Michaelmas this Year
I feel him galloping towards my door. Do you? Crises seem to have met individuals I know, in many different forms. I recognize it in the difficulties people dear to me are going through. Most recently, I’ve been feeling it in our own little school. Our children have been going through all kinds of difficulties–conflicts and fights–all challenging situations for the children, parents and teachers. The Archangel Michael is making his presence felt.
This year the crisis seems to have fallen around the theme of boundaries–those that we set for ourselves and our children. Whenever our children misbehave, we look to ourselves. I know I do. A few compassionate souls have told me, “You know, it’s not always your fault!”, which is only slightly reassuring when the family is in crisis, because every mother knows that is not so easy to accept. Our children are a reflection of how we parent and the kind of home we have created for them. How can we not feel responsible when things go wrong?
Lately, I seem to be in a situation where I am constantly asking myself, “Am I really seeing my children?” My heart broke when I had to collect my child from the school office as he was in tears from being teased by friends. That child of mine has always been sensitive and is very quick to pick up on inconsistencies, emotions and unspoken intentions. He has always been like that. He’s also a very sweet boy and hurts doubly when his friends tease and taunt him because he feels it to be a terrible betrayal. As parents, we tried to sort it out, each one giving his side. That was very difficult and heavy for me. I believe in my child wholeheartedly and I know him; I never want to doubt my children. But I also want to believe that I parent with open eyes.
However, when conflicts arise, you open your ears and heart to hear someone else’s side. The minute you do that, you have to question your own view each time. We all like to think of our children as the child we see and experience everyday, but when conflicts happen and stories from different sides abound, you have to accept the possibility that there’s a side to your child that perhaps you do not see or don’t want to. I try to peer into this darkness every so often; I feel that is part of the path we all have to take as parents–to see what is too painful to face and then to do what must be done. That is the Michaelic impulse that seems to be beckoning in our little community.
Though what I really wanted was to shower my child with love and comfort and nothing else, I had to force myself to be fair and upright. I asked him to tell me what happened and to open his awareness to the feelings of the children who teased him as well. I tried to instill in him the need to still be kind to them. He said he was not ready to speak with them the next day, and I told him that was fine, but that it was important to remember to TRY to be kind, no matter what. The next day, I met two of the boys who teased him on the path going to the classrooms and I simply reminded them of the same. No matter how much I wanted to side with my son completely, I had to make him see that we leave room for others and do not compound the situation by giving back exactly what they dished out. It’s not easy.
I have always instilled in my children that TRUTH rules. We do not lie. I am big on boundaries as well and I think this has so far served me well as a parent. My children seem to have taken this on and it bothers them when stuff goes on around them that’s murky as well. Just this week something that has apparently been going on in school was blown apart, and I felt their relief that at last there were no more secrets. They spoke freely about things and I could feel that they both felt they could exhale. It was only then that I realized they hadn’t been talking about school much, and there were a lot of knowing exchanges and tension the past few weeks and though I would ask a question or two, they were guarded. Well, things came to a head as they will, and now everyone can breathe again.
For us parents who have to untie these growing up and coming through knots for our children, we are called to gather the strength to see where we have failed, where we can do better, and then commit to taking that path, even if it means starting from the road that is furthest away from where we stand today.
When children misbehave, I always feel it is a desperate cry for boundaries. In today’s world of too much information on everything, parents tend to be too permissive. Even in our Steiner community, I find that some parents carry over the Early Childhood way of speaking very softly and gently, and never firmly or harshly to children who have already graduated into the lower school and who need clear limits to thrive! It is great to have equanimity, but I feel that if need be, it must be sacrificed for the sake of creating very clear and important boundaries that our children really need.
Creating boundaries means being clear about behavior that is acceptable and not. It means being consistent in what we say and do. It means putting our foot down when we have to. Every single time. Our children need boundaries to feel secure and loved. Permissiveness or extreme restriction only creates problems. We have to give them space but be clear about their limits. As our children grow and become more exposed to the outside world, so too must we grow as parents. They need to feel their boundaries or they will go to the ends to create situations that will wake us up to this need. They will misbehave in ways that will break our hearts because they need us to be inwardly wakeful to what is going on with them as a result of our brand of parenting. They need us to be able to look squarely at ourselves and adjust for their sakes.
This year, it seems as though Michael has thrust his sword into the dragons of parents and teachers who have gone soft and complacent, or who have not been as awake to the needs of our children. Indeed, this week of conflict in the school has reminded me to shine a light on the dark recesses of my comfort zones and light the path anew for my children– in full and living wakefulness.