HYPOTHESIS: THERE’S A BETTER WAY TO NURTURE VALUES IN OUR CHILDREN
My values have always been important to me. When I first had children, I intended to instil “good values” into them so that they could be positive citizens of the world. Our family would be honest, hard-working, kind… But I’ve been thinking lately about how to respond to my boys’ behaviour when it feels in opposition to my values. It occurred to me that, more important and effective than teaching them specific values, would be to grow my boys’ spiritual strength. I know that when I’m feeling tuned into God, my behaviour is naturally more loving. With spiritual strength, I have the wisdom, power and confidence to make good choices. Ultimately, spiritual strength gives us the ability to really Love.
Following this line of thought, I concluded that Love is the over-arching value, perhaps the only universal value. Other values are subjective. Take determination and hard work, for instance. They are valuable in the service of Love (eg. creating a support group for people in need) but destructive in the service of fear (eg. weapon-building). Applying other values depends on the people and the circumstances of a situation. The wisdom of Love is required to know how to apply them.
THE DIFFICULTY WITH TEACHING VALUES
Teaching values without nurturing spiritual strength is teaching judgement – judgement of self and judgement of others. It requires the mind to divide behaviour into “good” and “bad”. From there, we fall into the trap of fear-based parenting. (See The Real Purpose of Parenting) Our fears, for example, that our children will not become positive adult citizens of the world or that their behaviour won’t reflect well on us creates judgement within us. Before we know it, we’re lecturing our children with lines like “where is your respect?” and “in this house we tell the truth” and “you don’t know what hard work is!” I imagine most parents have said these kinds of things to their children at times, I’ve said them too. On hearing such reprimands as a child, I believed that I was a terrible person and there was no hope for me. Reduced to my smallest, most fearful self, I was powerless to truly consider whatever I had done “wrong” from Love. The opportunity to grow was lost. In my childhood, I was actually more often told that I was a “good girl” but that shrinking feeling was vivid in my memory. By being a good girl, I was trying to gain approval and, more so, avoid disapproval. My behaviour wasn’t guided by my own compass, my own wisdom (Love). I didn’t even know I had any.
I’m not saying values aren’t important. I’m saying that there may be a better way to encourage them in our children than to constantly judge their behaviour by our particular values. A way that respects them and makes them more likely to live “morally”. We can point them towards the Love that has always been there inside them instead of towards mind-made judgement.
WHAT IS SPIRITUAL STRENGTH?
I have been asking myself “what helps me to extend the reach of God’s Love in the world?” For me, all loving thought & action seems to come from one of three practices – gratitude, compassion and faith. These words are verbs, not just ideas. If I can focus on deepening my boys’ understanding of gratitude, compassion & faith and show them how to put them into action, I think they will know how to live with “good values” and have the courage to do so. Each of these three components needs a blog post of its own but I will briefly share how I think they might enable us to live with Love.
Gratitude – Gratitude has so many facets beyond it’s obvious (and wonderful) ability to lift us when struggling in some way. When gratitude becomes a spiritual practice, we realise the abundance available to us. With a heart full of gratitude, we have more to give and we honour what we have, including the people we encounter in our lives. Our capacity, for example, to be generous, creative and humorous – to live in accordance with many of our values – expands.
Compassion – Compassion combines understanding, non-judgement and desire to serve. To practice it is embodied in The Golden Rule: treat others the way we would like to be treated. I introduced The Golden Rule to Jake a number of months ago and have started using it as a point of reference. For example, when his behaviour isn’t kind or respectful. We talk specifically about how he would feel if he were the other person and he usually suggest himself how he’s going to show the other person that he cares and, if possible, fix the situation. I try not to lecture, put my hands on my hips or raise my voice. I just ask Jake questions that encourage him to draw on his compassion. Compassion goes far deeper than “would you like it if he did that to you?” but this is a starting point upon which we can build. (I’ve been thinking of displaying the words “The Golden Rule” in golden lettering somewhere in our home as a reminder to us all.) Growing our compassion grows our commitment to values such as justice, peace and responsibility.
Faith – Faith is trust that, when we allow God to be our guide, the best will happen. It doesn’t mean we will always get what we want, it means we will allow God to get what He wants and it’ll be even better than we imagined for ourselves. As my faith grows, it has become a source of strength, especially in the face of fear. I am slowly becoming more adventurous and willing to take on a challenge, including the challenge of being authentic. I have enough trust to step out and live by values that haven’t previously been expressed in my life because of fear.
This summary of practices to develop spiritual strength (gratitude, compassion and faith) is a very personal one, based on what resonates with me. Perhaps your experiences point to a different set of practices that grow your spiritual strength. And it’s likely that, as we come to really know our children, we will realise that they have different spiritual practices than we do. Every soul practices and grows its spirituality differently but it all enables us to Love.
CHILDREN NATURALLY HAVE GOOD VALUES
I’d like to add a short but important point. We need to trust and our children need to know that they have infinite Love inside them, ready to be put to work at any and every moment. Essentially, growing their spiritual strength is nurturing who they really are, servants of Love.
“Service will come naturally, as part of who we are, when we allow ourselves to truly express our authenticity from the centre of our being” – Anita Moorjani, “What if This is Heaven”.
I said recently to Jake, “I know you have lots of kindness in you but you’re not using it right now”. I was trying to show him that I have no doubt in his ability to be kind but that he has to choose to exercise it. When he’s older, I might just be able to say, “Choose compassion”, not as an instruction, just a simple reminder to use it.
IN SUMMARY: LOVE & VALUES
I’ve struggled a little to write this post, to make my meanings clear and bring it to life. This idea of focussing more on spiritual strength than explicit teaching of values is new for me. While I felt compelled to write about it, I have a lot more wondering and wandering to do. But, to reduce this post to one idea that you might be able to work with, I leave you with this: Nurturing our children’s spiritual strength is nurturing their ability to Love.
As I shift away from judgement in my parenting, my hope is that my boys will live with “good values” because they care, not because they fear.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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