“PARENTING: BE CHILDLIKE, LEST YOU BECOME CHILDISH” – REV. VALSON THAMPU

by Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE on January 5, 2018

in Featured, Featured News, News

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OCP News Service – Rev. Valson Thampu – Ecumenical Series – 5/1/17

The first child, God knows, is a privileged guinea pig! Certainly so, in a nuclear family, which is mostly about ‘reinventing the same old wheel’. Nuclear family is an institution of discontinuities. Precious little is handed down inter-generationally. Each young parent learns anew what others before him or her had done. The burden of this eminently avoidable fumbling falls on the first kid. Hence, the un-complimentary metaphor used in the opening sentence.

Parents use adult assumptions in raising children. This seems natural. But it can be, often is, unhelpful. There is an old saying to the effect that to deal successfully with mosquitoes, one has to think like a mosquito. If this practical wisdom is applied to thenurturing of children it would read, “To nurture your child wisely, think like a child”.

Jesus said, “Unless you turn back and become like children, you shall, in no wise, enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. For our immediate purpose, let us understand ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ as a metaphor of ‘justice’. So, the teaching, extrapolated to parenting, would read, “If you want todo justice to your child, become like a child”. Paradoxically, a parent could become infantile, otherwise! Assuredly, the only way to be other than childish is to be child-like.

The most beautiful thing about a child is curiosity. Now, ‘beauty’ needs to be understood aright; for it is misrepresented andmisunderstood. Most people assume that beauty pertains to the surface and is, hence, a matter of appearance. I agree with Schopenhauer that only what expresses an idea is beautiful. If so, curiosity is the precursor to beauty. Every child has a natural affinity to beauty of this kind. It is the adult world that kills it, choking it with ready-made, rigor mortised information, which prevents the child from ‘seeking’ and growing inone’s curiosity.

It is helpful to recall Galileo in this respect. He believed that human beings ‘understand only what they discover for themselves’. As a long-time teacher, let me assure you that this isthe most important principle in teaching and learning. Both parents and teachers would do well to keepthis in mind. They serve growing children best when they merely help them to ‘discover’ possibilities -knowledge, insights, ideas, horizons- for themselves.

The mode of education we practise is just the opposite of it. We dump tippers-full of information -a growing mountain of dead-weight data- on children. This crushes their‘seeking’ spirit and excludes the delight of discovery. A crucial responsibility in parenting, therefore, is to manage wisely the spirit of curiosity that every child has.

It is by re-gaining this spirit of curiosity oneself -if it has been already compromised- that one becomes ‘like a child’ and, thereby, a wise parent. When Freud said that ‘keeping the immortal infant alive’ in us is the foremost duty we owe to ourselves, he meant this as well. We die as human beings, when we let the inner dynamism of healthy curiosity -intellectual, spiritual, natural- die in us. To stop to seek is to become a living corpse.

I am afraid we are losing our aliveness to the pursuit of material things. Most adults stop seeking and growing. They sacrifice the spirit of curiosity to the ‘rat race’, which they think they need to win at all costs. ‘Rat’ is a metaphor. It denotes a state of being conditioned. Being conditioned implies the paralysis of ‘seeking’. A conditioned creature acts and reacts in set ways, which excludes thinking, seeking and discovering. This suppresses patience in parents; for they become deficient in vitality. This deficiency is not -contrary to what we assume- a matterof being busy, or of being burdened with acrushing load of life. It results from the cessation of growth. Burden is like pain: it is only a symptom. The disease it points to is stagnation.

The first step in parental failure, therefore, is impatience with the curiosity innate in children. There are a thousand faces to it. Here we examine only one manifestation, illustrative of what we are trying to reckon.

In the process of growing up, a child gets into a series of ‘accidents’. She bumps into this chair or that table. She stumbles, falters, falls. She climbs heights and riskstumbling down, and so on. Now, suppose she knocks against a chair and begins to howl. What would you do? Very likely, you’d take the child to the ‘offending’ chair and, by way of comforting her, give the chair an open-handed slap saying, “You, naughty chair”.

The child seems comforted and re-assured. But you have failed her as a parent. Why?

Because you haven’t bothered to understand the dynamics of human growth, which is not a strange lore, but something that you have, yourself, undergone. You think of parenting, not as an experience of seeking and learning, but of doing. Let me put it simply as follows.

A child, in the early days of her growth, has no awareness of her body as distinct from the world around. So, it is natural that she bumps into this object or that. The possibility of ‘hurting oneself’ does not exist for the child at this stage; for ‘hurt’ pertains to the body, to which she has not woken up yet. With the first episode of her hitting an object, that significant process begins! So, it is not an accident, but a curtain-raiser tothedrama of growth.

But, what did you do? And what could you have done?
What you did was what you should never have done. By smacking the chair, you taught your daughter to think that the culprit is alwaysthe other; in this instance, the chair. This principle gets embedded in her psyche and all her life she will look for excuses and scapegoats. What is worse, she will imbibe from you a passive outlook on life. She gets habituated to thinking of events as happening to her in a hostile fashion, of which she is, as misfortune would have it, at the receiving end. You have trained her to disown responsibility and to imagine herself as a victim of circumstances.

What could you have done? Well, nothing very sophisticated or philosophical! You could have explained to her that she ‘hurt herself’ by running into the chair. (Never mind, how completely she grasps what you say at this stage. Things get registered; and that will do, for the time being.) That, she can avoid such things by being careful. That she will hurt herself, otherwise. At a later stage, you can introduce the concept of the body and tell her that, unlike the chair, it is the body that moves. So, it was her body that hit the chair; not vice versa. At a later stage still, you can tell her that ‘pain’ -which made her cry- is a very helpful thing. It is, in fact, the friend of life. But for this pain her body will never know what is harmful to it.

But none of these will occur to us,unless we think contextually. I said at the outset that we must think like a child. We can think in a child-like fashion, only because we are not children, but adults who retain freshness of life in the form of curiosity. The quality of our thinking in a child-like fashion depends on the vitality of our being wholesome adults, who keep ‘the immortal infant’ alive within. In other words, only if we grow continually and qualitatively, can we remain child-like. Great thinkers, philosophers, artists, scientists and spiritual geniuses were of this kind.

Because they remained children, they never slipped into that sad state which is describedinappropriately as ‘second childhood’. But let that be. We have to smother the child in us, for us to enter a second childhood. That is the one thing we should neverdo. Mind you, I didn’t say, “That is the one thing that should never happen to us. For nothing happens to us, unless we invite it upon ourselves.

Source:
OCP News Service

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