The Very Human Need for Experience

Good and Evil

Good and Evil


I wanted to shelter my son from the world. I prayed away my foul mouth, hid my tears and played happy family with gusto. I wanted his world to be flowery, fun and fantastically clean. I didn’t tell him about my childhood unless I was telling a funny anecdote about a pet or a friend. I socialized him, took art classes with him and enrolled him in a co-op preschool where I could play perfect with other perfect mothers. Right out of preschool we enrolled in a perfect private school where I was sure he would bloom into the perfect prep school boy. In my search for perfection I lost something integrally important to the development of a well-rounded human. That important missing element was a well-developed sense of reality.

As time passed I began to see the holes in the world I’d worked so hard to create. I wasn’t being myself, my friends were drearily superficial and my son was unhappy in his school. Desperate for answers I turned to a book I stole from my high school, an ancient, dog eared copy of Herman Hesse’s, Siddhartha. I love this book for so many reasons. Like many other great inspirational books I can just open it to any page and find a piece of wisdom that will help me with whatever it is I’m facing. That day I opened the book at the beginning. I read of Siddhartha’s mother, her love for her child and her tragic early death. I read about the prophesy, proclaiming Siddhartha to be the greatest teacher of the age. Then I read his father’s reaction to this prophesy. Having just lost his wife and then faced with the loss of his son to a religious life, Siddhartha’s father created a perfect world in which pain, suffering and old age had no place. He imprisoned Siddhartha in a false utopia and robbed him of reality in order to keep him safe. How did Siddhartha react? He ran away in search of answers to the questions his father could neither pose nor answer.

Child in the Garden of Good and Evil

Child in the Garden of Good and Evil

Setting down the book I began to see the holes I’d identified in my parenting open into rather worrying chasms. I remembered the perfect children I’d known growing up, the ones who’d summered at the country club, vacationed in the tropics with their perfect families only to go slumming as drug using collage kids. I started remembering other sheltered kids who’d gone wild with sex and drugs the moment they’d found freedom from the suffocating control of their perfect worlds. Slowly I began to think that maybe by keeping our children in ignorance of pain and suffering we create a vacuum in their experience which will only propel them into a deeper need to experience the very things we try to protect them from. We cannot limit our children’s experience on this earth by sheltering them from a world they will someday have to live in.

So what is a frightened conscientious parent to do? I still only have a vague idea. In my heart I think a parent’s job is to guide a child through the world but not to shelter them from it. I feel that we must discuss even the small details of their day and how their different interactions made them feel. Most importantly we must validate their emotions with empathy, compassion and a willingness to hear while we admit our own feelings, failings and frustrations within the discourse. In other words it is very important that our children see us as loving, fallible humans whom they can trust with their secrets. We live in a tumultuous world of opposites. As much as we hate to admit it good lives in balance with evil and both must be experienced in order to be understood. We cannot end suffering any more then Siddhartha the Buddha did because suffering is a necessary part of experience and experience is the only true teacher. No matter how hard we try, we cannot recreate heaven on earth because that isn’t why we’re here.

Making Peace with Experience

Making Peace with Experience

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9 thoughts on “The Very Human Need for Experience

  1. Eleanor: So true. And mothers are generally more guilty of this than fathers. Our DNA is to nurture and protect those we love, even if that need to protect means we build illusionary walls around them. Several months ago I re-read one of John Eldridge’s books “Wild At Heart” in which he discusses this very thing and how important it is for mothers to let go of their sons – or their sons will eventually do the tearing for them, and the pain may never get repaired. That is when I realized as a mother the best way for me to ‘fix’ my son, was to let him work out life on his own. Not as an absent mother, but as a mother that steps back and releases her son to become a man – which he can’t do as long as I’m the one trying to help him. According to Eldridge – who is a psychologist – there is a point in all boys lives that, like you said, if we don’t allow them to fall down and get hurt, make the wrong choices, have their hearts broken – we will cripple them rather than save them. Maturity comes with adversity. Manhood comes with learning how to conquer their trials. Gentleness is found in the midst of ugliness and love blooms best in brokenness. It is a wise woman who figures this out before its too late. But then….I’ve always thought you were a very wise woman.

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  2. Thank you, Shawn, for your wise words. I’ve been reading a book called When Food is Family by Dr. Judy Scheel. It talks about how we shut down our children’s emotions when we play perfect as a family. It’s a brilliant parenting book for parents at every stage of parenting. Children need to see us as human and just as fallible as they are. They need us to create a safe place where they can make mistakes without criticism. What you’re doing for your son is profound. It’s a very hard thing to let your kids stumble while you stand by cheering them on. Every time Duncan has a problem I want to fix it for him. But by fixing it I teach him that his own abilities to reason and work through a situation are not sufficient. So I ask him what he thinks needs to happen, I ask him how his decision makes him feel and support his decision making ability as best I can. It’s hard not to take over and make everything cozy for him but he hast to fight his own battles if he’s ever going to be the brave solid man I hope he will become. As always, thanks for your support and for the reblog.

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    • It has been my experience that when we shield our children from the realities of our own humanity and the humanity of others, we can inadvertently set them up for future shame. It took me many years to understand that failure is as powerful, if not more so, than success. In failure we learn what works and what doesn’t work and if supported by loving friends and family in the process, then I think we learn the most valuable lesson of all; its the journey, not the destination that enriches our lives.

      I believe that it was In the Cross of Jesus that the Father accomplished the totality of God’s requirements for righteousness, and as a consequence has lovingly released us from the burden of ‘doing’ and set us free to ‘be’. And so for me, the freedom to fail will always be the most empowering gift of all.

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  3. I find this piece to be incredibly beautiful. I understand your hopes and dreams for your children. I never was in a position to even attempt perfection, but I have always tried to be the safety net to fall back onto. My son has chosen a difficult incarnation, and now I try to do the best for his children. Although my desire has been to show them the world instead of isolation. We all do the best we can at the time, but times change. We continue to learn and I’m grateful that my son has kept me in his life and near his family.

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  4. I just finished reading this piece again, and find I must share from my own experience. I, too, wanted a perfect childhood for my son. Though my son faced some serious medical problems while he was young, I still tried to maintain a safe, normal (no, perfect) home. I set aside my own emotional needs, only expressing the positive, the faithful, the vision of perfection that came from my own expectations. What happened? I believe he thought I was the biggest fool, because he perceived that I had no goals, no dreams, that I didn’t understand what was going on around me, and that I lived in a self-made bubble. He wanted the real world. In time, I was able to see just what a good job I had done in protecting him from my emotional accountability. He has heard the siren call of this shimmering thing called perfection that alludes us. All we can do is to do our best with what we know at the time, but I still feel I failed in so many ways. But. I find such truth in your words. I wish I could have read this 30 years ago…

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    • We are always the parents our children need us to be. Good or bad, God sends them to us even when we’re broken, confused, ignorant, demoralized and slightly insane. We may think we’re ready to parent but we never are. Children come to us because through relationship we see our errors and we learn and grow together. I learned pain from my mother and love from my son. No one has taught me as much as my son has. He is my greatest teacher, my blessing and my gift. He came unexpected and he has survived me, loved me and taught me what unconditional love looks like and feels like. I owe so much of my soul’s growth to him because without him I’d still be stuck in many of my old belief patterns. Judging the person you once were is like chiding a chick for not breaking out of its egg fast enough. We evolve, we grow and we mature through time, trial and error each in our own way. Love who you are and look at how wonderfully loved you are. You made it through and so did he. This is glorious! This is God teaching us how to be whole.

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