So many of us find ourselves wondering who we really are, and when did we lose our authentic self. Of course, this is a common experience, but can we save our children from having to walk the same path of conformity? It is possible to keep the strong sense of self we are born with all the way through to adulthood? Part of the answer came to me after I posted some pics of my son to Instagram.
My son often plays with his bead collection while I make men’s jewelry. One day, he had just finished his latest invention: a necklace complete with a handy loop to hang your hat from and a prayer wheel—you know, so you have something fun to play with at all times. Classic 5-yr-old logic!
Another homeschooling mom commented that she loved how I let him be himself and it warmed my heart to realize how deep and true this is. Often, parents are so busy worrying about the parts of parenting that we aren’t doing right to be able to really see the parts that we are just amazing at! I have always encouraged my son to be exactly who he is.
I mean, my business isn’t named Authentic Arts for nothing! I have always been fascinated to get to the deep root of who we are, why we are here and part of that comes from stripping away the layers of conditioning our families and society have painted us with. But, how can we encourage this strong sense of self from the beginning? How can we protect our children from waking up one day and wondering, “Who am I?” and then having to spend decades searching for the answer?
Now my son is only 5 so we have some years to find out if this method will work, but in my experience, the answer comes back to the Buddha’s concept of the middle path: Be neither too ascetic nor too luxurious. Neither should you discourage your child too much, nor should you encourage them too much. Moderation in all things, especially when wielding the brush of moderation! Walk the middle path.
If you take a completely hands-off approach to parenting, then society will take over and mold your child’s mind in your absence. If you try to control your child too much, one day he’ll get a glimpse of what’s happening out there in society and realize his inner urges were valid all along and he will jump on them with gusto, quite possibly to his detriment. You can let him be himself while providing gentle guidance. It’s okay to do both. You must do both.
If you try to tightly control and mold who your child will become then neither will he become himself nor will he become the person that you want him to be. He may seem to be whom you want him to be for a long time, but ultimately the conflict he’s carrying inside will eat its way out with unpredictable consequences. The friends I had whose parents held on too tightly were the ones who went to extremes to defy their parents when they finally got the chance. This goes equally for forcing him to be a good, church-going boy when all he wants to do is play outside as well as for forcing him toward gender neutrality when, really, his strange love of cars was dyed into his soul before he even came to sleep in the gender-neutral bedroom you so carefully curated for him.
My son was fascinated by anything that had wheels from as soon as he could grunt: cars, bikes, steamrollers, pizza cutters. If it had wheels, he wanted to play with it! It was mystifying to me. Instead of insisting on gender-neutral toys, I just made sure that all options were available. My son also loves pretending to cook and playing with his dolls. It’s just that mostly his dolls go on pirate adventures, do sword fighting and look for treasure. He still hugs and snuggles them. This is true gender neutrality: playing with fierce pirates whom he loves and snuggles and cares for!
Likewise, if you step back too far then you’ll be surprised at how, lacking guidance from you, your son will soak up his guidance from other relatives, friends, and the media. Just today we were looking for gloves in the store and my 5-yr-old son chimed in with, “But, I want gloves in man colors only.” Oh, no you don’t, society! So I jumped in with some feminist guidance, “Man colors are any color that a man likes. There aren’t any colors that are for men or women only!” He decided on the bright turquoise ones.
You can’t just stand back and let him be himself. You have to be constantly guiding him back to himself when you see society or even his own fears leading him away from who he is at his core. Take the time to get to know who your son really is, take the time to let him know who you really are and with empathy and by setting firm boundaries around the issues that are really important, your son will know who he is and that he is loved. And then he, in turn, will be ready to help the next generation speak their own truths with loving kindness just as we are speaking our own truths to this one.
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Featured photo — Pixabay
Inset — courtesy of the author