My little girl has just started piano lessons. Somewhere in the mystical dance of DNA that happens at conception, she inherited her dad’s sense of rhythm and love of music. Although I have absolutely no musical ability, my family line is not without talent. Both my grandmothers played musical instruments; and in fact the piano that we have in our home now was inherited from my paternal grandmother. My daughter has a family legacy of music, and I am so grateful that she has such a source of joy that she can tap into for the rest of her life.
There is great wonder and pleasure to be had as your children reveal themselves to you – whose nose is that; doesn’t he sneeze just like your uncle? We look for the good things, but sometimes it is clear that our little ones have also inherited a nasty temper or a genetic physical weakness that is less delightful. It is not always certain either what is DNA and what is environment. Both my kids shout when they are cross which very sadly is a direct reflection of the way I handle myself when I have had enough (I’m working on it!).
When it comes to pregnancy, birth and parenting, it is so important to understand the legacy that has been passed down through your family; that has seeped into your sub-conscious along with your mother’s scone recipe and your father’s talent for telling a story. What messages did you receive as a child about birth? What was said about your own birth? Did you hear stories about how “you are so lucky to be alive – you almost didn’t make it!”? Or perhaps your and your siblings’ births were never mentioned at all; a taboo subject. What about breastfeeding? Did you grow up feeling that breastfeeding was something a little shameful, or did you just accept that babies were fed at the breast and that was the way things worked? What about parenting? Were you nurtured at home; did your parents make their love for you apparent? Or did you grow up in a restrained environment, where physical affection was not encouraged?
As we grow up, we often vow not to repeat the mistakes of our parents, but as we ourselves become mothers and fathers, these subconscious ways of thinking and being are so deeply engrained that they may be hard to shake. So what’s a mindful parent to do?
The first step is truly understanding the legacy that you have received. I firmly believe that almost every parent does their absolute best and acts out of love; so we need to treat our parents’ mistakes with grace and understanding of the tremendously difficult task that raising a child is. Then we need to be curious about what other ways of thinking about this thing – whatever it is – there are in the world. Yes, birth can be scary. In fact, it can be lethal. Mothers and babies can die. But is there also a possibility that it can be deeply spiritual and empowering? Can we hold the paradox? Can we let go of our deeply entrenched subconscious rules about what it is and isn’t, and allow for the possibility of something positive? When you are mindful about what you have inherited, you also have the power to change it…and most importantly to change it not only for yourself, but for your children and their children in turn. And that, my friends, is the most powerful legacy of all.