I’m raising a child and the principle of no “shoulds” in compassionate thinking takes on a whole new meaning.
This week, I’ve noticed how many parents – even ones I consider to be very good and well-informed parents – use phrases such as, “you’re not allowed to do that” or “you should do this” as well as using the imperative often to control the actions of their children.
It brought about a conflict within me about giving children, especially very young children a well-structured, disciplined upbringing but at the same time be compassionate. After all, if no-one else, we should at least be compassionate to children – the innocents who have not yet learned any hate or prejudice.
It occurred to me that this overlaps with the emotional advice from polyamorous circles of “owning your own shit”.
The point is that children can in fact do anything they want. Their innocence also highlights what it is like to have no concept of action and consequence and no idea of how others expect you to behave.
Our actions in raising children already instills this social framework of expectations on them. Moreover, it passes down from generation to generation at such a deep level that we almost never question it.
As a child, I grew up straddling across two very different societies and lived in a third. I think this helped me to see the differences as just that – differences – not just they’re different from us, but also we’re different from them. That my actions will cause disgust or offence and that in their frame, it’s totally normal and expected – blowing my nose, not slurping my soup, refusing another portion of food, refusing to drink with them…
So, now I am making a conscious effort to own my own shit. It’s not that my son is not allowed to grab the salt shaker from the table and throw it around. It’s not that he shouldn’t do it. It’s that until he can take responsibility for his actions and understand the consequences, I take responsibility. Since it is my responsibility, I tell him, “I stop you from grabbing that.”
Subtle difference, yes? It is however a significant one. I am taking personal responsibility for the restrictions I place on him. It is not innate. It is not society. It is me and only me. For starters, it makes me think more carefully about the restrictions I place on him. Are they reasonable? Are they consistent? Is this for his benefit, for my benefit, for others or just something that I have learned is innate or default?
With time and understanding, I hope that this will be a stepping stone to understanding that he is responsible for his own actions. There is no external force causing him to act the way he does. Most importantly, that the expectations of every person is different, even though they may think that that is the norm arnd that is how everbody should behave.
The last is a very important lesson that I hope he learns early. From it, he will learn the skills of open, honest communication, asking for and giving consent and most importantly, how to deal with situations where others around him don’t have these skills and how to maintain compassion and integrity when around such people… because let’s admit, there aren’t a whole lot of people out there with these skills and I myself am very hesitant to consider myself one of them.