The two older boys, or rather, Andreas, wanted my permission to take Ivan along for a concert at the City Harvest Church this coming Sunday. Some You-Tube idol will be performing. He knew the reasons for my refusal but persisted:
‘It’s after his exams.’
I: ‘His A’levels is the main exam, not this.’
‘Anyway he’ll be sleeping in until noon, by then we’ll be back.’
I: ‘Better he catches up on his sleep now.’
‘I don’t want to go alone.’ (It’s actually at the invitation of their cousin.)
I: ‘You want him to fail?’ (I don’t mean fail per se, but fail to get into the U. My cousin, the same age as Ivan and studying at RJC, can’t even join in for our family gathering last Saturday due to the coming A’levels and here Ivan was watching movies last night, going for BBQ tonight and now concert on Sunday.)
‘Don’t be so negative. He needs to relax.’ Andreas knows all about relaxing!
Ivan remained silent during our exchange, as he knew I wasn’t happy. In the end, I remembered an article I read in this month’s O magazine by Martha Beck and retorted, ‘Do whatever you want, I don’t care.’
Martha Becks says that sometimes, through our caring for our loved ones, especially offsprings, whether children or adults, we raise our voices, make demands, push hard, and our intense negative emotions often trigger their fear and defensiveness.
She has since found that loving without caring is a useful approach in most relationships, especially families. Care can concoct sorrow, anxiety (careful!) or investment in an outcome (who cares?). The word love has no such meaning: It’s pure acceptance. Caring, with its shades of sadness, fear, and insistence on specific outcomes, is not love. Real love comes from people who are both totally committed to helping, and able to emotionally detach. When we are anxious and controlling, other people don’t response with compliance; they reflect us by becoming anxious and controlling.
I didn’t fully agree with Martha’s article as I remembered a mother was interviewed once on Oprah’s show, exasperated with her daughter who was often in trouble. She told Oprah, ‘I don’t care anymore’ and Oprah refuted her, ‘If as her mother you don’t care, than who should?’
Then yesterday on the bus I read another article on Good Housekeeping, about a couple who gave birth to two sons with Fragile X syndrome. The two grown men behave like toddlers and the mother worries who will take care of them when she is not able to anymore. To get through the day, she ‘never think(s) past dinner.’ The writer, the woman’s brother-in-law, says, ‘If watching my sister-in-law deal so absolutely extraordinarily with her ordeal has taught me anything, it is the power of now, the beautiful of seeing things as they are, not as you wish them to be.’ He concludes, sometimes, to get through the days, ‘you have to look at your boys and not see what’s wrong but instead insist of seeing what is right.’ It was as if he was speaking to me, a mother with three perfectly healthy boys.
So how does one be loving without caring? Here’s how.
1. Think of a person you, love, but about whom you feel some level of anxiety, anger, or sadness.
2. Identify what this person must change to make you happy.
If ______________would only ________________then I could feel _________________.
(Eg: If my daughter would only tidies her room then I would feel less frustrated.)
3. Accept radical reality. Now scratch out the first clause of the sentence you just wrote , so all that remains is:
I could feel ________________________ (I would feel less frustrated.)
The last sentence is the truth. It would be so easy to feel good if others would just do what we want, right? Accepting that this is possible – that you can achieve a given emotional state even if a loved one doesn’t conform to your wishes – is the key step to loving without caring.
4. Shift your focus from controlling your loved one’s behaviour to creating your own happiness.
Sanity begins the moment you admit you’re powerless over other people. This is the moment you become mentally free to start trying new ideas, building new relationships, experimenting to see what situations feel better than the hopeless deadlock of depending on change from someone you can’t control. The focus shift that helps you stop caring reliably diverts your energy towards happiness and unconditional love.
As you support your significant others, they may realize the same spectacular success. Or not. You can be happy either way, so what do you care. You have the freedom to live and let live, to love and let love. Granting yourself that freedom is one of the healthiest, most constructive things you can do for yourself and the people who matter to you.
Perhaps it’s easier for a Westener to practise than for an Asian. It’s just not in our culture to not care, or not interfere with our kids’ decisions – what to study, what job, who to marry. But that doesn’t mean I won’t give it a try, this loving with detachment. After all, Buddhist teaching also practices detachment which I subscribe to. In fact, come to think of it, I may already be practising it without my knowledge. I let my sons know the consequence and they make the choice knowing full well the outcome, and I’m not affected by that choice. Okay, sometimes I do. The process is long and difficult, and i am practising hard.