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Lake Neatahwanta 63013 023“Parents wonder why the stream is bitter, when they themselves have poisoned the fountain,” by John Locke.

This quote was written 300 years ago. I think it still holds true today. Every parent loves their child and every parent wants the best for their child. The way that is expressed or manifests, however, is drastically different from family to family. I was given food and love and shelter and a good education.These were things that my parents had been taught by their parents that were important and I agree.

I wasn’t given spirituality. I was not taught meditation or mindfulness or “awareness” or how to follow my intuition. These were things my parents knew nothing of and neither had their parents. In short, we can only give our children or anyone for that matter what we have.

I saw Dr. Shefali Tsabary, yesterday, on Super Soul Sunday (you can watch it archived for two weeks at Oprah’s site). She wrote the book the Conscious Parent. I so wish I had this book when my son was young. I managed to hide my OCD and panic attacks from most of my family but not my son. My fears “poisoned” the fountain and I saw these things manifest in my child. He was not born this way. He was the happiest of toddlers.

Image (6)I saw myself when my son graduated from high school. I went to college because it was what was expected of me — logically it was the only way to get a good job to feed myself. I encouraged my son to put off college. I encouraged him to grab a backpack and go to some foreign country and have an adventure. But I had poisoned the fountain. My son listed all the reasons he couldn’t fulfill his dream of going to Japan: not enough money, don’t speak the language, not qualified for a job there…. I saw the way I had fearfully tried to control every situation reflected back to me. I tried to tell my son to take a different path than me but that is not how children learn. He had watched my behavior for too many years. He had absorbed my fears into his very being. My son at three would never have hesitated to follow a dream. No excuse would have been too big. But he grew up with two parents who followed their fears instead of their passions or their intuitions.

Image2riverThe saddest phrase I’ve ever heard from a parent is “I want my child to have everything I didn’t have,” or “I want my child to have better life than I did.” If that would be food, shelter, clean water, clean air or love then yes I agree. But so often what the parent refers is more toys, more money, more popular, more beautiful, more success…. And so often it is the parent’s idea of what success is or beautiful is or popular is. So often it is the parent trying to fill themselves up by drawing from the fountain of their children. If you want your child to be MORE successful might it be that you hate your career and feel the failure. If your child is popular do you get all puffed up with pride as if somehow you OWN part of that. And conversely, are you ashamed when your child fails a test or does drugs or gets arrested. That’s all ego and that all makes for a very bitter stream.

Image (6)As I started to learn as a teacher the difference between ego and spirit, I tried to encourage my students by talking about effort rather than grades. That if they did their best all the time things would work out. They would comment back, “Can you tell our parents that. They only care about the ‘A’.” Think about that statement for a minute. If your kid thinks you only care about the ‘A’ then that means you don’t care about them. If you only care about the ‘A’ then you don’t care about them doing THEIR best but that they should meet some standard. If they don’t meet that standard then they are failures. If you only care about the ‘A’ and they don’t get the ‘A’ even if they get a B plus then “I am not enough”. If a child knows they can’t get the ‘A’ then why bother trying at all.

How many adults are going through life: addicted to drugs, divorced, having affairs, working 18 hour days, obese … all because they didn’t feel like they were enough when they were children.

Image3breakwallI would offer that if you feel anything less than love toward your child today then the problem lies with you. If their loud singing in the store embarrasses you — that’s YOUR problem worrying about what other people will think. If their desire to become a baker instead of a doctor sends you into a frenzy of ‘how could you throw away all that I’ve done for you?” — it’s YOUR problem — not your child’s. If your child is the star baseball player and suddenly decides their passion lies elsewhere — you start talking about lost scholarships and missed chances to play for your favorite major league team — it’s YOUR problem — not your child’s.

Image1heartImagine if Michelangelo’s parents decided that sculpting was beneath him or that they went out and bought the marble and decided they didn’t want him to fail so they had better do the sculpting themselves. There are so many gifted children who will never realize their gifts because either their parents handed them a violin instead of paint brush or worse did the art project for them so that they would get a good grade instead allowing the spark of inspiration to be ignited.

I view parenting like a hot air balloon ride. Some parents don’t even allow their children near the balloon. Some allow their kids to step in the basket but the balloon must remain tethered to the ground. Some allow them to go up in the balloon but only if they are present will them at all times. The rare parent would allow their child to design and build and pilot their own hot air balloon.

For much of my child’s life he was in the balloon but tethered to the ground. What kind of parent are you? Which kind do you think your child wishes you were?

Ted Talk Shefali Tsabary