I have been writing about how we can create the life of our dreams for a few months. It has been an inside job. Much of it has been about “allowing” or “live and let live”. But what about parenting? Do we allow our children to be who they are without intervening? Since I have four children (three are adults) and one seven year-old, I have thought long and hard about my parenting. I made many mistakes as we all do. I don’t think a parent or child has ever come out of that growing-up experience unscathed. What exactly is our job? No one has written THE handbook in parenting. There are many different view points on parenting. Believe me, I have read a good amount of books that have been written on the subject. But sometimes it is best if I put all the expert opinions aside and ask myself in any given situation “What would love do now?” Love is what is at the core of our inner being. If we are connected to our inner being we will be inspired to be good parents.
I believe that our children are born perfectly and they need a supportive environment to discover their greatness, to discover what turns them on. They are born with their greatness already there. Living is a matter of discovery, creation and expansion. That is why we sign them up for activities and run around like cab drivers from soccer to ballet to art class, so they can discover their true passions. Besides, being an escort to activities, a caretaker, a tutor at homework time and a time-keeper at bedtime, what is our role as parents in raising kids?
We have a huge role in the conditioning of the child. One of the most important ways we can help our child is conditioning them to be appreciative. Appreciation yields happiness, contentment, joy. In raising my 7-year-old, conditioning her to appreciate the world around her is one of my top goals. I am not talking here about teaching her to say please and thank you. There is a huge difference between appreciation and manners. Manners are important and have a place in the world. I have certainly not abandoned manners. However, I was struck when I employed someone a few years back who was very well-mannered. She was raised in a proper, educated family knowing what side of the plate to put the fork and always said please and thank you at the appropriate times but I have never witnessed a more cynical and judgmental person. After a couple of years of working closely with her I could no longer take her energy. She held her nose up to everyone and criticized the world any chance she had. To an outsider, she may have looked like she was raised well but close-up it was clear she was by far an unhappy person.
So how do I impact my daughter to be an appreciative person? We have a ritual when I put her to bed at night to take turns telling each other the top ten things we were most grateful for in that particular day. I make sure not to just list the things that cost money such as the house, the food, and the clothing on our backs. Those things are usually mentioned but not given more weight than the weather, the budding flowers, the friends we enjoyed the company of, our dog, and the sunset. The beauty of this routine is twofold: not only does it condition both of us for gratitude; it also conditions us that the world is abundant. The concept of abundance is more than financial. When you appreciate the flowers and the sun that never fails to rise and set, the ocean that goes on beyond the horizon, the belief that the world is abundant is developed. This is priceless. I know people who have millions and say they cannot afford things, things that cost $100. They were conditioned with a mentality that there is not enough to go around. It does not matter how much money they accrue they will never savor the abundance.
Money and buying things brings up another issue in raising an appreciative child. Does showering children with things cause a lack of appreciation? My first 3 children were not showered with things, but they wanted for nothing. They are appreciative adults. My 7-year-old is showered with more things than they but she is still appreciative. We do need contrast to fully appreciate the abundance. Without winter, spring would not be so delicious. So how do we instill the contrast of life without insisting our children are deprived in order to teach appreciation? I have shown my daughter the contrast of life without reserve. We have looked at pictures of starving children on the web. When she came home recently with a note from school that there was a fundraiser for Smile train, I brought my daughter Sarah to the computer to look at the pictures of the kids that were born with cleft palates. Sarah emptied her whole piggy bank and went around to every pocketbook and pocket to get the change for this important cause. She talks regularly about charities and causes and her desire to give to others is truly amazing. This has shown me there are many ways to help our children see the contrast in life and to see the world as abundant and want that for others. Appreciation is the greatest gift we can give our children.
Lastly, if we give our child what we think is a wonderful experience, say piano lessons and they do not enjoy it and express their displeasure does that mean they are unappreciative? NO! It means that they feel free to speak their truth. Bask in that. So many children grow up not being able to tell their parents their truth. They are conditioned to please their parents rather than to live authentically. Ask yourself, how am I conditioning my child? Am I conditioning them to be appreciative, to believe the world is abundant, and to discover what floats their boat? If the answer is “yes”, you are on an inspired track. Keep going and savor the outcome!