Preparing Children for the “Real World”

As I sat at the coffee shop, procrastinating on a deadline to complete an article, I overheard two parents and a child play mah jong.

The child was perhaps 8 years old. Her parents were more experienced players and she kept losing. She ended up sobbing and through her sobs she talked about her hurt feelings, how she never won.

I began to think about the role we, as parents believe we must play in order to prepare children for the “real” world.

I couldn’t hear what the parents said to her. They spoke more quietly. But I felt the child’s pain at losing.

Her pain at not being able to compete with adults. The pain of her feelings being dismissed while her parents continued to play the game.

I write this not to judge those parents.

But to remind myself of the ways in which I also treat the children in my life with less regard at times. I write to remind myself that there are also ways in which I dismiss the feelings of Martel and Greyson when they get in the way of where I want to be, what I want to do or what I think should be done.

In some ways, it becomes easy to dismiss those feelings.

We are taught throughout our childhood, by the ways we were treated, that the feelings of children are not as important as those of adults.

As parents we may feel it is our responsibility to toughen up children so that they can fit into the box society has prepared for them. We hear and feel these messages everyday as children and we hear them as adults.

Marianne Williamson, in her book A Return to Love, writes that

Very few of us had a sense of unconditional approval…. And that’s not because we were raised by monsters. We were raised by people who were raised the same way we were. Sometimes, in fact, it was the people who loved us the most who felt it was their responsibility to train us to struggle.

Why? Because the world as it is, is tough, and they wanted us to make good. We had to become as crazy as the world is, or we would never fit in here…. What’s strange is we didn’t learn discipline from that perspective, so much as a weird displacement of our sense of power away from our selves and onto external sources. What we lost was a sense of our own power. And what we learned was fear, fear that we weren’t good enough, just the way we were.

As I have written before, this disconnection from our inner voice, power and authority as children sets us up to believe that we must perform in order to be acceptable.

Children must diminish themselves in order to fit in. They must be something other than who they really are in order to be shown love and approval. They live in this fear. Fear of being who they are. Fear of being unlovable.

Conditional love and approval sets the stage for children to operate out of fear. And, from that place of fear they lose themselves.

Those children grow into adults. They are us and we continue to be in this place of fear.

When we live in this place of fear, we can more easily ignore the feelings of those less powerful than us, the children in our lives.

We are too afraid of what the future holds for this child we love that we are willing to hurt her.

How does this happen?

Even as a parent commitment to creating change, committed to creating respectful and trust-filled relationships, I still hurt them. It is because at a fundamental and deep level I don’t trust myself. I continue to believe what I was taught in my life.

Intellectually I can know that if I operate out of fear, I do harm. And yet, I fall into the rabbit hole of fear. When I am afraid, my love is hidden under the fear and hurt of my past. When I stand in a place of clarity and trust, my love comes through and I can only act from that place of love with with the children in my life.

How better to prepare children for the real world than to give them unconditional love.

When they know who they are and they know their worth and value inside of themselves (not because I tell them), their foundation is absolutely rock solid. It does not depend on someone saying to them “you are good.” It does not diminish because someone says “you are bad.”

The experiences they have in their lives will be what they are. Sometimes painful, sometimes joyful, but they will not be broken by those painful experiences because they know who they are.

As I finish writing this, the young girl has gone back to her parents to play mah jong. There is joy in her voice. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps her parents heard and understood her pain.

Perhaps she came back into the game and they decided they could play differently with her than they had been.

I won’t ever know.

It lightened my heart to hear her laugh and sing.

I could have walked away from the scene judging her parents and feeling sorry for the child. Telling myself a story about how horrible they were and how hurt she was.

Instead I stayed to see a different ending than the one I was predicting.

The experience reminded me that often what I see is only part of the story and perhaps if I am patient and wait, I will see more than I ever expected.

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