What are the most important qualities we instil in our children?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
From the day I set foot on the wards at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children as a young student nurse, I began reflecting on this. The families I met had so many different ways of coping with the curve balls life had thrown them and thereby, teaching their children, often unconsciously, about the deep meaning of life.
Mia's glamorous mother, through her acceptance and vitality, taught her daughter that beauty arises from confidence, friendliness and ease and that an arm missing at birth has no bearing on this. Katie's mother, likewise brought warmth and humour to her daughter's un-bandaging. Katie had been born with a rare condition that meant one breast didn't develop, so at the age of fifteen, she had reconstructive surgery. 'Are they a perfect match?' Katie laughed as she showed off her symmetrical chest. No shame or embarrassment – rather celebration and gratitude. These women and their daughters stood out from the crowd and have remained in my memory as I bring up my daughters.
Raising children can thrust us into frightening territory where none of our emotional resources seem adequate.
Ben's father raged against his son's devastating diagnosis, teaching his son that life is unfair. There's no judgement here – what Ben's dad was going through would stretch even a saint to rage. But, I'm curious what his anger taught his son about the meaning of his short life.
Tom's parents refused to tell their son that he was terminally ill. Although his mum and dad had intended to protect him and show him love, it was their fear and lies that defined this young boy's life and death.
My children are not terminally ill. However, I know from my experience as a nurse, that children who are not ill one day can become ill another. And children do die. We hear on the news that children die suddenly in accidents or from unexpected illnesses. Of course, this is only happening to other people's children until it happens to ours. I lived with a man whose son had died during the night. One day he was there, the next he was gone. Living with the father's grief over the years has given me firsthand experience of the cost of unresolved grief. It has also made me consider how I talk to our daughters, the boy's half sisters, about the possibility of dying in childhood, and what it means to experience devastating loss.
I'm not in favour of living as if each day is our last – that would make even the most trivial activity unbearably laden with pathos. Rather, I'm reaching for a way to live mindfully, gently and lovingly all the while knowing that the worst can and does happen. As I find that place of balance for myself, I model it for my children.