Sarah MacLaughlin shares the three most important lessons she hopes her toddler son learns as he grows into a man.
Do you remember the fairies from Sleeping Beauty? Those cute, little pastel ones that flitted around the baby welcoming party? In they flew on slight wings to offer the innocent baby princess their gifts. With the wave of their magic wands they stated their intentions and—poof!—they were true.
Well, I want a magic wand. I do. I want that certainty. My child is only 4 and there is still such a long way to go until he is grown. I want to know that everything will be well, that he will turn our alright and be a good person. As a connoisseur of parenting, I have a tendency to get a little stirred up about my part. I forget that he is himself, and for the most part, there is not much I can do to change that. I constantly remind myself to just get out of the way; add love, support, and then let go.
But, if I had that wand and could present my boy with three gifts, this is what my bequest would be:
Dear son, please be compassionate with yourself. I believe, with every fiber of my being, that compassion can save the world. It will rescue you from your human, knee-jerk defensiveness. It will calm your triggered amygdala—the fight or flight center deep within your brain. It will remind you that you are OK, connected to others, worthy. With compassion for yourself, you can see your “self” more clearly. And once you have it for yourself, you can offer this empathy to others. Plus, love is always standing right behind compassion, and who couldn’t use more of that?
I also wish for you to be emotionally resilient. I use the word resilient instead of literate or intelligent intentionally here. I do not mean the ability to recognize or label emotional states. Nor do I mean the delaying of gratification. I mean straight-up aptitude for feeling. You know—feeling sad, feeling grief, feeling hurt—but actually feeling it, not stuffing it down. And if you feel angry, please know that this is only the tip of the iceberg, there is always something else lying beneath. Keep reaching for it—relax, lean in. Remember that if you don’t feel, you can’t connect. I promise that the connection makes the uncomfortable-ness well worth it in the end.
Lastly, I hope you will always have a sense of humor. Without it, you’re completely sunk. I once lost my sense of humor for over 24 hours on a very bleak day when I was about 19. It was terrifying. Nothing is good when you have zero ability to laugh at yourself, or life for that matter. Keep things in perspective and don’t take yourself too seriously. When all else fails—just smile—I swear it helps.
Even though I know that there is only so much to contribute on the “nurture” side of the debate, I fully believe in the process of setting goals and find it wise practice to imagine what kind of adult I’d like my child to become. While he will no doubt grow into the man he is meant to be, a person wholly unto himself, it must be prudent to hope, pray, and cast about any magic I can muster.
Sarah MacLaughlin is a social worker and author of the award-winning book What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children. She considers it her life’s work to promote happy, well adjusted people in the future by increasing awareness of how children are spoken to today. Sarah teaches classes and workshops, and consults with families everywhere. She is also Mom to a young son who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice. Follow her on Facebook, Blogger, and Twitter.