Relationships are difficult. The closer those relationships are, the more difficult they can be.
The relationship between a parent and child is (or should be) the closest relationship any of us will ever have. But it’s not always easy. It is a common ‘joke’ between parents that if anyone ever told the truth about how tricky parenting is, the human race would quickly die out.
As a mother, I worry sometimes about my relationship with my children. I doubt myself on a daily basis. I criticise myself even more often. Am I good enough? Am I letting them down?
It is just so hard to know what the right thing to do is sometimes. My children regularly drive me to distraction with their behaviour. I have no idea why they sometimes feel the need to whine about everything or refuse to do anything I ask of them. I find myself shouting at them and threatening dire consequences if they do not change their behaviour (no TV for a hundred years and the donation of all the lego to charity). Then I feel guilty that I over reacted, so I take it all back and try to make up for my failings. I worry that I have said hurtful things to them which will haunt them forever. I worry about just what it is that makes them say hurtful things to me. I worry about whether they are happy. I worry all the time.
That’s the thing about parenting. It is filled with worry and sometimes regret. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of laughter and joy too, but it is the worry which haunts you. The worry that you are doing a terrible job and getting it all wrong. The worry that you are failing your own children.
Our relationships with our partner’s are probably the next closest we have and that relationship is often also fraught with difficulty. The longer we stay together with one person, the more complex that relationship becomes. Petty arguments and daily life start to get in the way of genuine emotions. Before you know it, your whole relationship becomes about why they seem to be incapable of tidying up and why you just won’t stop nagging them about it.
Over the past couple of days I have taken stock of my life and the closest relationships in it.
I did not set out to do this.
I set out to go camping.
We went on our first family camping trip. Just two nights and only an hour away from home. Nothing too life changing.
With high hopes of finding moments of peace, I took along a new book to read. ‘Me. My Bike and a Street Dog Called Lucy’ by Ishbel Holmes. I didn’t particularly expect the book to be life changing either. But it might be just that.
I met Ishbel years ago, before I had children. We both went along to a women’s ‘try the track’ day at Meadowbank Velodrome (sadly now closed). I loved track cycling and Ishbel clearly did too. But the difference was that she was phenomenal. As the guy running the session said, she was raw power on a bike. None of the rest of us could come near her.
I chatted a bit to Ishbel that day and gathered that she was just a bit mad…in all the best ways. She was passionate and impulsive and adventurous.
I have never seen Ishbel in person since that day, but I have followed her on and off on Facebook. I was aware that she continued cycling on the track, riding for the Iranian National team. Some time later, I came across her online again, as World Bike Girl. It seemed that the track cycling hadn’t worked out and that she was now making her way around the world by bike. I occasionally read her blog but I didn’t read it all, and I didn’t really know all that much about Ishbel.
Then her blog seemed to become all about street dogs in Turkey. I lost interest a bit at this point.
Don’t get me wrong, I like dogs. I had my own dog for ten years and I was devastated when she died.
But surely there are more important issues in the world than some street dog in Turkey?
So when Ishbel’s book came out this month I was keen to read it as I knew from the blog that her writing is great. But I wasn’t expecting all that much from it.
I was wrong not to expect much.
There are more important issues in the world than some street dog in Turkey. And Ishbel’s book is about the most important issue of all.
It is about love.
I won’t spoil the book for anyone who hasn’t read it yet (and if you haven’t, you should) but suffice to say that Ishbel had a difficult childhood and a difficult relationship with her parents. As a consequence, she struggled with close relationships. Until she met a street dog in Turkey.
Human emotions are powerful things which we cannot control and frequently cannot understand. We often do not know exactly what we are feeling or why. Something which seems trivial or meaningless to us can turn out to be a powerful trigger. It is too easy to dismiss what our friends and loved ones are telling us because it seems trivial to us. I dismissed Ishbel’s story when it became about a dog. I couldn’t see that it was absolutely not all about a dog. It was about love and vulnerability and it is a powerful story.
We had a great couple of days camping in the end. It had it’s moments when lack of sleep (it gets light really early in a tent in Scotland in August!) and over excitement caused arguments. But reading Ishbel’s book and watching my children and also how other children staying at the campsite interacted with their parents made me take stock of what is important.
I realised that, as a parent, the most important thing that I need to do is love my children unconditionally and to make sure that they know that I love them unconditionally. That I will love them unconditionally even when they are driving me mad. If I can do that, then all the mistakes in the world probably do not matter that much. We can all face the world better when we feel loved.
But I also realised that happiness is not just about our own love. It is about the love that others feel too.
Ishbel’s story made me think about my own family history. It is not a patch on what Ishbel has come through. My Dad met someone else and left us when we were teenagers. He decided that he did not love my mum any more and he did not treat her very nicely when he left. I have no doubt that he did still love my siblings and I. But he did not see just how profoundly his leaving would affect us all. He may not have loved our mother any more, but we did, and he hurt her. We were old enough to see that hurt and to wonder why one of the people we loved most in the world would do that to the other person that we loved most in the world.
We all handle emotional pain in different ways. I chose to handle the hurt by cutting my Dad off. I have not seen him in over twenty years. The fall out from my parents’ divorce has been felt by everyone in my family. Even my children, who have never met their grandpa and who sometimes witness my insecurities about love and trust.
What I came to realise this week is that all the pettiness of everyday life does not matter. What matters is that we love people and that we make sure they know that we love them. That we allow them to love us and that we respect the love that others around us feel. The rest will work itself out.
Not bad for a book about a street dog in Turkey.