My eldest Son, Harvey, started school this year and last week, after weeks of waiting, he finally won “Star of the Week”. My wife and I, of course, were very proud but the real excitement for Harvey lay in the fact that he got to bring home the class teddy, Lola, for a week.
It was an eventful week, with pictures taken in all manner of settings and U-turns back home in the car because we had forgotten to bring her with us. It was lovely to see Harvey take care of something and look after her so well.
But then came the last night… I had feared it was coming so should have been more prepared. He didn’t want her to go back to school. It started off with him simply voicing his views on the point but by bedtime he was in a bit of a state. He even woke up during the night upset that she was going to be leaving us.
In many ways this was his first experience of loss at this level. Yes it is just a teddy, and boy did I come close to saying that at times on that last day, but to Harvey it was clearly far more than that. I am definitely guilty, at times, of a lack of empathy and I often fail to see the world the way my children do. My wife is so much better at this. However, on this occasion I simply stayed with him, where he was, and attempted to validate his feelings.
I have no idea if I helped or not. It didn’t stop Harvey from being upset and the next day when he gave Lola back he was still upset. However, I do know that if I had simply implied that he needed to ‘man up’ and ‘get on with it’ I would have made him wrong. Underneath the words would have been a message, ‘what you are feeling is wrong’.
How many times have I chosen this path? How many times have I simply voiced my blinded opinions without any thought as to how my children, or anyone else for that matter, see the situation?
The other pull I felt with this ‘Lola’ situation was to promise Harvey a replacement, either literally or another gift or treat to take his mind off it. How many times have I used this strategy for an easy life?!! But I felt a deep conviction on this occasion to not go there. I recognised the sense of loss that he was feeling and my heart broke for him. I also recognised the benefit of allowing him to fully experience this.
In the grand scheme of things a teddy is relatively mundane and I’m sure Lola will be forgotten about over time… but it got me thinking. You see, if I’m honest I don’t want my children to experience loss, pain, upset or anything negative at all, and the temptation is always to shield them from these emotions – to trick them, treat them or cajole them out of them. However, negative emotions are just as important as positive emotions. The process of life naturally flows in ups and downs, from minute to minute, day to day, month to month etc. It’s the heartbeat of life.
We are emotive beings that function on a foundation of feelings and emotions. We may try and iron out the downward trends but all we actually do is close the door that little bit more on ‘feelings’ in general. For every negative episode we rob ourselves of, we diminish our ability to feel the highs as well. We move closer to flat lining.
I love Disney Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’. The various characterised emotions in the girl’s head are constantly trying to downplay ‘sadness’. ‘Sadness’ ultimately goes AWOL but here is the thing… Sadness and Joy go AWOL hand in hand. The two are inexplicitly linked. The result for the girl is she ‘flat lines’. She closes down, prevents herself from feeling and begins to lose who she is.
I created this blog ‘Enjoy the WIP’ to encourage myself, and others, to see life and everything in it as a ‘Work In Progress’. I question whether there is such a thing as perfection here on earth and much prefer to see process and learning rather than an end result. The word ‘enjoy’ however requires clarification. Perhaps a better word is embrace. I believe we can learn to enjoy or embrace the positive moments, the negative moments and everything in-between. Take my hero ‘Indiana Jones’ for example. For the vast majority of the film he is in dire straights, in mortal danger or just having a bad day and yet he seems to relish it. He enjoys it or at least embraces it… and we love watching it.
“The walls we build around us to keep sadness out also keeps out the joy” (Jim Rohn)
I have certainly built my fair share of walls and they’re not easy to breakthrough. The last thing I want to do now is encourage my children to build the same walls and I certainly want to begin to stop building the walls for them!
I would love to hear your thoughts, and especially your stories, about anything referred to in this post. Leave a comment below or get in touch.
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