For to be free is not to merely cast off one's chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
- Nelson Mandela -

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Choosing in the Moment

Life is all about making choices.
That's easily said.
But how do you make them?
And as a parent, in how far can you make choices for your children?
I had a very important talk with my no. 1 birth daughter the other day. In the car. Where we usually have our important talks. When there's nobody and nothing to distract us from each other. No getting away. And we don't have to look at each other.

She has always been unhappy with our decision to move to England. She was thirteen when we moved. It was a major uproot for all of us, but at the age of thirteen - and especially in her case - it was terrible.
She didn't like the house we moved to. She didn't want to participate in anything we did. We tried and tried - maybe too hard - to cheer her up, but she was mainly unhappy.
Although I knew, both in my heart and in my mind, that we'd made the right choice, for her too, I still felt if not guilty then responsible for her unhappiness. And I did my best to accommodate her, to acknowledge her, to listen to her and to support her.
After about two years we reached an all time low. She was blaming us for 'having no life', for missing her friends in Holland, for being stuck in the 'back of beyond'. She did some really dire things to express her feelings - and hurt others in the process - and I felt extremely inadequate and powerless.
It came to a point where, when a very dear friend in Holland magnanimously offered AL could come and stay with her for a while, we accepted. AL was over the moon, happy to get away, happy to go to Holland. She could go to the private school that M had just set up. A school for child-led learning. I cried many, many tears about her leaving like that, it felt as if my heart was torn out of my body. But I let her go. Fifteen, she was. When I returned home after taking her to Holland it felt totally appropriate that the biggest storm ever was raging over the North West and Carlisle was flooded.

After about six months she came back to England. It wasn't entirely her own choice - again - but for many, many reasons it was what needed to happen at that particular time.
She didn't want to stay at home fulltime anymore, and she chose to go to college and do First and National Diploma Horse Care and Horse Management. Something she'd always wanted to do. College life was wild and wonderful. Within no time she had loads of friends and a very busy social life. The first year of the course was relatively easy and when she turned sixteen she wanted to move to campus. But then the whole learning experience started to get more complicated, more difficult. And her response to every challenge would be to say she wanted to go back to Holland. And she did go, she spent most of her holidays there.
After her second year she decided she wouldn't do the third year anymore. She wanted to go back to Holland, find a job and a nice place to live and stay there. Her clan-sister had said she could stay with her for a few months, until September, to start herself up from there. This time it was different to let her go. Still, I did set a unilateral limit. If she wouldn't have a steady income and her own place to live come September, she'd have to come back to England, back to us.

And then we heard we'd have to leave the Vicarage. So when AL left for Holland she had no idea of what she'd be coming back to, if she'd come back in September. Weird. Very unstable. She had a great summer in Holland, a lot of partying and socializing and at one moment she held three jobs at the same time. But it didn't last and she didn't find an affordable place to live. So in September she came back to England. Again. Determined to be back in Holland for her 18th birthday and celebrate it over there.
But then she found a job, some really nice friends, and she found herself liking living in our new house in town and she was thrilled when she was given the chance to live in the temporary house when we moved to where we are now (just over the road). After her fabulous birthday party she confessed to me that before she'd found it really hard to make friends in England, because she was afraid of having to say goodbye to them when going back to Holland. Goodbyes are just so hard, especially when you feel you have no choice in the matter...
Her other insight was that she'd come to idolize Holland, her Dutch friends and the Dutch way of life.

A few weeks later she was going through some hard times at work and generally feeling tired and down. So that one morning when I took her into work she started about how she still wasn't sure where she wanted to live and did I realise how hard we'd made life for her by moving to England, how much she missed her friends in Holland... The whole old song was sang. First I was inclined to do my usual "I understand how hard it must have been for you" and all that. But then I somehow got this urge to stop treating her like the eternal victim in this matter. I wasn't doing her any favours there and I just know that in essence she is one very strong person.
So I took a deep breath and confronted the problem. What I said boiled down to this:

There is no way of telling what would have happened if we'd have stayed in Holland.
Maybe, if we'd stayed in Holland you'd now be on drugs, like a few of the friends you used to hang out with then. Or maybe not, maybe you'd be a prize winning show jumper by now.
Maybe, we'd have lost the next court case for exemption, because of a new judge. Or maybe the laws on education would have changed and home ed was legal now.
Maybe, your Dad's burn out would have turned into more serious health problems or we would have gotten a divorce. Or maybe he'd extended his business and made loads of money and maybe I'd written a bestseller.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
The point is, you never know what would have happened if we'd made a different choice.
Fact is, we did choose to move away from Holland, to live in England. Because at that particular moment it was the best choice for us.
We can't undo that choice, we can't undo the past.
But with every new day we can make new choices.
You have the choice to remain bitter about the move to England and keep blaming everything that goes wrong on us, or to take responsibility for your own personal feelings and situation and make sure you get the most out of your life, for yourself.

We talked about how to choose, how to feel which choice would go best with your flow in life. And how the most difficult thing about choosing is that if you choose to go down one route, it often means you can't go down another one. We talked about what real friendship means and how much work it takes to keep a friendship going when you're in different countries. And we talked about how pain and sorrow are inescapable, and how important it was to accept and try and live through it.
It was a very special drive down to work. And then we arrived. With the typical flexibility of an eighteen year old she checked her make-up in the mirror, gave me a quick kiss and hopped out the car. "Don't forget to pick me up tonight at seven! Oh, and can L and I have something to eat at ours before we go into town? And do you think Daddy will drive us there?"

She'll be fine.


altijdprijs said...

Plink...traantje. X

Gill said...

I love your advice to her Mieke. You seem like a great mum that anyone would be lucky to have :-)

Did the journey change your feelings about things?

Mieke said...

Thanks, Gill (*blushing and making effort not to deny or contradict*).
That's a good question. It is the missing bit in this post, isn't it?
I think the fact that my feelings were already changing made it possible for me to talk with her like I did. But actually openly saying it, discussing it, did make a change for me. It was the first time that I dared to stand up for my own (our) decision, without feeling defensive.
I have always been afraid to hurt her feelings. Ever since she was a baby I felt incredibly guilty (and later responsible) when she was crying or unhappy and I would disrespect my own boundaries trying to make good and make up. I now realise that's not the example I want to be leading by.
So I suppose for myself this journey was the final step to accepting that I had every right to make the choice that I have made.
I don't know why, but with her - my eldest - I have had many more guilt issues to deal with than with the other ones. Always felt I was not giving her enough support, love, whatever. I just do not (or hardly) have that with the other ones.
Consequently - I suppose - she always challenges me on that feeling.
I think this journey was about recognizing the mechanism and overcoming it, responding from my inner strength instead of from defense and guilt.
And the result is positive, I feel. Our relationship is more relaxed, more accepting.
Will continue to think this over, raise my awareness.

Mieke said...

Something else just dawned upon me. I think I've always - deep down inside - felt that she had no real reason to trust me, to entrust herself to me. As a baby she had terrible eczema and I used to think she had it because she didn't want to be touched by me. At that time I saw the fact that she cried for hours at an end as a confirmation of how terrible a mother I was.
Bless her, it has been quite traumatizing for her. At the same time it confirms my belief that she is such a strong person. Because she kept challenging me and thus enabling me to become a real mother to her.
She's a blessing to me, to herself and to all the other children in this family.

shukr said...

The way you write is like you are expounding this beautiful, awesome dance - that's just what life is, isn't it! A dance with choices.

And, oh, who *wouldn't* want to be listened to, heard and safely challenged the way you describe!

Bliss Mieke .)


Mieke said...

(((K))) A dance ... indeed. You have a gift to put pictures into my head, K. I am now imagining this ballet I saw years ago - can't remember the name - of two people dancing in synch until a dissonant disturbed it and then they had to 'find' each other, the synch, again. Magnificent.

liz said...

Reading that I recognised myself and my eldest daughter. I was 'uprooted' at an impressionable age. I also had 'one of those chats' with my eldest when she was 15. I don't remember exactly what was said ( I remember what it was about) but we did reach a truce and I managed to say what I felt needed to be said and not just try to be nice to her.

I wish I'd been able to talk to my mum like that.

Mieke said...

Hey Liz, big hug!
Especially with the older ones I feel that a lot of the times being a good mum is to dare not to be nice. *sigh*
I'll email you back really soon!

Mieke said...

..or should that be: to dare to be not nice. ??

'EF' x said...

Sounds like she'll be fine, anyone that can move back and forth like that has a very strong center. x

Mieke said...

That's a very valuable observation, EF, thanks! xx

'EF' x said...

P.s: you are tagged, but no pressure, just if you want to do a meme. xxx

Mieke said...

Oh great EF! Wonderful :S. What's a meme, what do I do, what do you want to know of meme??