The School House Weekly Observations - Week Ending Feb. 14th, 2020: From Founder & Principal Mimosa Jones Tunney
Like vs. Love
When one of my sons was just a few days old, I remember waking up in the middle of the night to check in on him. His eyes were open and he was staring at me - still, soft. It’s a look I’ll never forget. His eyes seemed to say “hello” or “where am I” or some kind of introduction that to this day I cannot name. It was in that moment that I felt something incredible… that he and I were part of something bigger, a higher power, a perfect love. It was a connectedness unlike any I’d ever experienced. Just the other night - and my son is now much older - I was singing him to sleep, fingers through his hair - and I saw it again. Hello. Our souls were so connected in that moment - not just to each other but on a level that I’m not even sure is in our consciousness. Something bigger. When Dr. Montessori quite instantly became world-renowned for teaching her “idiot” children to surpass normal children on the Italian State Standardized Test in the late 1800s, she didn’t bask in the fame. She promptly asked… what are we doing to the normal children that would retard their natural learning path? She knew then as we know now that we were institutionalizing learning. Putting up every barrier we could in the form of timetables and paper and bells and ridiculous rules and hours upon hours sitting, sitting, sitting. When I looked at my son the other night I was so delighted to have that feeling… but I also thought, why has it been so many years since I’ve seen that? That deep view into his soul. How much of him am I really seeing? And how much of me (or us) are we trying to project with getting him “to be”. This happened to coincide with something I’m seeing a lot of lately and that is our (the adult) need to be liked by our children. Many parents muse that if they make a choice their child isn’t happy with, they’ll feel bad or avoid the conflict altogether. Far too often, we're letting them do things, have things, make choices, because we want to be coveted. We want them to adore us. But the truth is… they already do.
Consider this passage from The Secret of Childhood: “In the evening, when he goes to bed, a child calls the person he loves and does not like to see him go. And when we go to dinner, a child who is still being nursed would like to come along, not to eat but simply to be near so that he can watch us. Adults fail to appreciate this deep love of the child. (The child wishes) so earnestly just to stand near us. It is a terrible nuisance when a child goes in to wake up his father and mother in the morning. But what drives a child to go in search of his parents as soon as he gets up if it is not love? When a child bounces from his bed early, at the break of day, he goes to find his still sleeping parents... to see again those whom he loves." There is a nuance between this love and the indulgence of being liked. Children in recent years have begun to dictate not just their lives, but ours: what time you pick them up, when and what they should eat, the amount of time they get with you, where you should go or how many cookies they get after dinner. These indulgences separate us from a child’s true love just as being in any relationship so one-sided would ultimately. While we grown ups have unfortunately lost some of our beautiful childlike qualities as we get older, we are also the ones who know how to keep them safe, instill good habits, give consequences (as they will get for most of their lives with or without us), maintain their health and make certain that your life is also preserved for the sake of your personal balance and the health of your family. Time and again we get comments like “He wouldn’t like that…” or “My child will give me a hard time if we do that…” But that hard time is what they’re supposed to do. They are supposed to complain when the movie is over - who doesn’t want to veg-out all night?! And our job is to set those limits and stick to them. Meg and I laugh that she and I are probably the two strictest people in the school… we don’t waiver. And yet we definitely get the most hugs each and every day. Children know where our boundaries are and what to expect. More than like they need love… and that love manifests in structure. Not structure like planning every part of their day… structure like chores, limiting indulgences, being real about the costs of material items and the time we all need alone to recharge (I’m terrible at this last one, but learning). Love means holding firm, but also… also… letting go. Seeing those eyes, those little fingers, doing absolutely nothing. Love means having them sleep in their beds but also recognizing how hard it must be for them to grow up, to be on their own, to miss you. My greatest hope for all of us is that we find this love in our children. That we set aside the being liked part for their benefit. That we work to recognize what’s driving us is probably our heavy baggage. And that we connect with them because we are decent, strong, forthright parents who yes, will slip you a love note in your lunch box, but won’t give you an iPad because everyone else has one.