A tough responsibility…
It has been a week or so of very contrasting experiences for me. I cannot remember ever having been the victim of so many lies and so much vitriol nor being the beneficiary of so much heartfelt praise and encouragement as I have this past 7 days. And this reminds me of one of the toughest but most important lessons that we have to pass on to our children which is that we are each responsible for our own happiness. I say a tough lesson because it is hard for both us as parents and our children. Our natural instinct when our children are hurt, or have been made unhappy, is to shower them with our love and sympathy whilst theirs, as children, is to ensure that they get plenty of the same by giving full expression to that unhappiness! And I am not saying that we shouldn’t condole with our children when they are the victims of unfairness, unkindness or sheer bad luck but I am suggesting that good parents judge their responses carefully to ensure that they do not risk of causing self-indulgence.
It is a strange aspect of the human psyche that we are capable of “enjoying” our suffering. I taught a DP1 class this afternoon where we explored this concept through a Freudian interpretation of a Carol Ann Duffy poem and during it I couldn’t help but draw on one of my favourite quotes from Burns’ Tam O’Shanter where the eponymous hero is returning, well-lubricated, from the local hostelry to his home:
“Where sits his sullen, sulky dame;
Gathering her brows like gathering storm
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm”
Us human are capable or “nursing” all sorts of negative emotions like anger, broken-heartedness or resentment….of luxuriating in sadness. But doing so, however tempting it may be, is bad for our self-esteem and destructive for our relationships …….. not things we want for our children, of course.
It is probably asking too much for us to actually ignore the words or actions that hurt us or make us sad and so I think (although I know I have done it myself) we probably shouldn’t tell our children, “Oh just ignore it/him/her”. What we can do, however, is model: choosing what (or whom) to care about and what (or whom) to care less about; moderating the intensity and longevity of our emotional response to each misfortune;….and then moving on.
So, as I sit here at my computer of a Friday afternoon, I can decide what I want to carry back to my home and family this evening- the vile lies published about me (and our school) by a resentful ex-teacher thousands of miles away or the gracious praise of a parent who looked me straight in the eye while he gave it- the frustrations of a week spent listening to (justifiable) complaints about our IT systems or the joy of seeing and hearing our jubilant primary school athletes returning from their ISSAK Athletics Championships triumph.
Life is not fair…and, as our youngsters hurtle towards adulthood, accepting this, dealing with it steadfastly and taking responsibility for their own happiness are some of the toughest but most important lessons they will learn.