These are valuable lessons we can now learn from our own children, if we let them.
Lesson 1: There’s no substitute for being present
Whether my young son is on the sofa or in my arms, he lets me know that he is very much aware of my physical whereabouts. I could shower him with the most expensive toys and divert his attention to some brightly colored book, but in the end, he will choose to play with my hand or do a show of silly faces. He likes it when I look at him, and, when I go to toss dirty Kleenex in the trash, he follows me with a longing gaze. He feels my absence, and sometimes calls me only to make sure I didn’t go too far.
My child teaches me about the desire of presence. He doesn’t claim to be able to handle the absence of closeness. He is honest about all his little needs; hunger, fear, nudity, loneliness, pain — and also joy, feeling of security, devotion — he experiences all of these things, and doesn’t hide them.
A young child doesn’t think forward to the future, and doesn’t look back either. He constantly shows me that, to become self-sufficient, I first need to experience the intensity of being with someone. He teaches me that I should not be ashamed of needing others, and that this need does not mean that I can’t do things on my own, but that I have someone near me who both can, and wants to, help me. And that’s a big deal.
Lesson 2: Love likes to explore new paths
You may be surprised, but my son absolutely does not mind that everything we do with him is an experiment, since he is our first child. We have no clue how to be parents, and it would seem that he is the only one, of all people, who accepts it with complete peace and tolerance. He doesn’t judge and doesn’t criticize. He doesn’t try to fit our parenting into pre-determined boxes and templates. Our son understands better than we do that love likes roads yet to be explored, that it likes things it is not always best at. That it’s not about results.
My little son never told me that I did something wrong. He didn’t give me a long list of expectations about how I should take care of him. I am the one who mentally composes lengthy, judgmental self-condemnations.
My child teaches me how to recognize love. He never compares our days together. He openly accepts everything that another day, week or month brings. He never said that one game or hug was worse than another or that I could have done better. My child doesn’t want to change me — and maybe that’s the reason I change so fast.
Lesson 3: We all need one person in our lives that lets us be ourselves
Until recently, it worried me when my son showed more joy being with someone other than me. I wondered if I was really that boring. I felt like a person who thinks she can tell funny jokes, but I was the only one laughing.
When my son started to teethe, I got my answer. He has been suffering for two weeks now; he’s more sensitive, he feels more unpleasant stimuli, and sometimes he’s just tired of life. He is no longer a perpetually happy child. Instead, there are days when his mood can change several times in an hour. Not everyone can deal with that. Some people — I’ve discovered — are afraid of crying babies. Crying babies are loud, expressive, and the message they give off is don’t even try to cheer me up!
Most adults just give up at that moment. They start to judge the kids, saying the baby is “manipulative” (because he wants to be carried when he doesn’t feel well), or saying, “He doesn’t want to sleep,” in a tone that implies they had signed a contract for two long naps daily and now the kid can’t deliver.
Now, instead of being the funny mother, I became a full-time someone who can accept her child no matter what. We need an anchor in love that will not judge our reactions. Someone who will allow us to be ourselves even when we don’t feel like smiling. The best gift in the world is having someone with whom you can feel so free that you are not afraid to cry or to be angry, to show your weakness, and get through the worst night.
A parent is like a tree
It’s sad that we live in a world where children are still perceived as people who need to be given rules like a straight-jacket for thinking, feeling, and living. Often, due to our pride, or simply because we are busy, we don’t make the basic effort to listen to what the little person can show us, teach us, and give to us.
We forget that this is exactly who God wanted in this world; that the little guy lying in bed and playing with his fingers has, within him, the entire potential he needs to live his life. Yes, we need to guide and lead him, but we must also take care not to break him, but to support him as we guide.
Looking at my child, I understand a parent is much like a tree, which gives shelter to the birds sitting in its branches. It doesn’t have to say, “I am a big tree, you can rest on my branches.” It’s enough that it exists, gives fruit, and knows what it is good for.
It’s wonderful to know and not be afraid of what Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese writer and poet, writes in his poem “The Prophet.” We don’t need to build everything from scratch. It’s not about perfect child-rearing, but about being open enough to listen and to make others want to hear us:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
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