Note To Authentic Self:
Nurturing My Children To Be Intentional, Happy and On Fire With Purpose.
Overheard: Two brothers, ages 8 and 5, having an argument:
Older brother: “You have to stop being so mean!”
Younger brother: “This is just how I was made!”
Older: “God made you…everything about you…all the parts of your body, your feelings, all of that! But the one thing God didn’t make is how you act. Only you can control that. Being nice is your decision and it’s only up to you.”
Younger: “I know that it’s up to me! I’m not a robot, you know!”
Not a robot. Noted.
We can learn a lot from kids if we’re paying attention. I have that opportunity every day. I work with children in a variety of settings as a sometimes-broadcaster who is also a literacy educator. I’m also Mom to four sons. Here’s where I usually pause for finger-pointing or wild laughter. Yes. I have four sons. As mom to four boys (and wife to guy number five), I live in a house full of raging invincibility. Low-key is a foreign concept here. It’s rare to experience silent solitude that’s free of karate-chopping, toy-battling or cartoon-blaring. Furniture is apparently made for handstands. Hide and seek is an indoor sport. And socks belong wherever they land. My husband and I live with four connoisseurs of the chicken nugget. Sometimes, it’s a little crazy-making. But it’s also chock-full of teachable moments. And I take notes.
I note their questions:
“Will I get sick if I eat too many blazed donuts?”
“If I don’t eat all my dinner, am I still allowed to have berserk?”
“Had colors been invented when you were my age?”
I note their answers:
“If you sleep with your mouth open, a frog can get in your throat.”
“I hid my tooth because it’s too boring for the Tooth Fairy if it’s right under my pillow.”
“I’m allergic to milk, unless it’s on cereal.”
I note their questions but I especially note their wisdom. This is from my oldest right after his eighth birthday: “I think grown-ups spend so much time trying to learn new stuff that they forget what they already know…you know, the deep-down stuff.”
Hmmm. How deep-down are we talking here? What we knew when we were in grade school? In preschool? I think he meant the stuff we already had inside of us when we arrived here… day one on Earth… before the world turned us into robots.
Truthfully, sometimes we do act like robots. Remember learning to drive? We had to think about every little step. “Turn signal on. Lift foot. Press down on brake.” To learn, you had to consciously tell yourself what to do. After many years as an experienced navigator, you don’t think about the steps. They just happen. Conditioning takes over. But even with habitual tasks, it’s still important to bring SOME mindfulness so we’re not trying to text, eat soup or paint toenails while motoring.
A deliberate, conscious awareness is what happens when anything is brand new. We pay attention and give ourselves to the moment, but once the moment isn’t new, we switch to autopilot and act without thinking or feeling deeply. We all tend to do this— with driving, with hobbies, with relationships… even with parenting.
But here’s the thing. Life is new every day. We may be missing the best parts if we’re unconscious to life. People in crises sometimes report feeling more alive, because they are shaken out of complacency. Losing a loved one can make a person more accepting of the faults and foibles of those still here. When the shears of life lessons prune us, we sometimes become more in touch with the root, the heart, the source of what’s inside us. But living in this deeper way is available to us all the time, without having misfortune prune us out of our conditioning. It’s a choice, but we have to be aware that there is a choice.
When I was a full-time news anchor, I was often out in the community. I spoke to kids in schools, in camps and in juvenile facilities. I told them that every one of us is born with a diamond inside. Some of us have made choices that polish our diamond so that everyone can see it shining brightly. Some of us may have tarnished the diamond by making choices that are not worthy of us. But the diamond is still there. It’s still just as exquisite and just as valuable, even if it’s not shining so brilliantly. No matter its condition, we can still polish that diamond.
We help our kids by showing them how to recognize and embrace the value that is deep-down within them. It’s not something we need to give them. They’re born with it. It’s not for us to change, even if we’d rather our children have emeralds or rubies inside. We honor them and the divine best when we trust that whatever is intrinsically, organically inside them is infinitely beautiful and worthwhile. Our thoughts, words and actions can continuously prove our genuine belief in them at all times. We are not telling them they are infallible or better than anyone else or suggesting that perfection is required. We are simply conveying through our thoughts, words and deeds that they and the universe are all just fine. We emanate an abiding sense of well-being along with an attitude that affirms that we can participate in happy miracles at any time.
As a parent, this is my greatest opportunity (and responsibility): to raise children who are intentional, happy and on fire with purpose. To get there, they need a little help. For starters, they need parents who model intentional, happy and on fire with purpose. That’s no small thing! I need to be connected enough to my own source to envision goals that are right for me, regardless of adversity, appearances or apparent failure. And that’s just the beginning.
To live intentionally, I have to be deliberate… aware of my real self and conscious of my choices. That means I respond in a mature and managed way to whatever comes my way, rather than simply reacting based on past conditioning, unchecked emotions or what other people say or do. I can’t live as a robot and expect anything different from my young charges.
Intentional living means I take the time to know myself, to understand my past and how it’s shaped me, to excavate any repressed feelings and express them in a healthy way, so that I am liberated to live in the NOW rather than being held prisoner by the PAST. Intentional living means I set a course for today and tomorrow and choose according to principle rather than according to unaddressed emotions or apparent ease. This takes bravery… sometimes forgiveness (of self and others), and always steady, nerves of steel. It takes being willing to laugh and be playful, even in the face of adversity. It means taking the time to envision the best and highest for me and for those I love and living with confidence that my deliberate designs are coming true. I help my children to live intentionally when I make it safe for them to explore and express all their thoughts and feelings, without fear of judgment or ridicule.
To raise happy children, it helps if I’m happy. To be happy, I must simply choose to be happy. But the catch is that the choice must be made over and over. When storm clouds rise, you notice them and then you choose to paint them. Happiness does not ignore the black and gray of life. It acknowledges and expresses and knows that black and gray can be the beautiful balance to the sunnier shades of life. Happiness is allowing the storms to come and go, unfazed because serenity lives in a protected place where we trust life to unfold as it will. If happiness is not a habit, it can be work to make it into a habit. But it’s worth it if the result is showing our children how to be happy in the world. I help my children to be happy when I set a bright tone in our home every day… with creativity, humor and playfulness that don’t deny the intensity of darker moods or concerns but that don’t get replaced by what is dark and difficult.
To be on fire with purpose requires seeking, risking and learning patience. It is becoming familiar… through prayer, meditation, and listening… with that small voice inside… with that sense of knowing what there is to do that is uniquely yours to do. It is following your passions constructively. Purpose is knowing that only you can speak with your voice and you alone can make the contributions you came here to make. It is knowing how very much you matter and embracing your responsibility to risk giving what is yours alone to give. It is walking by faith along a sacred path, realizing that the journey is as important as the destination. I help my children to be on fire with purpose when I notice what matters to them, ask questions about their thoughts and feelings and desires and when I truly listen to them and speak to them as though they matter and as though I am sure they will accomplish all they set out to do.
Consciousness, quite simply, is being alert and aware. But conscious living means a great deal more to me. Conscious living is intentionality, happiness and purposefulness in every moment of every day to the best of my ability. It is what connects me with the parts of myself that are gifted and funny and poetic and peaceful and divine. It is what makes my life a song that lifts me and those around me… especially my children. Conscious living is what reminds me to be mindful as I go through my day, reminds me that nothing is ordinary and all things are possible, reminds me that I am wonderful and a reflection of the sublime in everyone around me.
As I’ve said, my primary job as Mom is to teach my children how to live well. They are more likely to create lives that are intentional, happy and on fire with purpose if I am showing them how. As I learned in my graduate studies as a literacy educator, to teach anyone anything, we are wise to model it first. Next we allow the student to assist. Then we assist the student. Finally, we allow the student to go it alone, to soar independently, confident that we have taught well.
I take this seriously as Mom and role model. Sometimes I must call on my nerves of steel, intentionally choosing to remain calm as the pediatrician is pulling pink erasers out of my child’s ears during a hearing test. I am a good sport, playfully shouting “Hello!” when my youngest hands me a banana and tells me his friend Carlos is on the phone….again. And, though bemused, I’m mild in my correction when I tell my littlest guy that we can, indeed, ride down on those stairs that are called the “escalator” and we don’t have to ride the thing called the “elevator” to which he has just referred as the “alligator” even though the “elevator” does not bite, not even a little. A conscious parent will remember that we can help our children feel confident, even when corrected… rather than shamed or embarrassed… especially by errors that are developmentally expected. Parents make errors, too. I know that I do.
When my boys were all very small, I sought advice from experts and veteran parents. I learned it was good for my children to hear praise more often than criticism… to be caught in the act of doing a good job. I managed this fairly well. They also needed to be allowed to do things for themselves. They needed the practice of choosing their own clothes, dressing themselves, tying their own shoes… at developmentally appropriate stages.
It’s usually easier, faster, and more convenient to just exert our parenting power and get to what’s next. Sometimes I managed to give my kids the autonomy the experts advised. Sometimes, I just needed to dictate, do-for and dash out the door. Sometimes I did this too much and took away my children’s chances to build autonomy and self-reliance. This is what we do all the time when we are parenting unconsciously, the robot way. We, as parents, need order and compliance. Easy when we’re much bigger and our children are much smaller and more easily intimidated. But we may be denying our apprentices free choice and needed practice; this is compliance at a heavy price.
Spiritually speaking, we are not bigger than our children. By habitually putting our needs, feelings and preferences first, we allow our biological prowess to short-circuit our divine opportunity. It’s not long before children grow physically taller and stronger than we. When that happens, they may follow our rule and seek to please us, even for a lifetime, if they’re operating on fear or shame… if they believe that they could somehow lose our approval or our love. That’s when we’ve raised children who are likely to be who we’ve told them to become…or to constantly seek approval outside of themselves… or to never reach their potential because they are rebelling against repressed feelings. Is that the best we can do for them?
I find great inspiration in the story of the Wright brothers. These lowly bicycle repairmen who combined genius and unconquerable faith to do what was thought to be impossible. Their achievement wasn’t just becoming airborne. That had been accomplished before, actually. The Wright brothers winged their way into the air AND into history by steering the flight. The breakthrough was flying WHILE choosing their direction… making a conscious choice about where to go and how to get there.
This is what we do in our lives when we live intentionally. We appreciate that the sky is no limit AND we choose our course from a deep, authentic place. We can make adjustments in how we fly based on current conditions, but true north stays the same. Our principles, just like our intrinsic nature and innate worth don’t change. We can adjust how we navigate to fit our circumstances. And now we have autopilot to help us, as well. This is a robotic way of flying, which is perfect when we already know the destination and don’t need to think about how to get there. But we need to bring enough presence of mind to autopilot to make sure each of us is moving towards what is ideal for each of us.
Some have suggested that a magnificent sculpture is already within the rock and that the real artist doesn’t create the art so much as reveal it. I would say the same is true with raising a conscious child. The work of art IS each child, each person. The treasure is already within the child. The destination itself, the map of where to go, the blueprint for our best design, the dazzling diamond, the seed of the mighty oak, the work of art are all born within us. Choose whatever metaphor you like, but the truth remains the same. There is a deep-down knowing that we all have and that stays with us for a lifetime. There is a world of possibility limited only by whatever mindset we choose. When we work with this knowledge, with awareness and faith, we’re each bound to arrive at the perfect destination… and we’ll get there intentionally, happily and on fire with purpose for what we’ve set out to accomplish.
I am Mom.
I teach them. They teach me. I learn. They learn. We enjoy the journey. And we find the hidden tooth inside the pillow case. Noted.
Angie Miles is a veteran broadcast journalist and a long-time literacy educator. Her website, www.happyreading.org gives educators, parents, librarians, counselors and community leaders information and instructional tools to help learners enjoy the journey to literacy success. She lives in Virginia with her husband, Brad, and their four sons… aged 16, 13, 11 and (almost) 9. She is currently working a on a book about raising their highly-spirited boys, tentatively entitled Straight to Heaven.