If you are uncertain of your own values, you can’t very well teach your child anything definitive. (VIRGINIA SATIR)

If you are uncertain of your own values, you can’t very well teach your child anything definitive. (VIRGINIA SATIR)

The touch of a human hand, the sound of a human voice, and the smells in the home are the experiences by which a baby begins learning what the new world is all about. How a parent touches and sounds to the child form the basis for what the child learns. The baby must unscramble all the touches, faces, voices and smells of surrounding grown-ups and make meaning of them. The newborn’s world is a very confusing place.

In the first year of life, a child must learn more major different things than in all the rest of her or his life put together. Never again will the child be faced with learning so much, on so many fronts, in so short a time.

The impact of all this learning is much deeper than most  parents realize. If parents understood this, they would better appreciate the link between what they do and the tremendous job their child has to do. We have focused too much attention on disciplinary methods and not enough on understanding, loving, and humor, and developing the beautiful manifestation of life that resides in every child.

Three other areas complicate carrying out the blueprint. They are in the iceberg, below the perceivable functioning of the family. The first is ignorance. You simply don’t know something.

Further, you may not know that you don’t know, so you wouldn’t be aware of the need to find out. Children can help a lot with this if the parent is open to children’s comments. Be alert to children’s hints for information.

The second is that your communication may be ineffective. You may be giving out messages you don’t know about, or you think you’re giving messages when you’re not; so the goodies you have to offer your children do not get across. Watching for unexpected reactions from others can alert you to this.

Many parents are amazed at what their children have taken from their apparently innocent statements. For example, I know a white couple who wanted to teach their child racial tolerance. Along with some other children, a little black child was a guest in their home one day. Later the father asked his child, “What did you think of his very curly hair?” But he said this in a way that pointed out the differentness, thus forging the first ring of distance between the two children. If parents are alert to the possibility of this kind of thing happening, they can monitor themselves now and then to see what their child has picked up.

I am reminded of another story. A young mother went through a rather lengthy presentation of the facts of life to her six-year-old son, Alex. Several days later, she noticed Alex looking at her very quizzically. When asked about it Alex said, “Mommy, don’t you get awfully tired of standing on your head?” Completely baffled, she asked him to explain. He said, “Well, you know, when Daddy puts the seed in.” His mother had neglected to embellish on the process of intercourse, so Alex filled in his own picture.

The third area in the iceberg has to do with your values. If you are uncertain of your own values, you can’t very well teach your child anything definitive. What are you supposed to teach if you don’t know yourself? And, if you feel you can’t be straight about your problem, this situation could easily turn into “Do what I say, rather than what i do,” or, “It doesn’t really matter,” or, “Why ask me?” or  “Use your own judgment.” Any of these responses could leave your child with feelings about your unjustness or phoniness.

Another inadvertent message from a parent is shown in the following story. I was visiting a young woman who had a four-year-old daughter. The telephone rang. My young friend said  “No, I can’t come today. I’m not feeling well”.

Her four-year-old asked, with some concern on her face, “Mama, are you sick?”

My friend replied, “No, I’m just fine.”

The little girl attempted to deal with the apparent discrepancy: “But Mama, you told the lady on the telephone that you weren’t feeling well.”

Her mother’s reply was, “Don’t worry about it.”

With this, the little girl went out to play in her sand-box. At lunchtime, her mother called her inside. The little girl replied, “I can’t come, I am sick.”

Mother’s response was to go out to the sandbox, obviously angry, “I’ll teach you to disobey me.”

I intervened with the mother before she had a chance to chastise her child, and invited her to a private place to talk. I played back to her the chain of events, showing her that her child was simply imitating her. She saw the connection, to which she had been completely oblivious. She shuddered at how close she had come to misusing her child.

I suggested to the mother that a more useful way of coping with the original question might have been to say, I am not sick. I told that woman that because I did not want to be with her and I did not want to hurt her feelings. It is hard for me to say ‘no’ to people. So I lie that way. I need to learn better ways of handling that. Maybe we can learn together.”

The mother was not a monster and the child was not a disobedient brat. Yet in this scenario the child could have been punished for learning and using something her mother modeled. The child would have had the necessary experience to begin distrusting her mother, and neither would have known why.

As I said before, the main data that goes into our family blueprints comes from experiences in our own families are those other families with whom we had intimate contact. All the people we called by a parental name, or whom we were obliged to treat as if they were parents, supplied us with experience that we are using in some way in our own parenting. Some of this may not have been helpful to us, and some not. All of it had its effect, however.

Those of us who are free enough to contact our Inner Wisdom have another wonderful resource. It takes courage to trust that wisdom. It means we are free of judging, blaming, and placating; we are willing not only to level but to take risks.








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