I’m in New Delhi, visiting with my Indian friends, Ansh and Pooja, to their friends. We’re sitting in their small front room. I’m sitting in front of the heating unit, warding off unexpected frostbite. It is winter here in houses that lack heating. I’m wearing a heavy sweater, buttoned. Dad is sitting cross-legged on the floor fanning a layer of coal briquettes on a metal grill, wanting to cook some chicken. He is having a hard time getting it started. After a bunch of unsuccessful minutes, he and my friend Ansh exited to the front yard where they could stimulate the flames without endangering our feet. Cooking the food here, is a social engagement, all of us cheering the chef with a certain amount of teasing.
There was something wonderful about it, so unlike what I have so often experienced in which there is food delivered and a hired person to cook and serve it. The delivered food is bland but looks good. It lacks a collective spirit. The New Delhi group later spoke about arranged marriages and why there are so few of them. I said the problem is the bride price. Ansh said that they had to pay the girl’s family of the bride to get her to marry him. We all laughed at this, including the cook. No hurt feelings here.
On the couch next to me is a rumpled tan blanket. When I see it move, I think my eyes are fooling me. Then I learn that their son, a 6-year old who had not been feeling well lay beneath. I thought he was in his bedroom at the far end of the house but no, he wanted to be part of the crowd. He lay there like a butterfly in its cocoon.
Kids usually like to be in the middle of things. A sad and anxious kid who fears to be abandoned stays close to the crowd in order to keep an eye on Mom and Dad. A kid who feels close to his parents, liking to share their collective vibe. I remember seeing this boy come up to his mother and kiss her cheek. She then gently took his arm and kissed his hand. No words were spoken. Love does not need words to be received.
He further established his good kid position with me after all the English speakers had said hello and made one or two comments, then returning to their comfortable and colloquial Hindi. He came over and sat next to me. With a smiling face, he asked, “beautiful lady, can we speak English?” “Absolutely,” I said. I loved my 6-year old (A+ student) swain who saved me from my designated social isolation. It’s funny how people comfortable in their language.
The kid knew that he was generally welcomed. His mother put out the welcome mat to him, no and or buts about it. He did not need to surrender to his parent’s desires and opinions, an attitude which contains inherent ambivalence. Later, he joined us at the table for what was a second meal, this time one of mutton. I couldn’t believe how much and how often we were eating. I took smaller portions even though as a guest, I was requested to take more. Mom brought over a plate of mutton to her son. He said no to it and she said some more words to convince him but the kid asserted “no.” She walked away with the dish. No bad feelings. Life went on.
What makes it hard for the parent to accommodate a child’s not acceding to their wishes often happens with parents whose own parents were punishing and rejecting. The now grown child has a conflicted identity, that of a helpless failing child and of an attacking parent. Parental hatred travels through the generations.
In each generation, the child who does not feel welcomed grows up to become an ambivalent parent. Take my good friend in the Southern United States who was mostly used, rejected, punished, put-down and ignored by Mom and Dad who hated each other as well. They demanded perfection in all she did without appreciation it. Only the child’s failures were noticed. Her parents had been similarly rejected by their parents.
My friend was an angry and guilt-ridden parent, swinging from one extreme to the other. She spent a lot of time smoking pot and retreating into the fun of partying. Her child looked on her emotionally absent parent and felt rejected. She learned to get attention by being faulty, careless, greedy. She lied and demanded money. She did not do her homework. She did not keep her word. Her room was a mess. When she came to a party her mother was giving, she drew the plug from the wall which silenced the music. Her mother flew at her in a fury. Being scolded, hit, rejected was the parent’s language which the child learned to speak. She was a bad child. Had no choice but that.
To further harden the bad child stance, her attacking Mom became guilty. She remembered her own early rejection and gave unreasonable gifts and privileges. Mom’s post rejecting catering gave her child a sense of power. She became a lawless and destructive, acting bad to justify her mother’s abuse. The child’s behavior makes the parent seem ok. The child enacts her parent-assigned position as a lawless loser. The parent’s hate is justified by the bad child’s deliberate failures.
Love and hate are emotional rivers. Were you raised in a river of hate or love? Either river will determine how you treat your children, then how they will treat their spouse and child. Can you jump from a river of hate into one of love? Yes. But first, you must know the river you are in and come to know that you don’t need it. Most difficult of all, you must leave the river of hate which connects you to your hating parent. This separation is hurtful and frightening to the inner child. Know your experience as a loss which leads to gain. The bad child is contained by hate. The good child is free to love.