My heart is hurting today as I try to process the recent suicide attempt of someone who I love unconditionally. Barely in his twenties and 1200 miles separating us, this has been one of my greatest fears.
It’s triggered so many emotions and thoughts within me and I really need to discuss the elephant in the room – that we are unknowingly harming our children of the world in the way that we are collectively raising them. These are not shaming words, this topic has sat close to my heart for too long now and I absolutely feel like I need to share the perspective I have, in hopes that even one person can be able to accept it and become enlightened in perhaps an area they may not have been before. So I encourage you to read with an open mind, and be willing to check yourself. If we cannot recognize our areas for needed growth as human beings and parents, then we cannot possibly experience growth.
I have been the suicidal teenager, I used to secretly carve things into my wrists in the 9th grade – desperate to feel something, questioning my existence. I would beg for understanding as to why I felt this way. Trying to understand this part of my mind deeper and also trying to understand why SO many others feel the same and continue to, well into adulthood! It’s becoming ever so clear to me now that we have developed a society that is setting us up to fail in many ways, including emotionally and healthfully. Each day in our nation, there are an average of over 3,470 suicide attempts by young people grades 9-12. (source) That breaks my heart, like crushes me. This recent event sitting on my mind is not the first time suicide has hit close to home. Multiple people I attended high school with ended their lives. Many more attempted it. A family I grew up very close to lost a son this way recently as well. I can relate too, too well, to the feelings of wanting to just make it stop – feeling like it’s all pointless. For different reasons at different parts of my life I felt this way. I’m not the same person today, and I’m grateful that my mind has been shifted so much so that I don’t feel that same way any longer because it was ever-consuming of me. Having gone through it, and watching others struggle through it, I am determined to do whatever I can to help reduce this epidemic in some way. Please keep your mind open to these words, we need to be here for one another to raise our collective awareness together, not to point fingers. We all need to consider this epidemic and how we can alter the position we may play in it.
But here’s the thing, aside from true mental illness and health – which is something I will touch on in a future post because it’s something that pushed depression on me severely in my 20s especially – so many suicidal kids are finding themselves severely depressed because they truly do not have the skills necessary to handle their emotions, their stress, their money, their relationships etc. Their perspective of life is so narrow, and that can make it feel like too much to bare and that there’s no real point to life. Many of us are forgetting to implement empathy into every situation within our lives. To stop shaming and blaming children and always using punishment as a means of “teaching lessons”. Within that though we also forget to teach children real life skills and coping mechanisms – things that schools should be teaching, but don’t. The things that allow the person I am today to move more gracefully through the rollercoasters of life.
But how do parents, or educators, or extended family do this – when we ourselves weren’t raised this way? When we perhaps weren’t encouraged to practice using empathy ourselves, or have very few skills of our own to handle our own big emotions effectively. Generation after generation in some cases, we can’t share from an empty box of course. We can’t teach skills we don’t possess ourselves, or at least try to possess. And we also can’t expect kids to be left to sort through all of this alone. I personally don’t believe kids need to be toughened up for this world. The punishment-based parenting style which seemed to be so common in our own parents, hasn’t worked. And we are seeing the effects of that in young adults now. Everyone wants to blame the child for being the problem always, we are so very deep in our egos in most cases that we don’t even remember to think from a child’s perspective. We have trouble as parents taking responsibility for how our behavior and that of those closest to our children is actually getting mirrored within our children. They are our teachers, they bring things to our attention that we have trouble dealing with ourselves. We need to take that and grow from it. I think we need to get back in touch with our hearts and raise kids who are confident in themselves and are loved unconditionally, with active parents and influences in their lives helping to guide them. Help prepare them for life rather than paving their way, or the opposite – having them always needing to figure it out alone.
Now these valuable life skills, these are all things that children have the opportunity to be learning in their upbringing, but in many cases they simply aren’t. This is not to shame parents AT ALL, and in fact doesn’t necessarily sit entirely on the parent. There are some serious shortcomings in how society as a whole is respecting parents and how we are guiding and parenting children. Parents send kids to school assuming that school is what trains a child to be ready to go out into the “real world”, right? We’re made to believe they need it for socialization too. But the school system isn’t exactly designed that way and rather than receive a load of beneficial life skills these children are being forced to conform into a standard set for them. During which they are also taking on bullying, they are bullying others, they are trying to find love and finding heartbreak, they’re using drugs and alcohol trying to fit in or find excitement, and/or they’re making mistakes and not knowing how to live with those mistakes or find peace within themselves. While so many of the adults are saying “they have to learn themselves. They have to figure it out for themselves.”
But wait, if we said from the very beginning “they need to figure it out themselves” and we keep saying it year after year through early adulthood, when did the child actually acquire the skills? That’s not to say they never would simply by observing, but if we spent their youngest years assisting them while they find their way – encouraging their thought process – could we not help them develop those skills so young that by middle school or higher they are actually able to focus on and navigate their lives without being 100% controlled by their difficult emotions all of the time? Why is it that we are constantly being promoted to give tough love, and why not calm guidance instead? Why is being kind and nurturing seen as weak? Assisting them does not mean solving all of their problems for them, it means helping them to keep a balanced mind as they navigate their thoughts while they problem solve. If you were hired as a CEO of a large corporation with zero experience, and you were thrown into that position told to figure it out, how would you fair? Sure, maybe with a ton of time you may be able to figure it out, but surely your mental health is going to suffer while you feel inadequate trying to handle tasks you simply have no developed skills for yet. Perhaps it’d overwhelm you so much you’d just want to give up, thinking you’re not worthy. Generally an adult would have guidance from a veteran within the company to get them up to speed, no? Why are we expecting children and teenagers, with very few actual life-managing skills being passed to them, to “toughen up” and figure it out themselves? Their views of the universe are usually coming right from us, since their experiences consist of what we live. If we don’t see the value of what we are doing here – how can we expect them to remain in love with their life?
This type of thing really begins from the very first day that babies are born, when we are immediately encouraged to separate babies from their mothers. Babies are taken right away in many cases to the nursery by strangers, we accept it as normal. Often cases going against our own natural instincts, or just not being in-tune with those instincts. Many moms I know, including myself, have been fear mongered to not have baby sleep close to them. Or they just don’t see it as the “norm”, so they separate them across the room and in many cases into another room entirely. Breastfeeding is not as freely encouraged and supported as it should be nor are the health, bonding and hormonal benefits truly advertised accurately. We tell moms that attachment parenting is crazy and that babies need to cry it out because “they will learn”. We tell them not to pick them up too much because it’ll spoil them. To not hold them while they nap or they’ll get too used to it. We are told how to do everything, and left to feel so unsure of ourselves in every decision.
So, after all that, how much time in their first few months did we just sacrifice that we could’ve been teaching them unconditional love? Showing them that mommy/daddy will always be there. Laying a foundation for trust, in such an important time of their neurological growth.
In the United States moms are given only 6 weeks of maternity leave, something that is entirely unacceptable for any mother, breastfeeding or otherwise. There is a lack of respect for mothers, who are shamed for feeding babies in public. For bringing children in public who are sometimes unpredictable. For taking their kids to parks and “helicoptering” them, so they say. We keep creating spaces that aren’t child-friendly making it that much harder for moms to take kids out and teach proper social skills safely. The cost of living doesn’t often let just one parent work outside the home so then we have moms who feel trapped who are unable to stay home with their kids even if they desire to and we’ve made it near impossible to afford it without some struggle… and here comes the next life change – the child now goes to daycare or preschool to spend the majority of their waking hours with a human being who you may or may not know personally who is essentially expected to raise them and teach them things. So the torch is passed. They get home at night, eat, bathe and go to bed. We accept this as the norm. You trust they learned all they needed at school, but wait – have they? We have a society designed where we are losing so much valuable time to parent and love our children. To ensure that they are actually receiving proper guidance. And we are too scared to talk about it, too scared to demand a change because everyone throws up a shield. We get angry at people who bring these types of things to our attention, but it needs to be talked about. And before a person unkindly says “Well if you don’t like it then just don’t have children” please stop and consider that the entire future of our species depends on procreation and the future of humanity sits with us all. Parents deserve better circumstances. And you are affecting the upbringing of the next generation too. Please remember, empathy.
Here is an example of a situation to remind us where we have to be careful on what type of influence our child receives at school from their leaders, and also be responsible for what type of influence we have on them too. We are our children’s best teachers. The people who surround your child, are the people who are raising them as well, you cannot separate the two.
So, your preschooler has an altercation in the classroom, note comes home with your child “He got angry at Aiden and threw his drink on the floor. He was put in time out.” You ask him what happened. Your son says “It was snack time and Aiden pushed me off my chair so he could sit at our table but I was sitting there first!”.
These are possible responses you could expect from a parent that perhaps isn’t used to a “gentle parenting” approach:
“Well you should’ve just pushed him back and taken your seat back!” (message sent: fight fire with fire)
“Who cares! you could’ve just sat in another chair you shouldn’t have had a hissy fit, it’s not a big deal.” (message sent: shaming, no empathy, dismissive)
“You got a time out just for throwing your drink? It wasn’t your fault he took you chair. I’m going to talk to your teacher.” (message sent: the teacher should be undermined. You can act out of anger all you want. Mom will handle it anyway)
And then maybe you move on like it didn’t happen. Just another small silly event, right?
This isn’t everyone obviously, but I’ve heard these things said before – and said to me. But what if instead we were to meet this situation with compassion and empathy? Invest more time into these “little” troubles they have when they’re so little. What if we replied with something truly thought-out, something that gives our child a little more perspective on how to handle himself and the situation as well. Giving space between sentences for him to speak too of course, what if you said some things like: “How do you think you could’ve handled that situation a little more calmly? *pause, wait for answer* Do you think you could have asked Aiden why he pushed you? I bet that was really frustrating to be pushed like that wasn’t it? Do you think it’s possible that someone else took his seat too? Because that would’ve probably upset him too. Were you sitting beside someone he really wanted to sit beside? He definitely should have just asked you if he could have your seat, but maybe he really wanted to sit there and felt so upset when you sat there that he just couldn’t find his words. That happens to all of us sometimes doesn’t it? Perhaps next time something like this happens you could ask him to explain to you why he needs that seat so badly and also express that you really were upset he pushed you! I’m really glad you chose not to push him back, I’m sure you were pretty upset to have thrown your drink. It sounds like you really upset your teachers as well when you threw your drink. I hope that you offered to clean it up. You didn’t, because you had to go to time out? Well I think you should take responsibility for your mess in a situation like that by cleaning your mess, what do you think?”
You just poured water on the fire with perspective, do you see it? Someone may think “what’s the point of saying all that, it won’t stick!”. Oh but it does. You are laying a foundation brick by brick! You just gave your child undivided attention, while you showed them a brand new reality, one that they couldn’t picture while they were so upset because they haven’t mastered managing their hurt in a time like that yet. (doesn’t it actually sound like most adults? Most of us haven’t mastered this skill either, but that doesn’t mean you can’t practice it and teach it to your child. I know how hard it can be but it’s totally worth it I promise you.) But now you gave them a tool. There are so many ways to say this of course. But do you see the power you have within you? Every difficult situation needs to become a learning experience. Of course you cannot control the children in their classes or daycare. You also have very limited chance you can have any control in how the teacher “parents” your child unless you’ve specifically been able to choose a human being who has very similar parenting styles. But you entirely have control over your response and what your child can gain from the conversation and experience. Should you be happy that the teacher seemingly didn’t hear your child out and sent them to time out without any real constructive problem solving? No. But is that the norm today? Yes, sadly! We are very quick to punish, and very slow to parent. Sending a child with an emotional struggle to sit alone when they didn’t ask for it, rather than working through it is difficult for me to understand. I believe it’s because we lack skills too, and we really don’t know how else to handle the situation. And with very limited skills passed from the generation before us, it all becomes so new and not natural. We don’t see things in many different colors and perspectives and it makes it so much harder to be a consciously aware parent all of the time.
Parenting, is work. So much work. But, the greatest work of all. And no, okay maybe your words can’t change the outcome of that specific situation, but you just planted a seed. So don’t give up. You gave a reminder, that there is a good chance that the child who pushed him was also hurting in some way or another. Maybe the reasons wouldn’t be justified to you, but in the world of preschoolers it most definitely would be. You taught empathy.
Empathy is truly an incredible healer and it teaches you to get out of your own head and understand the behavior of others through their own eyes. Ultimately, you feel a sense of peace. Imagine if we incorporated that type of thinking into all situations throughout our child’s entire life. You would be able to support your daughter’s confidence reminding her that those girls bullying her are most likely insecure themselves. That their moms may not be as kind to them, their dads may be very hard on them. They may have always wished they had beautiful curly hair like hers and that perhaps she just reminds them of what they don’t have and it upsets them. Perhaps the boy they like likes her instead. None of these things would be a reflection of your daughter’s worth and she needs to hear that as a reminder. She needs to be encouraged to think in a manner that frees her emotionally. Be reminded she is beautiful and strong and their words are a reflection of their inner being, a perception of their own reality, not hers. But this is an approach that can start on the first day, so it becomes second-nature. It seems we are commonly more hands off parents throughout their lives until teenage years when we go “I don’t understand why they are like this.”.. but your subconcious is what allows you the ability to easily and quickly respond to a situation. If you have never been encouraged to use empathy and instead maybe as a parent you were saying “well just ignore them. You’re beautiful hunny. They’re just jealous.”, that’s really not giving any valuable tools to them to work through it emotionally and be able to endure it internally. You cannot push confidence into someone with just kind words, it must come from them within. It’s a plant that needs watering.
These life skills we’re lacking aren’t just related to emotions either. How about that grown up child who’s now a teenager/young adult, depressed from money stress already? You may have cut that cord completely, or you may be paying for their expenses, both situations with the possibility of leading to poor money management. Did they ever learn how to manage their own money? Money – the root of so much torment. I went to high school for 4 years and I’ll say that the only finances ever discussed were in hypothetical math problems.
I’ll be transparent here and say that I was in a past relationship and in order to do all the things I wanted to with him traveling, having the car I wanted, I racked up $5000 on credit cards that I qualified for at 18. I had ZERO money management skills, another thing that they do not teach you in school and absolutely should, and we grew up with limited money, so having access to that false money on those cards felt like a child let free at an arcade. Working 30 hours a week while in college full-time but living between both parents’ houses spending far too much on fuel, and insurance, and oops now there goes my $1500 Oldsmobile Cutlass calling it quits with a frame that nearly rusted out completely, now I need another car. And that help I was supposed to get for paying for college from my father, only lasted the first semester. So lets see if I qualify to financial aid… nope! So off to the bank to qualify for a student loan. I can get $8000 a year for a full-time student? I’ll take it! Sign me up! My stepfather co-signs for me and I take my bank card to the car dealership and spend $11,000 on a car (used my credit cards to pay the extra $3000). Who in their right mind allowed me to do that? Who taught me how to properly channel my money, to budget, to plan, to think ahead? Really, nobody did. And guess what, this happens ALL THE TIME.
It’s not that I was not intelligent.. just like it’s not like parents or teachers are not intelligent either! We just simply have not been given the skills in so many cases, we are not aware! And so we make poor choices and don’t realize it, and we don’t step back and analyze them enough to see where it all went wrong. Or if we do, it’s far too late. By the end of college I had $24,000 in student debt, a car that only lasted a few more years worth nothing. And $3000 more accumulated on credit cards. I landed a graphic design job paying $13.00 an hour and after taxes I brought home about $400 a week. So lets do some math. If I had my own place maybe $700/month if lucky, I have $900 left. I need food, about $75/week minimum. $600 left. Car insurance about $200 now I’m down to $400. Phone bill $80. I am now left with $320 before any other expenses. If I was to pay off my student loan, at 4% (my rate), it would take me 8 years to pay off that debt, living paycheck to paycheck. With no space for any other expenses. I would also be paying $4000 in interest. And then I’d be 30 by that time. But what if I cut my payments to $145 a month? I’m looking at 20 years of payments and $11,000 wasted on interest. I’d have been about 42 just finally paying off education. (Thankfully my husband and I bought a home and flipped it to pay off my debt a few years back so I am a lucky one). But how is this a sustainable way to leave post-secondary? Do you see how my lack of skills at 18 practically set the stage for at least the next 10-20 years of my life?? We are teaching our children to value things, not people. Desire money, not experiences. We are pushing post secondary education on them before they have any true idea what they may want to do as a profession, or allowing them to purchase extravagant things and brand name clothing before they have any money at all to support those purchases themselves! And I’m saying this because I was that kid! With that debt comes deep stress. Depression. Debt makes you feel trapped, it overwhelms you and make you want to shut down. It causes homelessness, it takes kids from their homes and parents, it creates deep deep money fear, it causes people to commit suicide.
And now, I’ve gone in a circle with my thoughts and we are back here again. Do you see how it all connects? The challenges our children face can be adjusted by our influence and that of the people we allow into their lives. They don’t need to do this alone to learn. From infants, to pre-schoolers trying to deal with pushing and stealing chairs, to teenagers in debt before they’re 20 or emotionally unhinged. From the time we are born until we die, we are moldable. Everything is input. As parents, we can change ourselves at ANY time. We can change how we parent. Kids can change how they respond. Nobody is stuck the way they are and it’s never too late. I of course have not touched on so many areas without making this post an actual novel but I just want to be the blinking sign right now:
We need to take responsibility for the humans we are raising, and not only OUR children specifically, but any we come in contact with! We need to help ourselves so we can help them. Life is power, and our children need to recognize that their thoughts are THEIR superpower. That they can change their whole world with their thoughts. Is the glass half-empty or half-full? Is your friend rude because she only calls when she needs something, or are you honored that your friend thinks of you when shes in need?
We need to work on ourselves so we can make their childhood better than ours. To raise consciously aware children you absolutely need to be working on your own awareness. You can only help them to your own ability. Read books, challenge what you think you know. Work to raise honest, authentic, empathetic humans. Be honest, authentic and empathetic yourself! (something I have to practice every day!) Change the thought process from “I need to toughen up my kid. They have to learn on their own.” to “I need to assist my child so they can recognize their strength and be soft in moments of hardness. To encourage them to think in many perspectives to resist fighting fire with fire.”
Less yelling, more communicating.
Becoming a parent challenged my entire upbringing. My views are very different than how I was raised but I work every day at improving myself. I have learned to BE VULNERABLE. Recognize where you must grow! It is a neverending process. I am not perfect, nor are my children. I yell, I lose my cool. But I’ve learned to take responsibility for it and I show my kids to do the same. We need to help each other. You can’t blame a person who is simply not aware of their shortcomings, but you can be their light that helps blaze a new path for them.
Be an encourager. Speak up with love. READ. Find like-minded people and parents to surround yourself with. We are power in numbers. Lets all work towards a world where there’s less bullying amongst kids and more compassion and empathy because I can not accept that this is the way it is. We need to tip the scales, because more empathetic kids become better friends and support systems for those struggling. They become kinder peers – loving girlfriends and boyfriends – patient brothers and sisters – more aware moms and dads. This is not only about the kids, this is about the future teenagers and adults too. Every adult was once a child and our disconnect from that is part of our inability to use empathy towards other adults. See others as human beings who are also struggling, no matter the age. We are setting the stage for an entire life when we give real valuable life skills. We are raising the future. And it starts the moment that tiny human enters this world.
Each year 44,193 Americans die by suicide. (source)
This needs to be talked about and we need to take more responsibility for what we put into the world.
Use your power.
We are in this together.
We do not own our children. We are their protecters.
For a list of book recommendations on gentle and conscious parenting and learning to live for mindfully click here.
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