From the work in progress Life: A Book About Learning to Live
By Jim Rosemergy
I live as if children are watching me—because they are.
It’s common knowledge—children are the future, yet when one of our species is born, it appears helpless. How could this little one survive without our help and support? It is true—for a time after birth, children need great care and attention. We are their protectors. This charge we must fulfill for years to come, but usually not as long as we think. In fact, there comes a time when children need to be protected from us and our views of the world and the way we believe things should be. Unless we allow them to explore the world and live for themselves, they will not be qualified to create the future. They will not be the future; they will be our past.
Children seem to need many things, but what they need most from us is acceptance. Acceptance gives a message every child wants to hear, “You are OK just the way you are.” Many of our words and actions convey a different message—something’s wrong with you, you need to be fixed, and maintenance must be performed on you. It is difficult to thrive in an environment where those who are supposed to love us think we are in need of repair.
The usual perspective is that children must make themselves acceptable to us, but the opposite is true. People who accept others have done the difficult work of accepting themselves. This is our work, not so much to accept the children, although this is the eventual outcome, but first to accept ourselves including our faults and frailties.
Children are eager learners. They observe and explore their world and watch us in order to learn how to live; therefore let us lead by example and live as if we are being watched—because we are.
Adults tend to lecture children. We tell them much. Probably there is some wisdom in what we say, but the greater message is in the way we live. Our responsibility is to continuously convey to all children the message: I know a secret about you. You have vast resources within you. There is something in you that will enable you to be happy and to make a difference in the world.
Years ago a boy stole money from his church. His father discovered the theft and brought his son to the minister. Each Sunday this boy and the other children entered the sanctuary for a time of sharing and learning with the congregation and the minister. As the children left the sanctuary, the congregation blessed them by affirming, “You are loved, special, and important.”
There were several messages the minister wanted to convey to the child who stole the money. One was that stealing was unacceptable behavior, but that the child was still loved, special, and important. His actions could never change this. In fact, his father had brought him to talk with the minister because his son was important, because he was special, and because he was loved. However, as he probably already knew, stealing did not help him feel loved, special, and important.
After the minister spoke with the boy about these things, the boy was asked what he thought and felt. The boy was brief, but it was evident that he understood. Stealing was not acceptable, but he was. He had done something inappropriate, but his actions had not changed how others felt about him.
This child experienced acceptance when he was expecting something else. He witnessed two adults leading by example as they confirmed his worth and value to the world.
Adults are protectors for the children, but we are not to protect them from their actions. We cannot live for them. We are to accept them as they are and allow them to accept responsibility for the way they live their lives. Only in this way will they discover their inner resources. This discovery above all others will allow them to be our future—a future that has never before been seen upon the earth, a future that unlocks possibilities that this generation cannot see.