The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Raising Our Inner children

I was at the park with Tananarive and 2 1/2 year old Jason Monday, and the little monster (affectionately meant) started acting up.  He was so uncooperative, that I put him in “the corner” which means isolating him, making him face any convenient wall, sometimes with a little swat to make sure he doesn’t think it’s a game.

He went to the nearest wall, and stood there.  An Hispanic lady watching nearby approached us and in an incredulous voice, asked how we got Jason to obey us.  Her three-year old, she said, is a terror.

Wow.  I knew a couple of things without even asking:
Her son had no father in the home.
She feels guilty about fact #1
The guilt stops her from being effective at drawing the line for her son.

In speaking with her, I congratulated her on having the courage and honesty to ask the question.  Without proper limits, her son will seek something to “push back” against. He is looking for a male energy strong enough to control him.  If he can’t find it in the home (and there are many women who can project this beautifully, just as there are men who can take the nurturing role.  I’m using “male” and “female” here for convenience, not as a limiting label) he will look for it in the street, until he ends up getting “pushed back” by the police.  And ends up dead, or in jail.

She looked stricken, and admitted that the boy’s father was already in jail.  I rest my case.  God, I hate being right so often. 

The question of what children need is one that human beings have been asking for thousands of years.  I would say that, more than anything other than the basic physical necessities, they need attention, divided into love and discipline.  Children need to know their limits.  If their parents aren’t stronger than they are, little kids are in terrible danger, and “act out” in terrible fear.  They KNOW that they aren’t strong enough to provide for themselves.  If they can manipulate their parents, dear God in heaven…who will protect them?
Here’s the point.  What children need, adults need as well. Only for an adult, you have the strange need to be both adult and child simultaneously.  Your child self (which correlates very roughly with the Id) wants what it wants when it wants it.  Because it is, in many ways the most powerful part of your personality, it is easiest to just give it what it wants.
But that can be fatal, if you haven’t aligned child and adult selves.  Remember Harlan Ellison’s definition of success: “to bring into existence, in adult form, your childhood dreams.”

Brilliant. But how do you do it?  If you don’t have an instinctive, healthy connection (I’d guess that fewer than 5% of people do)  it is possible to reach this part of your personality through therapy, journaling, meditation, or ceremony.  In punishing my son Jason, I NEVER forget that he’s gonna be bigger and stronger than me.  I imagine that the adult Jason is by my side, watching everything I do.  My job is to prepare child Jason to take control of his own life.  Jason wants to be a good boy, he just can’t quite figure out how.  He will run into the street, stick his tongue in a light socket, snack out of the cat box.  He just doesn’t know any better.

It is my job to teach him. Not to be his buddy (although I love playing “Secret Boy’s Club” under a makeshift tent with him) it is to suck it up and draw the line.  To give him something to push back against.  To demand that he be polite, and gentle, and genteel.  And every time he learns a lesson, he gets more GENUINELY secure and relaxed.  He loves knowing that he is behaving in a manner his mommy and daddy approve of.
The child part of ourselves is just the same.  It will twist and turn and complain amazingly…but if you are strong enough to demand that it do its homework, or eat its vegetables, or be honest and considerate…when it learns the lesson, the benefits are just astounding.  You get connection with all of that youthful energy and hope, regardless of the age of the body you now house it in.  A phenomenal experience, if you haven’t had it.  But it takes discipline, and maturity, and a willingness to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long term gain.

It’s worth it.  Every time I look at my sleeping son, I know its worth it.  Every time I realize I’ve had a good, solid, disciplined day, it’s worth it.  There is simply nothing in the world more important than protecting, disciplining, and loving our children…whether they be children of flesh or spirit.
Parents out there: I would love to hear your thoughts on child-rearing, and how it relates to self-discipline and personal development.

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