shop. If I had managed to see beyond my own stories, just for a moment, I would have known instantly that Psycho Teen would hate my note. This is not how he does affection. I’m not sure how he does actually ‘do’ affection but its definitely more Lucozade than love notes.
But I saw that open suitcase; was transported back to my own teenage years; the thinking became true to me and I was a goner. I was doing it for me, pretending I was doing it for him.
I was using him to complete a story of my own. And he doesn’t want to be part of my narrative. Our children do not exist to re-play our childhood angst. Their childhood is not a vehicle helpfully provided to right our wrongs and find resolution. We need to provide it for ourselves, and we do this by embarking on the inner journey that reveals our stories as thinking and nothing more. This does not change the things that have happened to us. But it provides a new perspective.
I sheepishly collect Psycho Teen from the coach stop. He’s texted me instructions. Do not get out of the car. Park round the corner. Don’t stand with the other mothers. If I bring a friend back don’t say ONE WORD and don’t bring Alien or His Royal Autistic Majesty with you. Or Lego-Freak. Or Dad. But bring Lucozade. If you bring BABY tell her she can’t touch me, and if you bring Soroh make sure everyone knows she’s not my real sister. “How do I do this if I’m not allowed to talk?” I text back. No answer.
How ironic that I have tried to resolve an issue from my childhood and created a new issue for my child. The Circle of Life this ain’t. What’s left for us when we start to internalise that our kids don’t exist to fulfil our needs? That they don’t ‘do’ anything for us at all? That’s not their job. Only unconditional love for who they are and a pledge to steer them through the ocean of childhood as safely as we can. They’re quite capable of creating their own childhood stories. They don’t need ours as well.
is just a regular London-based, stay-at-home mum. Who happens to have six kids. Two of whom happen to have autism. One of whom—her adopted daughter—happens to have Down Syndrome. One of whom happens to be the teen from you-know-where. One of whom happens to be obsessed with Lego to the exclusion of all else. One of whom happens to be a five year old diva tweenager who knows better than her in just about, well, everything. Her life hit a crisis point eight years ago when she gave up her job as a teacher to care for her adopted daughter, who needed major heart surgery. Her sons with autism were spiraling out of control, and she was torn between managing everyone’s day-to-day needs and the crushing guilt that she was ruining things for her ‘regular’ kids. She felt as though she was living the wrong life, that she was at the back of the line when good luck was being assigned.
Her view of life started to change when she was introduced to an approach to mental functioning called the Three Principles. Reminding us that our experience of life is conveyed to us via our thinking experience, that we are not defined by our circumstances, and that we all have the natural mental health and resilience to deal with whatever cards we are given, she slowly got back on track.
But there was a clash between the spiritual, tranquil adult-only retreats where she was introduced to this understanding, and the general chaos of her day-to-day life. Her question was—how can you take a spiritual approach, remaining balanced and centered, when everyone’s screaming for dinner every evening—and not the dinner you’ve lovingly prepared?
Her blog, 3principles6kids, is her attempt to answer that question. By following the unedited exploits of her larger-than-life family, she explores how a deeper understanding of their own psychological functioning can help them make it through. She doesn’t do picture-perfect happy endings. But with her audience, she looks for a way of facing life’s challenges with humor, resilience, joy and deep acceptance…however hard that may be when you’re scraping ketchup off the kitchen floor at 9 pm.