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Ask Your Children and Speak to Them

by Jo Wilkie

“Our children, from infancy to adulthood and beyond, can be seen as perpetually challenging live-in teachers, who provide us with ceaseless opportunities to do the inner work of understanding who we are and who they are.” Jon Kabat Zinn

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call children teachers. I can say, without a doubt, that having Susanne has definitely schooled me, illuminating the myriad ways that I am internally broken, and how many dark, cobweb-y habits and beliefs I have to work on. Since being a parent puts all these not-so-great things about me under a spotlight for my personal enjoyment (and work), I often have moments that remind me of the V8 commercials of my childhood, with the forehead slapping “Aha” moment. In this series I will share three recent incidents that highlight a very common way in which I learn and change and become better version of myself: being fully present in the moment (which, will be obvious from my story, is NOT often enough!)

The Art Box

About a year ago, I decided to put together a special “art box” for Susanne. In this box was safety scissors, crayons, a small pad of paper and some star stickers. Just an assortment of things that she could pull out and play with, unsupervised. Things that all children love, and things I remember really liking as a child.

I noticed about a month ago (a year after the fact) that she never, ever used her box. We were in the kitchen, where she was gleefully helping me make dinner by dumping water from one container to the other. I was thinking about the things IN the art box, when I realized that Susanne had never really used crayons – not even as a smaller child. So, I turn to Susanne and I ask, “Susanne? Do you like drawing with crayons?”

In my adult-ness, I think this is an easy question and one she will be happy to answer, but she looks at me with panic-stricken eyes. I say in response to this face, “Sweetie, I want you to LOVE all the things in your artbox – it’s YOURS and should have in it all the things you want to do art with!” She looked at me for a long moment and after that pregnant pause, it dawns on me fully. I asked her, point blank, “Susanne, you don’t like crayons, do you?” She looked at me with immense relief and said, “No, Mommy. I DO NOT like crayons. I like colored pens best!”

I’m fairly certain that you are not sensing that you could have knocked me over with a feather in that moment- WHY didn’t she just tell me? WHAT did she possibly think would have happened? And then, I looked at my own lack of awareness. I was shocked that I had waited so long to ask such a simple question about my daughter’s preferences!

We spent that afternoon putting all the crayons away for guests and filling her artbox with things *she* really loves: stamps, craft scissors, glue, and, of course, colored pens. LOTS of colored pens. Every single one in the house, in fact.

Need I say that I felt like a complete JERK MOM for NOT recognizing this sooner? Although she is very verbal and engaging, relying on her to express her likes and dislikes in that way is asking too much. She is, after all, only four. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” And this is equally as true for children, who are, really, just smaller people. What a shock to really “get” that my daughter is not an extension of myself and my husband (surprise!!). I loved crayons as a child, my husband was a colored pencil kind of kid (I found out after I asked). This was a powerful reminder that paying attention and being curious about who she is in this moment is paramount to her well-being and happiness, and my success as a parent. My assumptions about who she is are not accurate. Obviously.

My intention going forward is to ask Susanne before I decide (through the lens of my own preferences and experiences) what is good for her, knowing that experiencing compassionate awareness, honesty, and presence from me will shape her ability to honor her internal compass as she gets older. I am giving up my assumption that I “know” her and what she likes simply because I’ve known her since she was born. And really, this applies to anyone and everyone in our lives. The ability to effect change and connect with others happens entirely in this moment, what I like to think of as the creative present.

What have you learned about yourself from your children? Tell me in a comment!

Next up in the series: Tangles, Brushes, and Combs, Oh My!

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