Following the painful rawness of Bob Geldof’s statement about the death of his daughter, Metro’s headline drove home the devastation of a child losing the first person who made them feel safe, and a parent losing the child who they would do anything to protect – and ultimately couldn't save.
And it got me thinking about that parent-child relationship and where it leaves us as adults.
As a small child, held by our parents, we feel loved, protected and raised up and out of harm’s way. It’s generally how it works. We have someone there to make us feel warm, comforted, safe and secure. Parents are the ones who watch our back and care for us, in whatever way they can.
And parents feel the fierce love for their child that tells them that they would fight and die for them. They would go without food to feed them, abandon their dreams to help theirs take flight and sacrifice time, energy, health and sometimes happiness to be the one who nurtures, protects, reassures, comforts, teaches, guides and above all, loves that child unconditionally.
I don’t have children, but I know what it means to love people I would die for and, from my own parents as a starting point, I know how love can be unquestioning, inexhaustible and woven through a body and mind like the threads of a fabric. And as a person with a heart and soul, I can imagine what holding that tiny human being for the first time must feel like, even though I’ve never held one of my own.
I also know that the parenting process can leave scars – on all involved. Parents can be left reeling by their offspring and vice versa. To quote Philip Larkin, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.” Because nobody’s perfect. We clash, we misunderstand and we get things wrong. Decades after a thoughtless, angry, tired, dismissive or poorly judged comment or action from a parent, the child may still be negotiating the rapids of the ripple effect. And generally, as Larkin says, that wasn’t the intention. It just happened. In spite of all that unconditional love. Or perhaps more noticeably in its perceived absence.
However, ultimately, we succeed or fail as adults on our ability to be our own parent - and you can probably identify the times when you’ve not done the job properly. Those times when you’ve failed to listen to yourself and what you really need, judged, criticised or even become violent and abusive.
Being a good parent for yourself requires strength and determination. We need to provide our own words of warning, to be our own teacher, to keep ourselves safe and warm and to love ourselves unconditionally. “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are” and all the love in the world won’t keep us on our feet if we’re not there for ourselves, showing up over and over again.
If we abdicate from the responsibility of loving, caring for and nurturing ourselves to those around us, they become a compulsory presence in our life, carrying us like a mother would her baby. We need them to make us OK, rather than taking responsibility for that part ourselves and standing on our own two feet.
Don’t get me wrong - I’m not saying that love from others isn’t essential. That shared intimacy, passion, warmth, connection and devotion is a massive part of what makes life beautiful. But when we love ourselves as unconditionally as a parent can, with the same fierceness and commitment, we open up our own potential to make ourselves truly happy too.