What Do Children Need?
By Eknath Easwaran
By Eknath Easwaran
The most important gift we can give our children is our undivided love. No material advantage can ever take the place of such love, for without it children cannot grow to their full height as secure human beings.
All we have to do is look around at the anger and separateness in the younger generation to see what happens when children are deprived of undivided love. I have known many young people who come from well-to-do homes, go to good schools, take music lessons, play junior league baseball, surf, ski, and even travel all over the world, yet a deeply rooted sense of deprivation distorts their thoughts, feelings, and actions.
To help change the destructive direction in which our children’s lives are moving, what is required is a deep desire to put the children’s welfare first and everything else second. We have the perfect classroom right in our own home, where we can learn to make choices that put the welfare of our children first.
If possible, we should start doing this before the child is born, for the mother influences her child’s life even before birth. If the mother has a deep desire for her child’s greatest welfare, she will not fail to make wise choices in her daily living. Whenever she indulges an unhealthy habit, she is putting her own pleasure before her child’s welfare, which is another way of saying that she deprives that child of her love.
Popular magazines and television would have us believe that our responsibility for our children’s well-being is met by buying fluoridated toothpaste and a balanced vitamin supplement. But health is not just an absence of disease. It is a dynamic, positive state of existence in which we function at our optimum, physically, mentally, and in all our personal relationships. The basis of such health is a heart filled with love for others and a mind at peace, which is first absorbed at home, in the family, from the parents’ example of how to live.
When we realize how powerful the example of our daily life is, we will start trying to find ways of making improvements in the way we think, feel, and act toward our own parents, partner, and children.
This calls for a thoughtful look at ourselves, and at our habits and attitudes. We need to ask, How effectively do we communicate with our children? In what ways does competition between husband and wife, parents and children, and the children themselves disturb our home? What kind of guidance do we give our children? Can we say no to them when it is for their welfare without confusing them with elaborate excuses? Can we settle differences of opinion amicably? Do we spend our weekends pursuing our own personal interests, or do we give our time, energy, and full attention to our family?
In thinking about these questions, we begin to realize to what extent we exist as separate fragments, instead of as a family which is deepening all its relationships. It is this increasing isolation among family members that drives the sense of deprivation deep into the consciousness of children. To the extent that we work to reduce this separateness and estrangement, to that extent we dissolve the sense of deprivation from which our children suffer.
One of the most effective ways of reducing separateness is to establish good communication among all family members. This is something we must work at constantly, for there is a natural tendency to split into peer groups, age groups, racial groups, religious groups, social groups, and economic groups. Often by the age of twelve or thirteen our children have become so absorbed in their peer group that they look there for direction and guidance, and since a twelve-year-old cannot provide a model of behavior, they begin to flounder and get into trouble.
Communication becomes even more critical during the teen years, when young people have to face so many new pressures: romantic relationships, sex, drugs, college, career, and finding meaning in their lives. Peer groups, television, movies, and the mass media often serve as substitutes for parental guidance in answering these questions because prolonged lack of communication has driven a deep rift between parent and child. What little communication does take place is often in the form of arguments which drive the rift even deeper and intensify the mutual lack of trust between parent and child. Then it does not mean much for a parent to say no to an activity they know from experience will bring sorrow. Self-will, which is just another way of describing separateness and deprivation, has become so entrenched that communication is almost impossible.
The more we become preoccupied with our own interests, the less we are able to see what is in our children’s best interests. For example, if we rush home from work eager for time for ourselves and park the children to one side while we indulge in some private pursuit that we enjoy, we are telling them by our actions that we do not have time for them or interest in them. After a while, our children are learning more from television than from us; they come to believe the message of the advertiser that things will bring happiness and security, and they take the violent, sensate behavior of television heroes as models to emulate. In this way we are encouraging them to accept a way of living that will bring misery and despair. It is not only the child, but the parents, too, who suffer, for the lives of parent and child cannot be considered separate.
Being a parent today is one of the most difficult jobs on earth. It requires a depth of patience and discrimination that very few have. But all of us can develop these precious capacities with systematic and sustained effort. Although difficult at first, we shall find that as we grow in our capacity to put our children’s welfare before our own personal interests, many of our family’s and our children’s problems will resolve themselves. Every parent is the most influential teacher in a child’s life, for children learn not so much from what we say as from what we do.
By spending more time with our children, we will gradually be able to understand the nature of the problems which confront them and give our best guidance. When we are giving our children more time and attention, there develops a loving companionship which enables the parents to say no and the child to accept it without a trace of anger. By establishing a lasting relationship in this manner with our children, we can give them the strength and guidance so desperately needed when they enter the stormy teenage years.
As parents, we can find many ways to build up a lasting relationship with our children. By learning to enter into their world, we can draw closer to them and draw them closer to us. This does not mean we need to imitate their hairstyle or clothes or speech. I am talking about something much deeper, which expresses itself in more concern in what our children are thinking and doing than in the book we are reading or the TV show we are watching. When we show our children through our undivided attention that we are deeply interested in what interests them, they are assured of our love and affection beyond the shadow of a doubt.
This attention cannot be faked; it must be real. To give our complete and undivided attention is a precious skill that can be cultivated through regular practice. When we draw closer as a family, our children grow in awareness of the deeper unity that exists between husband and wife, parent and child, and sister and brother. This is the most effective way of healing the disease of deprivation. The scriptures of all the great religions of the world have bequeathed us changeless values by which we can live. The Sermon on the Mount, the Dhammapada, and the Bhagavad Gita are superb examples. They are meant as practical manuals for daily living and provide for every generation an unfailing direction which cannot be supplied by the pursuit of personal satisfactions.
How do we translate these timeless values into daily living? There is no quick and easy way; what is required is the sustained and systematic practice of meditation to alter our patterns of thinking and acting. The practice of meditation can be described as a mighty educational tool by mastering which we can transform anger into compassion, ill will into good will, hatred into love, and separateness into unity.
This transformation may take years, but even from the early days there is the joyful awareness that life has an unfailing direction and an underlying unity in which all things are held together. It is this increasing experience of unity which puts an end to every trace of separateness and deprivation. This is what our children are crying out for, and the most precious gift that we can give them.
This article is from the Blue Mountain Journal archive.