Human beings are incredible learners. This is especially true of children who love to learn new things. They love it because it is fun – but they also love it because many are accomplished teachers themselves. From a very early age, people are adept at instructing others. I am sure we parents have seen this many times with our own kids: teaching their siblings, teaching their friends, teaching the dog, and teaching us!
In the classic 1970s Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tune, Teach Your Children, we hear the words: “You, who are on the road must have a code that you can live by. And so become yourself because the past is just a goodbye.” One of the unexpected benefits of teaching and parenting is that, while we do our best to teach the children well, they can end up teaching us right back, if we’re not careful – and if we are paying attention to the things that matter.
Of course, they’re not trying to teach us. Through their joys and sorrows, their growth and development, and the very miracle of their existence, they can unwittingly send us the lessons that we most need to learn at times. Can you think of any that your children have taught you? When I go back over my life as a father, I can certainly think of many lessons that no graduate school could come close to tapping. Here are just a few:
Presence: They teach us to refocus our attention on the present moment more often. Childhood is temporary, and we don’t want to be mentally elsewhere and miss it entirely. Our children implore us in so many ways to be present.
Compassion: Until we became parents, we may not have realized how deeply we could care for another person. Our children enable us to harness a newfound level of compassion and extend it beyond our families to others.
Play: Children must play. It is their most important work and something they are naturally compelled to do (…and often given short shrift in our competitive culture!). Have you ever noticed that many of us, at some point, stopped playing? Wonderfully, our children always remind us to play. Playing with our children is a gift to them and ourselves.
Roll With The Punches: As adults we know that bad things are going to happen, but we often forget that it is our decision how long we are going to allow them to sit and stir. Our children – just by being with them – teach us that it is OK to cry, but only as long as you can find a reason to laugh soon after.
Stop Time Travelling and Live in the Present: As adults, we can develop the bad habit of being a bit of a “time-traveller”, thinking too much about the past and worrying about the future too much, instead of being present and enjoying the moment. Our children (and our dogs !), can definitely help with this one!
The Importance of Being a Positive Influence on Someone Else: If we let them, our children have this funny way of helping to make us be better people – and not just with them – but with everyone.
If we let them, our children can instruct us in many things.
Ric Anderson, Head of School