Thursday, April 23, 2009

Child's Work

A scene from Cutter's baseball practice: The coach turns from helping a boy bat to find the 7 yr. old shortstop drawing in the sand. Coach yells, "Tommy, no playing in the dirt," to which Tommy responds seriously, "I wasn't playing. I was drawing a symbol."

This called to my mind a situation that occurred on a recent warm day. Joe and Cutter were out and I was seized with spring cleaning fever, the kitchen my target. I moved a heavy bookshelf from kitchen to writing space and took bins of utensils and dishes to the basement for donation.

The next morning after I woke, I entered the kitchen to find that everything, down to the last spatula, was back in its place, as though I'd done nothing the day before. I stood baffled for a moment before I turned to look at Cutter in the living room. He was sitting on the edge of the couch watching me closely. His eyes told me that he knew I had the power in that situation. That he knew I could undo the kitchen again, change it just as I had the day before, without consideration or consultation. What to do?

I went to that beautiful amazing boy and I hugged him and said, "Wow, you really did a lot of hard work this morning didn't you?" As Joe joked later, I could have just waited a few days and moved everything back a second time. Instead, I trusted that Cutter was doing his own work, different from mine but equally necessary. When I asked later that day why he had moved things back, he said he "didn't want anything changed that was the way it was when Isaiah was alive." Again, I could have just told him that things always change and re-arranged the kitchen again to prove just that point. Instead, we've been working together to honor the needs of each of our family members, my need for more space from clutter, Cutter's need for more space to hold onto Isaiah.

It came to me (with much practice) that when we set ourselves up as rulers of our children for their own good, we eradicate any honest work they may do. I am speaking of external work, but that necessarily requires internal work; the internal work of knowing and understanding and trusting one's judgement in relation to self and others in the world; the internal work that we, as adults, pay thousands of dollars in counseling fees and self-help books to learn; the work that children do naturally while they play, watch and live unencumbered by our own adult ideas of work, which frequently involve subverting your own voice beneath arbitrary rules that may apply to one situation or individual but not to every situation or individual. I consider food a prime example, especially in this country. If you force or coerce a child to eat when they are not hungry because, e.g. "9:00 a.m. is breakfast time" or to eat all the food off their plates though they've stated they feel full, you effectively, over the course of a childhood, teach a child that there is no wisdom inherent in their own body; that any wisdom or knowledge to be had must be given to or placed upon them by external forces. By the time they've grown to adulthood, they no longer recognize hungry or full, among multiple other things.

Consider the next time you find yourself in a struggle with a child: What work might my child be doing... are they trying to grow in experience, knowledge or power? Am I simply trying to control the situation because I can, because I have the power? And what do I lose if I allow my child to express their own wisdom, voice, needs?

Just some thoughts from my daily parenting practice. Wishing you peace in your practice, whatever it may be.

1 comment:

jonvoss said...

Ok, I'll try it. Thanks for your insight!