their eyes are watching you

5:29 PM

I've been hearing people say for a while now "Oh I was just reminded that my children are always watching me. I must be better, sit up straight, be more careful..." or essentially strive for perfection. Kindness, endless joy and happiness, calmness and collectedness and a boundless can-do attitude. There's nothing overtly wrong with this but it makes me wonder a little... Should what we allow our children to see in us really be so perfect?
While my parents were visiting us a few weeks ago my father asked "What are we going to do with Birdie when we have to leave for the airport? She's going to get so upset!!" And I told him that we were just going to let her be upset because I'm going to be sad too (in fact I would cry) and that this is normal and healthy and something she needs to start understanding. I am ok with allowing her to cry and I would be right next to her holding her hand and telling her that we will all be ok after a good cry. She may only be two but she's incredibly perceptive and trying to sort out the jumbled up mess of emotions that she is feeling on a daily basis. All of the professors in my Early Childhood Education classes were fervent believers in treating children not just with respect but with the understanding that their capacity for human emotion is bigger than we realize. And it was back in college that I decided that I would never talk down to my children.
I realize that sometimes I seem silly for sitting down to "talk" with a toddler that is thrashing and screaming like a banshee but I have found that she will eventually tune herself into my wavelength (and if that wavelength is frustration and anger she will tune into that too) and then we can then have a conversation about her behavior. And I've noticed, over time, that she has begun to appreciate the fact that I treat her the same way I would treat any adult. But the point is that she gets sad, angry, frustrated, offended, hurt, moody and basically the entire spectrum of human emotion. Sometimes she is incredibly sweet and kind and we reward her for that and sometimes she is mean and unkind and we are working on teaching her to process those emotions and also apologize when she has hurt or disappointed one of us. And here's the thing - how is she to learn the ins and outs of forgiveness if she never witnesses us having to ask for it ourselves? We do want our children to respect us but we don't want them to make gods out of us - omnipotent, all-knowing and beyond reproach.
Because the moment someone is convinced that in order to be "good" they must be perfect is the moment that they stop allowing themselves the luxury of introspection, growth and honesty. And after all we are all flawed, have made and continue to make mistakes and are in need of constant forgiveness. What will our children learn from us if all we show them is the "highlight reel" of our emotions? And wouldn't it be incredibly confusing to them if they never seen us lose our temper, patience or fall from grace when they do those things daily?
I've never believed in labeling emotions are good or bad, they are all simply "feelings." What we do with those emotions is infinitely more important than the fact that we feel them in the first place. So I feel that if our children are to navigate the complex web of human life and all that comes with it we must help them learn how to navigate their emotions first and foremost. And the best way to do this is by example of course! So yes, sometimes I lose my temper and I get angry... and then I go and apologize and say something like "mummy got angry because you were naughty and shouted but she is sorry and loves you very, very much." Or sometimes I get sad and I tell her that "mummy needs some quiet time to be sad." I've let her see me cry, be angry, happy, frustrated, tired and don't worry she's seen me laugh too. And by the same token she has expressed all those same emotions too. And together we are learning that if we yell when we're angry we need to apologize (same applies to throwing things when we're sad, her not me, lol) and when we're frustrated it's best to say "I don't like that I can't buckle my shoes by myself, will you help me?" instead of kicking and screaming. And I hope that when she's older we will learn together what it means to make mistakes, to seek forgiveness and be granted it.
We want our children to know that life is a journey, one that will be full of wonderful experiences, victories, mistakes, losses, achievements and failures. The absence of any or one of these does not make someone better, it would simply render any of us non-human. What we do with all of this is what is of actual importance. I too believe that we should never let our mistakes define us, however I think it's silly to think that they won't change us. Hopefully the changes are always for the better, always to draw out a more authentic, open, genuine and honest version of ourselves. I want our children to know that it's ok to shine a light on the darker parts of ourselves in order to try and change them because it's when we shroud those qualities in darkness and secrecy that they grow to be strongest. The unconscious thrives on anonymity and denial, gaining power over us until we have no idea why we do the things we do. It's a treasure trove of guilt, sadness, disappointment, fear and resentment. And I believe that it all starts when we are very young - the first time we feel that we aren't good enough and we lock it away and a drop falls in the bucket...
So yes, our children are watching us closely but I hope that what they see when they look at me is a real person with real feelings, flaws and someone who is constantly evolving, never afraid of saying "I'm sorry." I hope my children always know that in our house "we" are not bad or good but we "do" things that are bad or good. And more than anything I hope that my children know that the well of forgiveness will never run dry because lord knows children are already the most forgiving people on earth and I can only hope to live my life with that much abundant grace.

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