Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Don't keep your kids in a bubble.

Parents are (usually) fierce protectors of their children. From the day they are born, and I assume, until the day they die, we never want to see them suffer. Every time my two-year-old falls and skins her knee, I think it traumatizes me more than her because I hate seeing her precious little knee covered in blood. I hate seeing her get hurt. And I hate that I wasn't able to prevent it. 

Many parents are accused of keeping their children in a bubble - away from the dark shadows of the world - so that they can protect their child's innocence as long as possible. I understand that. I count myself as one of those parents on many occasions. However, I think a distinction should be made between "protecting" our children and "secluding" our children. 

I started thinking about this yesterday while I watched "A Little Princess" with my 4-year-old daughter. I wanted to find a movie that both of us would enjoy while her younger sister took a nap. Not far in, however, I wondered if maybe I had made a bad decision. It's about a young girl (whose mother apparently died when she was a baby) who becomes a servant at her boarding school when the headmistress is informed that the girl's father has been killed in combat (WWI). I have always loved this movie for several reasons: the ties the girl has to India because of living there with her father, the girl's impeccable character and ability to stand her ground when confronted, her generosity, and especially, her ability to disregard skin color as having any bearing on a person's character or purpose. But, watching this with my own daughter made it a great deal more powerful. 

And I should have known that my sweet, sensitive child would be greatly distraught at times during the movie. She knows that people die (though she's never asked what happens to someone afterwards) and we've never tried to keep death hidden from her. But when Sarah (the main character) was told her her father's death, my child cried with her. At the end of the movie when it appears Sarah will be taken from her father after just reuniting with him, my daughter literally lost it. The movie made me emotional, but seeing my daughter crying put it over the top. I'm just glad my husband slept through the cry-fest and can't make fun of me for the rest of my life.

But it made me wonder: Should I keep such awful possibilities from my daughters? It makes me ill to think about her losing someone she loves, but... there are children all over the world who do have that experience - some who have had that experience several times over. I don't want to scare my child, but I do want her to know that people suffer. Educating her about her the world - both the good and bad - is the only way, in my opinion, to also teach her compassion and gratitude.

And though I know I won't be able to protect her from experiencing inevitable pain and suffering, I can help teach her that such feelings are impermanent. I can teach her that bad experiences don't have to define who she is or what kind of life she leads. I can try my best to show her that more important than an event or situation is how we react to it. Even after Sarah has learned about her father's death, has become a servant, has had all her possessions stripped from her, and is living in an attic, she moves forward and continues to bring happiness to others. She shares what she is given, she takes care of those less fortunate than even her, and she insists on writing her own life story rather than having one written for her.

So, yes, I will always have my shield up, ready to protect my daughters when I can. But, I will not keep them from seeing everything that I'm trying to protect them from. How can I expect them to be the change they want to see in the world, if they've never seen the real world to begin with?

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