I was recently snuggled up on our couch with three Mama friends, one of whom announced, “Hey, we’re all raising boys. How do we steer them away from harmful media messages and toward an emotionally-intelligent, meaningful and courageous life? What sort of coming-of-age rituals are available to our boys?”
(OK, 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.)
I love the idea of a coming-of-age ritual, and I also believe that raising healthy, resilient children is, like a daily vitamin, an ongoing endeavor. Here are three things I like to mix into my children’s daily life smoothie:
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, if children cut their entertainment teeth on the miracles of nature, 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 believe it’s safe to seek support.
And here’s a little secret that you already know: Adults need all these things, too. Enjoy those little people; they sure don’t stay little long.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org.Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.