“When you have a problem,
see if you can find out for yourself
why you have a problem“
– SHUNRYU SUZUKI
During the 70s and 80s when I was growing up in the UK I don’t remember children’s feelings being indulged at all. At least not in my world. Many of us were told to “fight our own battles”. Certainly my parents wouldn’t have dreamt of rushing down to my school to defend me in any way. I don’t think there was ever even a conversation about happened in our classroom. I was simply dropped off each morning and that was that. In a tough, multi-cultural, Greater London school with lots of immigrants and many horrible bullies, it didn’t even occur to me that things should or could be different. It was what it was. Sadly perhaps, it was “normal” and I didn’t think much of it. The fact that a child might experience grief at the death of somebody or the divorce of their parents was rarely acknowledged and it was all just business as usual. I always laugh when I tell my mum that I have a vague recollection of her walking into my bedroom one morning to say “Oh, your Granddad died this morning..and, by the way, your dad and I are getting a divorce!”. Of course it wasn’t quite like that, but it may as well have been since both those things happened within a very short period of time and I don’t recall anybody even considering they might need to sit down with me or my brother to talk to us about it. Counselling? Sand play? A visit to the psychologist? Not likely! It’s just the way things were back then. Certainly I learnt to be resilient and for the most part, I still am, but like any good Brit, I have always found it very hard to honour any feelings of despair and hurt I’ve experienced during my life. It was simply the done thing to bury it all and soldier on.
Thank goodness the pendulum has swung and we have a greater understanding of childrens’ psychology and how they express emotions they can’t yet name these days. But has it swung too far? Do we over-parent, hover, over-indugle and rush to defend and protect our kiddies from any kind of negative life event? Is our job as parents (like any animal) to teach our children the skills they need to be able to survive in the world without us? To help them honour – and therefore learn to cope with – all kinds of feelings and emotions, not just the good stuff? Do we do them a disservice when we do not give them the space and freedom to sort out minor disagreements between friends, teachers and classmates? Is it right to assume that older children must have the truth of some situations hidden from them instead of communicating, being open and allowing the conversation to take place? How does anyone build resilience if they are never given the opportunity?
I can’t help thinking that, as an adult – apart from illness, disaster or catastrophe of course – one of the most difficult things we have to deal with constantly, is other people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s day-to-day life, the workplace, friends, acquaintances or family situations. Human beings are challenging and complex creatures! It’s a life skill well worth developing to be able to let things go and brush off others’ (non-serious) moods and behavioural traits without taking things personally or allowing others to affect our overall sense of self or wellbeing.
Importantly, we cannot change others and neither should we have too many expectations of them since the only person we can really know and work on is ourselves. Self awareness, acceptance of what is and of course, mindfulness.
Great skills to teach the kiddies.