“They’ll be alright.”
I can’t help but to cringe when I hear that. Sometimes it seems like when it comes to the emotional pain of children, most people have an unconscious ambivalence. I’m guilty of this myself. Hubby and I might find ourselves fussing at each other in front of baby girl and while I distinctly feel the prick of conviction telling me that my child should not be exposed to this particular degree of anger and frustration, I rationalize it and say, “she’ll be okay” or yes, “she’ll be alright.”
Some of us even pretend that it is some kind of statement of faith; that we are somehow putting the fate of our children in God’s hands by embracing vague catchphrases like “What doesn’t kill them, will make them stronger.” And maybe there is some truth to that. We certainly can’t change the past and holding onto it isn’t healthy. I can’t take back the words I said to my husband in front of our daughter. But the truth is, too many times our “she’ll be okays” and “they’ll be alrights” are nothing more than an escape from the real work that comes with helping our children to heal from the pain that we inflict on them and their own. Flippant rationalizations and quick verbal band-aids are not enough. We can look back at our own childhoods and see that.
As children, we watched the adults around us. They modeled life and living for us. And unfortunately, the perceptions that frame our current adulthood were, in many cases, shaped by the lack of accountability or consciousness on behalf of the adults that were in our lives. And not just parents, although I guess they are our first filters. The communities we grew up in… and the ones our children are currently growing up in… are just as responsible. I’m talking about our teachers, pastors, deacons, neighbors, the local police, etc.
My daughter is watching me as her mommy, yes. But she is also watching her teachers, her friends’ parents, the neighbors on our block, and the random woman standing at the bus stop. She, like all kids, is ALWAYS watching. They are watching what we say and how we behave; what we stand for and what we disregard as insignificant. They are observing how we respond to pain—ours, theirs and others. They mimic us. And even if you don’t have children of your own, I’m confident that there still is a child watching you. Maybe they see you every morning on the train. Or walking by their daycare center. Wherever. They are looking at you and to you for some intelligence on what it means to be a grown up.
I know I was. As much as I remember Mrs. Randall at Klondike Elementary in Louisville, KY and how great of a 2nd grade teacher she was—how she nurtured my love for writing and reading early on—I also remember the neighbor down the street who used to catch bunnies that would find their way into her yard, put them in a plastic bag, and bang them against a tree. (Yeah. Wonder what that taught me.)
I believe that God gives us an assignment in life—a destiny. But I also believe that He gives us the freedom to choose our route. So in hindsight, as I look in the eyes of my three-year-old self in a yellowed photo from my mother’s house, I wonder if that three year-old Tracey, after being set on an awesome path by God almighty, was sidetracked on her journey and forced onto a detour that would take her on a much longer and rougher route to her destiny because of some of the things that she observed and took in from the adults around her.
And I wonder what detours have been set in the path of my own almost three-year-old little girl.
I’m not even just talking about traumatic experiences, although many of us have had those as unfortunate life teachers as well. But maybe it’s the subtle things that children notice and internalize that make a difference in their life’s journey. The way we treat our elders. The television shows we watch and the books we read (or don’t read). The causes we take up.
There must be a connection.
Yeah, I know. As I said, no matter how “conscious” we become now, we can’t change the past.
Wait…maybe we CAN change the past!
Not our own of course.
But maybe we can change the past of that three-year-old that sits next to us in the doctor’s office. Or the little boy who stares unblinkingly at us from across the room at the restaurant. Maybe I can change the past that my own child will eventually have by being the woman I was destined to be AND being more attentive and responsive to the pain she experiences… even this early on in her life.
Yes, it does seem cyclical, doesn’t it? By my surrendering my past and letting go of the negative things I saw or perceived as a child, therefore becoming a better woman and model, I can change some present child’s eventual past and positively influence their future.
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This post is the latest in Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts’ “Faith & Motherhood” series.
Tracey Michae'l is a writer and educator based out of the Philadelphia area. She is a wife to William and a mother to a beautiful two-year old little girl. You can find her on the web at www.traceymlewis.com.
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Thanks for this piece. I think about this often in raising my children. What I’ve embraced is that I am far from perfect. But constant communication and dialogue strikes the balance for good role modeling.
That was lovely. As a child of parents who encountered great trauma in their lives, they gave me a good, stable life and upbringing, but there were still imperfections that carried over into my own life.
I had to break off from my family 15 years ago in order to the my self work and focus on my own children.
In my mid 40s, I understand how heavy the work is and how sometimes people don’t want to do theirs, and they won’t until they decide to.
I took inspiration to get back to work and re-evaluate what I need to do, especially because I have four young adult daughters.
I am so thankful that I can at least take responsibility for some of my mistakes and the pain I have caused, and help my children through their work.
I don’t think anyone really expects perfection, but can respect when someone tries.