To aspire to be in true service to our children, to all children, and to humanity, is a wonderful thing. We are, of course, in constant service to our kids. It is important to know, to recognize, and to remember the difference between serving their wants and comforts and serving their wholeness and their purpose. It is all too easy to get caught up in the busyness and immediate needs of our days and serve the easy and the urgent rather than the essential.
As we consider how to serve our children, we can ask:
Will this action help my child to grow whole and strong?
With young children, we may be too quick to push them toward independence, thinking, and responsibility. The greatest service is to love them, to help them have time and space to play, and to preserve their experience of the magical, free, playful world. It is also vitally important to serve them by having clear, calm, and loving limits around behaviors that can hurt them and others. With older children, it's easy to bypass their true developmental work, the work of handling emotions, because it's uncomfortable and messy. Rather than avoiding the emotional drama of middle childhood, we can help them to be present with feelings and learn how to respond to them. With teens, we may be quick to override responsibilities that really should be theirs, pushing them to achieve in ways that we value rather than letting them find their own way. We may want to 'solve' their problems and help them be comfortable rather than supporting them in discovering their own paths through the challenging experiences. In each case, when we support a child to engage with his or her own developmental work, they grow stronger.
Will this help my child know his or her place in the world?
At all ages, children need to feel rooted in community, through family, friends, and broader groups they find that sense of community. Much can be learned through the messy and complicated experience of spending regular, open-ended time in a self-directed way with a group of people. Learning about society, parts of the world, and social issues is important, but it needs to build on the direct experience of navigating our own human relationships rather than replace this step!
Will this help my child to be happy?
People who can not tolerate and experience fear, sadness, pain, and uncertainty are not very happy. Life is full of a whole range of emotions, and happiness is only one part of this. If you want your children to be happy, allow them and support them to fully experience each emotion that arises. Don't avoid your own challenging feelings, don't avoid your child's feelings, and slow down enough to be present with them in their feelings.
I'm a mom, wife, daughter, friend, and teacher who has long struggled with the desire to be the perfect person I imagine that I should be. Practicing mindfulness helps me find peace with my imperfect journey--being with myself as I truly am, loving my family as they are, and showing up for a messy world with openness and compassion.