Individuality: Honoring the Inner Voice
I had the opportunity to work on a project where I went into homes with parents and children under 5 to conduct assessments. I was conflicted about the work because we used standardized assessments on children.
At the same time, it felt like an amazing privilege to be allowed to come into a home and spend a couple of hours with a family.
I met children, especially those between two and four, with a very strong sense of self. They knew what they wanted and they were willing to tell me. If I asked them to do an activity and they didn’t want to do it, I got to see how they would just say “no!”
Sometimes the “no” was verbal. Other times they ignored my requests or found other things to do that were more interesting to them.
When it was time to leave the home, I always expressed to the parents how amazing I thought their children were. I truly believed it.
To see a child connected to her or his inner voice and authority is a beautiful thing.
This doesn’t mean those children who were more cooperative were not amazing and beautiful. But when their cooperation came from implied or real parental threats, I would feel sad.
I felt sad that a child’s voice was being silenced in the name of cooperation.
I felt sad because I understood how parents feel such intense pressure to help their children fit into a particular box created by our broader society.
I understood the fears they have about their child not fitting in. The potential of their child being teased or rejected. Their child having a difficult life.
For some parents the strength of their child’s will was challenging. Sometimes they apologized or expressed frustration. They wanted their children to cooperate with me and do what I asked.
So, instead of disobedience I saw these amazing spirits. Amazing human beings who are so strongly connected to who they really are that they would not compromise their self-respect to please me. Although this made my role more challenging at times, I also reveled in it.
I also understand the discomfort parents seemed to feel.
In spite of my desire to create space for the children in my life to be who they are, to be authentic, I still sometimes feel uncomfortable with the strength of their will to be true to their inner voices.
It made me think more about how, as a culture, we are uncomfortable with individuals who stand firm in who they are and aren’t willing to give that up, just to please those in “authority” roles or those who might judge them.
Instead they follow their own inner authority. When individuals like this become famous artists, musicians, business leaders/entrepreneurs, or sports figures we celebrate their distinctiveness. We idolize the ways they are connected to their spirit and passion.
But, our culture doesn’t celebrate children who are connected to their passion and express that even in the face of adult discomfort.
This is the irony.
We celebrate and reward individuality in the famous or rich. We celebrate it in adults who become successful by conventional standards in our society.
With children, we are uncomfortable with it. When adults are not rich or famous, we are uncomfortable.
Because we want to create a different way of being with children we may fear the judgments the children in our lives might face. We might be fearful of the judgments we face as parents who treat children with respect and trust.
We won’t be able to shield the children in our lives from the judgments they might face from those who are uncomfortable when they express their authentic passions and voice.
We don’t have to shield them.
As parents, we can reject the harmful conventional standards by which children are measured and judged worthy. We can reject standard timelines for development, learning, and behavior.
We can instead understand each individual child. Understand what is important to them. Show interest in those things that are valuable to them. We can honor the individuality of each child.
When we do these things, we won’t have to shield them.
When we create a home where they can be who they are and who they are really matters, we can know that the judgments they might face will not rock them from their foundation.
Their foundation will be solid. It comes from a place that others cannot take away from them. They will experience disappointment, judgment, and pain in their lives. But when they do, they will know who they are.
Even though this seems simple for us and it is the right thing to do as parents, it can still be a challenge.
It is both simple in concept and often deeply challenging to live in the day-to-day.
As we do this with the children in our lives we will come face-to-face with those experiences in our past where we might have been judged. Perhaps we are still being judged by those around us.
We will need to find our authentic self and inner voice in this process.
We may have hidden our true selves deep down because of the judgments we faced growing up. In some ways, we may need to parent ourselves.
We need to liberate ourselves from the harmful conventional standards we may have faced (or continue to face) in our own lives. We may even need to root out how these standards are hidden in the judgments we make of ourselves.
As we grow up, we often internalize the judgments we experienced in childhood. So part of the task in our learning is to understand how those judgments might continue to live within us.
I often call these the “voices” I hear in my head. These voices are very different from the inner voice that got buried under the voices from others who judged me as I was growing up.
We are rebuilding our own foundations even as we are supporting the children in our lives in building the solid foundation that will be with them throughout their lives.