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How to Give Your Children an Authentic Childhood

Amanda-Tipton-CC

Mitchell Kalpakgian, Ph.D. - published on 05/06/15 - updated on 06/08/17

It's the secret to happiness, and it's their birthright

A person can be at home in the world or feel like a foreigner in a strange country.  Whether or not a person feels welcomed or alienated depends on the experience in his own home and family. A person’s sense of belonging to a family home—the microcosm of a little universe—prepares him for being at home in the larger world of human society and Nature—the macrocosm. Domus, the Latin word for home (“domestic”) also provides the root for “dominion,” God’s kingdom or the larger world that surrounds the home. To see the roof over one’s head and the light in the house in the house resembles noticing the dome of the heavens above filled with stars. A feeling security in the home invites a sense of being in tune with the world. Like the house in which man dwells that provides a sense of belonging, the world also offers a habitation suitable to fulfill man’s essential needs—especially for children.

Human happiness for both children and adults consists of this sense of association with a familiar environment where they are welcomed, known, loved, and missed and where they experience contentment in the surroundings. Without this rootedness to a family that provides a sense of permanence, a person feels alienated in the world or, to use Walker Percy’s phrase, “lost in the cosmos.”

Feeling like an estranged foreigner in the world makes a person feel insignificant, unimportant, and useless—like “a dot made by a fine pencil” or “a feather in the wind” to use expressions from Montaigne’s Essays. If the world is no more than vast spaces or infinite galaxies, man’s sense of identity and worth dwindles. He does not matter, he does not count, he makes no difference. A child deserves not only a happy home, but also an inviting, welcoming world that receives him with kindness.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses illuminates this distinction between being at home in the world or lost in the cosmos. The boy in the poems feels a sense of belonging to a loving world that never ceases to fascinate and excite the child. The famous line, “The world is so full of a number of things, / I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings,” captures a child’s love of life and delight in the variety of pleasures the world affords. The child is always playing, both indoors and outdoors; both alone with his imagination in games of make-believe in “The Land of Nod” and with familiar friends in “Farewell to the Farm.” Play abounds both in the summer in the hayloft (“Oh, what a joy to clamber there, / Oh, what a place for play”) and in the winter in the snow (“Or with a reindeer-sled, explore/ The colder countries round the door”). Every day brings an invitation to a source of play.

From morning to night the child plays. From the time the sun enjoys the game of hide and seek (“Though closer still the blinds we pull/ To keep the shady parlor cool, /Yet he will find a chink or two/To slip his golden fingers through”) to bedtime when the child gazes at the constellations (“The Dog, and the Plough, and the Hunter, and all, / And the star of the sailor, and Mars”), he discovers inexhaustible sources of pure delight awaiting his exploration. How could a child not be at home in a world especially created for his endless delight at all hours of the day and night and in all the four seasons?

The child pictures himself a wealthy king with a vast domain because of the riches of play. He finds wonder in the friendly cow, in the waves of the sea, in the galloping wind, in the face of the moon, in the mysterious shadow, and in the chirping of birds. He participates in the excitement of larger worlds he calls “My Kingdom,” “Foreign Lands,” “The Land of Counterpane,” and “The Land of Story-Books”—the realm of the imagination that fills the mind with endless subjects of interest from “Seas and cities, far and near” to fairy land to the countries of “Little Indian, Sioux or Crow, / Little frosty Eskimo, /Little Turk or Japanese.” The child at home in the world is never bored or jaded but always anticipates the next pleasure or adventure.

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