There are visual cues like sweating, crying, laughing or squirming. Maybe it is something we can sense like tension, or distance. If we are lucky we are told what is needed – there is hunger, the person is cold, hurt, tired…
Yet without instruction, no matter what state we are trying to read, we are only ever able to perceive it through our own senses and experiences. If we are hungry we might push food. If we have a chill we may hand over a sweater. If we are afraid, we might surround and protect. Only once we master the art of empathy can we take ourselves out of the picture and respond to the true needs of another.
But how often do we misread what is needed from us? This is perfectly illustrated with those who do not actually need anything from us. I have been known to lean over my fellow adult dinner date’s plate and start cutting up his steak. I have assumed that someone in the centre of a crowd needs space. I have turned off lights, closed windows, silenced radios, all in response to what I thought others might need. In the end, I think they were really only things I would have wanted myself.
Here is the thing. As parents we are being asked to care for people that we can’t completely understand. Why? Because we are not inside their bodies or their minds. Though they seem a part of us, they are still so very separate. Frustratingly separate. Their needs are different, their lives are unique, their experiences are their own. And most of the time, our own little interpretations just aren’t going to cut it.
Greater than what goes on in our own little households is the need to educate these little minds. To show them how the world works. To teach them skills and ways of learning and avenues to explore. We hope they will meet their potential. That they will be true to themselves. And for that, we will need them to know that it is okay to be different.
Yet all we have to go on is our own little perspectives. The little window that we view the world through. We have to send them out into the world knowing that they are going to see something different than what we see. They are always expanding into territory uncharted by us. And yet somehow, we are still asked to guide them.
It makes me realize how very important it is for us to let our children know that we trust them. To teach them respect and appreciation for differences. Including their differences. Because all too soon our ways will part and they will be heading in a direction so unfamiliar to us we may no longer be able to get our bearings in their lives.
I’ve spent a lifetime trying to justify why I didn’t seem to view the world the way others did. I spent many decades learning how to behave so that I wouldn’t appear so darned odd to the folks around me. I have spent countless hours teaching myself the things I was supposedly taught in school. I didn’t learn the way others did. I didn’t think the way others did. I didn’t say or write things that people could understand.
It is only now, four decades in, that I recognize that it is time to celebrate that difference. As quirky as it may be, our difference is the very thing we have to offer the world that cannot be duplicated.
Can I work harder to see my children through their own eyes? Could I take my own desires out of the equation to see more clearly what they need? Learn ways to listen better, open our minds, accept that appreciating who our children become may mean taking a walk right into the middle of the unknown. Just because we cannot recognize parts of ourselves in our children does not mean they have gone astray.
What a naïve parent I am! To have believed that my genetic code would create something predictable. Something that I could explain.
It is easy to fear something that is unknown. But perhaps if we expect it to be new and different, we will be much better equipped to support what comes down the pipe. Who knows whether our children will be artists or lawyers, whether they will rule countries or study ant colonies.
I figure the sooner we wrap our head around how great it is that we are all so very different, the better poised we will be to cheer on the wonderful human beings our children are well on their way to becoming.