I just gave a talk on being a follower, and I decided that the word for this should be ‘followship’. When this word first popped into my head, I thought, in my naivety, that I may have invented it. This was quickly dispelled by a googling of the word. There were 113,000 results for ‘followship’ and even more, 391,000 in fact, for ‘followership’. A quick scan of the first page of results for each suggests that ‘followship’ is the preferred word for the American Christian Right (check out the couple on the homepage of followship.com, ‘I’m wearing a gold wedding band, and I don’t care who knows it!’), whereas ‘followership’ seems to have been adopted by the corporate world. In fact, according to my corporate trainer friend, G, ‘followership’ is a real buzzword at the moment.
Anywho, in my internet wandering I picked up a couple of treasures, and the following quote was one of them:
‘Following and leading are not roles or even mindsets, but internal activities within the same person who can switch from leading to following and back again in an instant.’
(The article this came from is here)
This got me thinking about the parent-child relationship; whether ‘parent’ and ‘child’ could also be described as internal activities rather than roles, and if people can switch from being a parent to being a child ‘and back again in an instant’.
I guess it is fairly uncontroversial to suggest that adult children can lead/parent their own parents. In my own case, I distinctly remember the moment, somewhere in my late twenties, when my parents first asked my advice about something really weighty, and then (to my very great surprise) followed it. This is exactly the kind of ‘switch’ that you would expect to happen in families where the parents think that they have done a good job, and so respect their children’s perspective and capacity for insight.
What interest me though (since I have an eighteen month old) is the extent to which my little girl might, or indeed does, parent me. And there are some pretty obvious things that come to mind straight away. When I am able to let her, she leads me back to the joy of play, to the peace that comes from being truly present, to the rush that comes opening yourself up to more of the flood of stimuli that bombard our senses.
A friend of my, H (No, not the H from my last post) loves to send me interesting parenting related links. One of them was a TED talk (if you don’t know TED, you should) about the way babies’ brains work (the whole talk is here). My favourite bit is where the presenter says that the intensity of a baby’s experience of the world is like ‘being in love, while in Paris for the first time, after you’ve had three double espressos.’
Babies and infants call also lead us into more shadowy places. One of the most powerful and unexpected things that a baby does is make you face squarely your own fear of death and loss. Pregnancy, childbirth and the first weeks of a baby’s life are full of moments of terror. The moments when the ultrasound technician stops talking for just a few seconds too long. The moments, during the birth, when the midwife is having a little bit of trouble finding a heartbeat. The moments when you check on your sleeping one-day-old infant and they just happen to be in a long, still moment between breaths. And we are talking here about the best case scenario. There are some babies who lead their parents into much, much darker places.
The other link that my friend H recently posted was an incredible (and incredibly sad) article by the mother of a child with a rare, incurable, terminal genetic condition. Nothing I might write about it can do it justice, so you just have to read it yourself.
The words that stay with me are these:
‘Parents who, particularly in this country, are expected to be superhuman, to raise children who outpace all their peers, don’t want to see what we see. The long truth about their children, about themselves: that none of it is forever…’
‘…But today Ronan is alive and his breath smells like sweet rice. I can see my reflection in his greenish-gold eyes. I am a reflection of him and not the other way around, and this is, I believe, as it should be. This is a love story, and like all great love stories, it is a story of loss. Parenting, I’ve come to understand, is about loving my child today. Now. In fact, for any parent, anywhere, that’s all there is.’
How can you add anything to that?