Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Our 5yr Old in Our Bed (by Bruce Du Bourg)

We spend most of our early lives studying towards a vocation. A lot less time studying parenting. One mother I spoke to recently suggests more time should be spent pre-birth on sleep patterns post-birth than preparing for the actual event. Her midwife said that if she had a birthplan, then she should look for a different midwife. I am completely unqualified to comment which makes Bruce's second guest post a lot easier to take on board. My naive non-parent view on parenting so far is three rules:

1) Get them to 18 alive,
2) Let them know they are loved, and
3) Don't forget yourself and your partner.

Our 5yr Old in Our Bed
by Bruce De Bourg

“My boy is five and still sleeps in our bed”, or “the university was shackling my creativity so I dropped out of my commerce degree”

Can people really make those two statements out loud in public, and get away with them? As the words hit my ears, I am filled with an irrepressible urge to respond with a couple of incredibly helpful and discerning observations. To the hippy parent, I need to voice my insightful opinion by saying something about how this boy is going to be the target of adolescent ridicule, all the way into the girl’s netball team. To the delinquent student, I am obliged to describe the size and girth of the glass ceiling that he unknowingly raised a few millimetres from the top of his head as soon as he left the university building.

So, with much condescension, I make my pair of extraordinarily eloquent and clever contributions to the gathering of my seemingly captivated audience. At this stage, I am beginning to feel really good about the value that I am adding to the discussion as we sip on our pretentiously branded craft beers in the warmth of some of upmarket Johannesburg’s most expensive braai coals, burning on a Highveld summer’s evening.

As a bit of background, it is important to note that my personal profile shows that I am a relatively new father on one hand and an accountant by training, on the other. I therefore am exceedingly well qualified to poke holes in other people’s life choices when they relate to those two particular spheres of interest, right? Surely, my wealth of knowledge will fall upon the ears of my listeners like the first raindrops of summer landing on the yearning dusty brown Lowveld grass after a dry winter season?

What complete nonsense. I am no more qualified to make other people’s life decisions than I am to perform open heart surgery.

Bruce considering surgical criticism

It is in fact the occupation of parenthood that has brought some very interesting perspective to my outlook on life. The amount of uninvited retorts that are pushed in the direction of nervous new parents is both stifling and contradictory. A first-time parent’s hesitant statement of “I have decided to sleep next to my baby to make them feel secure during the night” is eagerly met with “That is ridiculous. The only way that you will ever get a peaceful night is if you let your children cry themselves to sleep”.

As an aside, a recent favourite conversation of mine began with me explaining that my eighteen month old daughter has recently started biting us when she gets frustrated with our inability to understand her highly advanced baby babbles. Our response to such episodes is to try to be patient by letting her throw her tantrum until she calms down. The person to whom I was telling the story said that our approach was completely inappropriate and that the only way to cure the problem was to give our daughter a taste of her own medicine by sinking our own teeth into her arm. They walk among us.

What on earth makes people feel the need to impose their own ways of life onto those around them through the use of critical disapproval? From what dark place do those hurtful comments emanate? I initially thought that this patronising phenomenon was contained to a couple of snide remarks around my suburban braai, but this virus appears to permeate all demographics. Parents across the spectrum feel the need to justify decisions that they have made in the lives of their children by condemning the choices made by others. My other example of the accountant that looks down on those that renounce the path of commerce is both farcical and contradictory. Although accountants generally do fairly well financially through hard work and perseverance, they sometimes rue the foregone freedom and creativity of the lifestyles that they once rejected.

In both cases that I have described, it appears that the desire to condescendingly criticise others, stems from our need to rationalise decisions that we have made in our lives. We long to ease the insecurities that have built up in our rather fragile emotional existences. What we need to realise is that insecurity is prominent in even the most extroverted individuals. When we cut them down in an attempt to justify our own decisions, we only create hurt and resentment that will probably just be transferred to the next anxious soul who is trying to make sense of the hand that they have been dealt.

In my opinion, there are not enough people in this world who make the effort to listen, to simply listen. Asking somebody to tell his or her story without feeling the need to explain why yours is better is far more powerful than the alternative. You never know. The world may place more value on the contribution made by your ears than that made by your mouth, teeth notwithstanding.

If my little monologue has done nothing more than to demonstrate my ability to criticise critical people, please feel free to disregard my hypocritical rants and simply continue on your quest to be more of the person that the world needs you to be. Nonetheless, my hope is that this little piece prompts you to take a moment to consider whether that person looks or sounds anything like you.
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