We seem to have an ingrained attitude of resistance to reality. As parents, this resistance to reality shows up dramatically when we find ourselves automatically resorting to attempts to shape our children's reality according to their preference.
We really seem to think that our job as good parents is to make our children's lives happy by adjusting their world to suit them, rather than to help them find contentment through accepting life on its own terms.
What we too often fail to see is that by attempting to manage reality for them, we actually reinforce in them the expectation that they get to decide how life is supposed to be!
No wonder we have so many adults walking around railing against the way things are! Many of us grew up in homes with caretakers who eagerly tried to fix things for us, so that to this very day we still expect someone else to come along and make our lives the way we think they should be, instead of understanding that we can be happy with things just the way they are.
Our children complain that they don’t like the way something is and instead of encouraging them to shift their attitude towards the situation we start trying to manage the environment to make things better for them.
Here’s an example to illustrate what I mean:
A young mother and her three year old daughter visited us recently. The young mother and I were working in the kitchen together, and the three year old was standing at her mothers side, clinging to her leg, and whining insistently about wanting her mother to come outside and play with her.
The young mother placated her young daughter by saying things to her like, “It’s ok sweetheart, you want me to go with you? Well, how about we go in a few minutes? Mommy is helping Ms. Lynne right now, but I will be done in a minute and we can go then, ok?
Asking a child whether they want to go along with reality is not an approach I'd recommend simply because it sends the message that resisting reality works; they get the idea that it's up to them to decide how things should be and that if they don't like the way things are, we will change them for them. But of course, this is not real life! If we, as humans, are ever to have peace we must sooner or later come to terms with the error in that sort of thinking. We certainly do NOT get to determine reality! (perhaps you've noticed? :))
Of course, the little girl insisted her mother come NOW. Rather than understanding the reality of the situation as her mother might have hoped, the child became more demanding in her insistence that her mommy change reality to accommodate her wishes.
I gently stepped in at that moment (fortunately her mother was beautifully tolerant of my intervention :)). Pulling out the children's footstool that I keep close by for just such occasions, I placed it in front of the counter, where I was working, and stated matter-of-factly, “We're working in the kitchen right now because that's how we help each other. You can stay and help us like big girls do or you can go and play on the porch by yourself for a few minutes until we're done here. Which would you rather do?”
Without another whimper, the little girl climbed up on the stool and began to participate. She became immediately content to be absorbed in what we were doing, her previous agenda to get her mommy to take her elsewhere appeared forgotten.
It was as if this little girl simply needed a little nudge to accept the reality of the situation (i.e., that we were working in the kitchen) so that she could line up with it. Having her mommy change reality so she could be happy was no longer her priority – instead she was immediately free to experience the opportunity that life was presenting to her in that moment.
Our responsibility as parents – to our children in the world, as well as to those impatient children that still live inside us, is to support them towards recognizing and accepting life on its own terms.
No, our job is not to shape reality so that our children can be happy, but to model for them through our own ability to accept reality, how to do the same. To encourage them to be happy with life as it presents itself is to provide our children with the real secret to finding a content and happy life.