“In this mortal life, our peace consists in the humble bearing of suffering and contradictions, not in being free of them, for we cannot live in this world without adversity. Those who can best suffer will enjoy the most peace, for such persons are masters of themselves, lords of the world, with Christ for their friend, and heaven as their reward.”–Thomas a Kempis
Warning: this is one of those inspired-by-the-moment posts. I was reading my morning prayer, and the quote of the day (the quote above) gave way to a flood of thoughts.
Before I unravel everything buzzing in my head, I want to state the main question that arose from this inspiring quote: Am I teaching my children how to cope?
Wisdom versus Knowledge
When I was teaching middle school, I noticed favoritism to knowledge rather than wisdom. The students were taught a myriad of facts and figures, yet we (myself included) did not give special attention to managing emotions and actions unless it was “religion class.” And I wondered, wouldn’t the ability to properly cope with everyday situations be a bit more fruitful than textbook answers?
I think any parent or teacher could easily get caught up in the school subjects and neglect a basic understanding of how to handle emotions. There can be so much pressure for students to “succeed” and have a particular test score or grade point average. Though our cultivation of knowledge is invaluable, what about the search for wisdom? I actually found myself devoting classroom discussions on emotions and whether they were good or bad. Students were confused when I explained that anger and sadness were not “bad.” They are natural reactions and it’s what we do with those emotions that matter.
How do we Cope?
My oldest receives a special focus on emotions and behavior at both school and home, but he’s very young. Shouldn’t this be an ongoing process? When does it dwindle? First grade? Second grade? When does the focus shift away from building character and harnessing one’s feelings and more towards equations and grammatical structures? New emotions will develop in each new stage of life. High school alone gives way to an onslaught of feelings. Some teachers and parents out there already do a terrific job of helping their little ones with coping, while others, I fear, in their pursuit of transmitting knowledge tend to neglect it entirely.
I do not intend to demean any subjects—history, languages, mathematics—I believe that all of these and more hold a special place in our culture. However, what I am concerned about is a lack of coping mechanisms. If our job is to equip young people to be well-rounded and responsible adults, shouldn’t we be just as careful to help them navigate their emotions as we are to teach them theorems and proofs? For example, and this tends to be a controversial topic, the idea of everyone receiving a trophy, in my opinion, negates the opportunity to learn how to fail and to fail with poise. I have no problem with everyone receiving a small reward for participation, but in the spirit of true competition, a winner or winners should be recognized according to certain standards. Not everyone will put forth the same effort and if a child excels in a particular area, it should be recognized (hopefully, it’s the child and not the parent who did the work, but that’s a topic for another day).
Hypothetically, if one of my children consistently received a prize or applause for all efforts—good and bad—he would begin to expect this reception in all areas of life. Let’s say that later on he built his entire life up to a single career only to have the company state, “Well, you’re qualified, but we’re giving the job to someone else.” How would my child cope with this disappointment? Would I be resigned to tell my child, “Well, honey, that’s life, you don’t get everything you want.” Again, how am I preparing my children to cope when emotions develop? When they first experience failure, anger, sadness, disappointment in self and others, shock, stress, anxiety, depression, how am I guiding them through the experience? Do I allow them to experience emotions while avoiding an attack and possible punishment towards the emotions themselves? Do I offer coping techniques suited to their personalities?
Preparing Them for the Adversities of Life
Returning to the quote above, it states that we cannot live in this world without adversity. This life is beautifully broken, it’s covered in sin, and it longs for Heaven. We cannot avoid the ugliness, but we can learn to deal with it. One of my favorite books is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, and it’s essentially a philosophical discussion of life while recounting Viktor’s experience of the Holocaust. There is a fantastic quote that comes from Viktor’s meditations while in a Nazi camp:
“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
We Parents Need to Model Coping to our Children
I am a young mom and I certainly do not hold all the answers—that’s God’s job. I simply wish to bring forth this awareness of coping. Parents are the first role models—our children will imitate us. A recent example that was simultaneously funny and alarming: my husband and oldest were playing a racing video game, and every time my husband was frustrated, his reaction was immediately mimicked by our son. So, if my husband stood up and stomped a foot and said, “Oh, darn,” our oldest would do the same exact thing. So, as adults, how are we coping with adversity in front of the little ones? Are we teaching open dialogue about emotions and how to handle them? Are we showing the power of prayer? Are we allowing our children to fail and to fail well? Do we allow love to pervade our everyday lives and lift us up from our lowly state? Yes, we will get angry and disappointed and our emotions will get the best of us… but let us confirm our conviction. Let us rise above avoidance and embrace this life on earth. Let us show our children, our future, how to deal properly and how to love through it all.