About "The Parents' Trap" : Students of Vedanta learn that Atma cannot be defined but may be understood only as what It is not! That process of logical negation, ‘Neti Neti’ (na iti meaning ‘not this’), explains that Atma is not the Body nor the Mind nor the Ego or Intellect; that Atma is neither the Sky, the Earth, Light, Wind and so on. It transcends all that exists and at the same time, pervades all existence! This knowledge pretty much helps to describe my column. It is not about parents, nor about traps. It is not about schools, children, babies or brats.
My column is, well, the color that pervades Life's highs and lows in their infinite shades. Like yoga, that is union of Body, Mind, Soul, this column is a confluence of Life as a whole.
I'll share 50 years of personal experience; observation, introspection and some revelations. Perhaps through the lens of a nurturing heart, my column will celebrate living as an art. I will share my experiences as a parent, teacher and child to present all of the colors that manifest as Life
THE PERFECT SUCKER
I once read about this tribe in Africa, where the child first assumes identity, in the mother’s consciousness long before its physical birth on this planet. So it was with me, that circumstances, which would determine the course of my life began to take shape years before my mother married the man who would be my father.
As large families operated those days, my mother, the fourth of six siblings went to stay with her brother, his wife and their little daughter in order to attend college. They forged a deep bond of mutual affection and my mother, like the rest of her family was happy to conform to the sacred hierarchical laws that governed relationships within traditional Maharashtrian families. Typically, the wife of the older brother, whom I shall henceforth refer to as Great Aunt, was accorded the status of a Tribal Chieftain and their child endowed with privileges of First Child, regardless of older cousins.
I was yet to be mentally conceived when tragedy struck my future loved ones. Great Aunt discovered that she was unable to bear a second child! The tribe was deeply disheartened, unable to conceive the absence of a First son. They also feared the prospect of First child having to endure a lonely childhood. The tribe rallied around the First Family with sympathy and love, determined to compensate their loss with unceasing devotion. Although she basked in the warmth of friends and relatives, Great Aunt yearned for a companion to amuse her precious daughter. The stage was set for the Perfect Sucker to arrive!
5 years later, I stood quaking in the shadows of the staircase, my tiny heart hammering against my ribs, which were about to explode. How long could I hide from him? All of a sudden, the “Bad man” appeared as I sprang up in bed, drenched in shock. For a long moment, I sat dazed, unsure if I was still inside the dream or out of it. I groped to feel the damp sheet as I had, every single horrific night, since my fourteen year old cousin, the First Child, had warned me about the consequences of disobeying her. Still shaking, I climbed out of bed to tap my mother awake.
Through the years, my nightmares had flown to other haunting grounds, but my days were terrorized by the dreadful duo of Great Aunt and First child, who had by now ‘adopted’ me! No one in 10th standard understood Pip’s anguish in the grip of old, frightful Miss Havisham and her mean spirited, beautiful daughter, Estella, in Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’, as I did. Like Pip, I lived to please the duo, my own desires suspended as if in hypnosis. Bound by strong cultural conditioning of respect for elders, I was afraid to heed my natural intuitive warnings and teetered through my teenage years, confused, unable to distinguish their self-fulfilling gestures from delusions of their genuine affection.
Together, Great Aunt and First Child would delight in subjecting me to their taunts and jibes, wreaking havoc upon my self-esteem. Random transgression on my part, when it concerned First Child, would cause Great Aunt’s eyes to widen and her brow to arch so high that could make Cruella Deville look like Snow white. Needless to say, any accidental witness to their probing inquisitions or verbal chastising would instantly transform into Potted Plant, knowing that to question the Chieftain was to detonate an emotional bomb with lasting repercussions!
But this column is really not about Great Aunt or First Child. It is about emotional abuse and its impact on children. A lot is discussed about bullying in schools but what occurs closer to home is often the hazardous blind spot that is neglected. Not the benign sibling rivalry but the veiled, insidious kind that betrays your child’s self-worth; your child’s trust in people; your child’s respect for elders; your child’s ability to value relationships. The ghost of bullying, unless it is soon exorcised, accompanies the child into adulthood to reincarnate as employer, in-laws, spouse etc.
Nuclear families are equally vulnerable to this reality as were ‘joined’ families in India. Should parents intervene when another adult oversteps the limits of decency? Is emotional abuse equivalent to physical molestation? Certainly! Both are equally demoralizing, but parent intervention can only weaken the child, while their whole-hearted trust and support can infinitely strengthen even the most delicate offspring. Rooted in tradition and blinded by devotion, my parents remained sadly in denial, insisting that Great Aunt and her daughter could only mean well. These gentle souls were mortified by the thought of publicly shielding their child although Great Aunt thought nothing of intimidating the young. After years of protesting in vain, I conceded that my mother would rather repay her debt of college days with restrained silence but Great Aunt and her daughter chose to exact the debt from her child instead!
It took 45 years for my parents and me to have the courage to escape my Parents' Trap!
The real question is, what causes bullying and how do you deal with the residue of pain and anger? I was fortunate that the answers were revealed through spiritual practice, steadily freeing me from years of repression. First aha moment: Happiness is simply when the fog of uncertainty clears and your Inner vision gains clarity. I felt immensely liberated once I knew that I owed no subservience to Great Aunt or First Child. Yes, I detonated that bomb and risked losing the ‘affection’ of the powerful duo and their loyal devotees. But in that process of release, I regained my lost Self!
Second aha moment: the anger is really towards oneself! It was me who allowed the bullying to happen because I lacked self-confidence; in other words, I believed I was really small. Great Aunt and First Child were, in fact, none other than a two-sided mirror, for me to see the ‘dirt’ of my superficial insecurities. The purpose of my life, it dawned on me, was to gradually cleanse this layer of ‘dirt’ that stifled my natural, happy state of being. I had to begin with thanking Great Aunt and to stop being so angry with myself.
Meditating on the heart center (Anahata chakra) was a great way to dissolve the anger and invoke my Inner strength. My whole being would be charged with the energy of compassion, forgiveness and love. It was in those moments of expansion, that if I were to kiss a frog, yes, he would appear to me, a Prince! It felt great to be big! If only Great Aunt could glower at me now, I would embrace her with a disarming smile and instead of a peace pipe maybe I could offer First Child a great big, lemon sucker!
About the Author : Mona Vijaykar is the Director of The Globasaurus Program, a series of classes designed to bring deeper understanding of Vedanta for children of all backgrounds. Vedanta is the core wisdom of all religions and helps connect people of seemingly different cultural backgrounds. Mona, a mother of two grown sons has always been engaged in teaching spiritual values to children through books, which she writes and illustrates; musical theater which she scripts and directs as well as through classroom presentations (India in Classrooms) in schools, across the Bay Area.
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