3 ways to raise happy, connected children*
I was recently snuggled up on our couch with 3 Mama friends, one of whom announced, “hey, we’re all raising boys. How do we steer them away from harmful media messages and towards an emotionally-intelligent, meaningful, courageous life? What sort of coming-of-age rituals are available to our boys? Who are the inspiring male role models?”
(okay, maybe she didn’t say these exact words, maybe it was more like, “how the *%$#! do we parent these boys?” but this became the general vibe of the conversation).
We had a good talk. I love these women. I need them on this parenting journey. I don’t know the answers, but I have some beliefs that feel right to me.
I love the idea of a coming-of-age ritual (sort of like Rose’s weaning party, but y’know, for adolescents), and I also believe that raising healthy, resilient children is, like a daily vitamin, an ongoing endeavor.
I believe kids need as much unstructured time outside as possible. This is where the noise of the media fades and we recalibrate to a slower, saner pace; where, in the absence of societal pressure, you become free to, as Oscar Wilde said, “be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” If children can retain their wonder at a swallowtail butterfly unfurling its tongue to draw up nectar from a patch of queen anne’s lace, perhaps they will learn to speak for the voiceless, the disenfranchised, or at least their curiosity will never be dulled. And, I believe the real-life allure of a butterfly will outlast the siren song of a violent video game.
I believe children need people in their lives who truly see them, encouraging their endeavors and passions, without judgment (while holding back on praise, which can actually inhibit the courage to follow your passion). It may look like your child is just snapping Legos together, but really she’s practicing spatial awareness, focusing, innovation, geometry, architecture, and construction. Children need time to enjoy being in the flow of their current passion, even if you can’t map that passion on a career counselor’s chart.
I believe children need empathy for their feelings, all their feelings. The other day, Col said, about something I had asked him to do, “but it’s so hard.” And I snapped back, “no it’s not.” And while putting away clothes, a regular chore around here, seems pretty easy, I wish I had said, “putting away clothes feels hard to you, huh? You wish you didn’t have to do it.” (Of course he still has to do it, empathy is not fixing, it is acknowledging). It never feels good to have someone negate or belittle your feelings, especially when they’re of the most difficult variety: guilt, jealousy, shame, sorrow, the feelings that we’ll end up stuffing and numbing if we don’t belief it’s safe to seek support.
It’s not easy to veer off the path that mainstream media (or your internal critic) suggests you should be following. I have quarterly talks with myself about remembering to celebrate my son’s talents and wisdom, his compassion for others, his insatiable curiosity, his natural, personalized development, even when academically he may look “behind” his peers. There is no race, and besides, enjoying the ride seems more important than winning.
What are your strategies for raising emotionally-healthy, happy, resilient children?
ps: it seems all your e-mail subscriptions have been restored, despite some of you re-subscribing in the interim. So, feel free to delete any redundancies. xo
* I can’t believe how I just titled this post. This is so not that kind of blog. I mean 3 ways to eat broccoli leaves, yes, or 3 DIY ferments to make while you’re trying to homeschool the feral youth, sure. Well, anyway…