Four young boys sit on the side of a river in the Borneo jungle washing their school uniforms after a morning at school. The white sneakers are the cleanest pair of shoes I think I have ever seen. There is no washing machine, it’s not mum’s job to wash their clothes and they out of sight of house and mother. Their joy for life is obvious for all who see them. There is no designer labels, no electronic gadgets and no adult watching to keep them safe.
Yet they are content with their lot in life. As one of the young men with us said as he witnessed the one room,weather-beaten cottage another family of four smiling children lived in, ‘They live there. And they are happy.’ I think he got it.
|Contentment is your feet in the water.|
What do you want for your children? The popular answer seems to be I want them to be happy, safe and my friends. This always strikes me as a ‘me first’ response and not focussed on our children and their needs if they are to grow up into adults and not children masquerading as adults. We have too many of those now.
So let’s see why I think this way. A definition for happiness is, according to Princeton University, the ‘state of well-being characterised by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy’. This seems as far as possible from the ‘me first’ feelings that is promoted as happiness as possible. It is about a state of well-being – of all being well with my world regardless of what is happening. It is the state of being able to do the daily round of life without seeking a short term hit of ‘happiness’ which fades and needs renewal. The range is from ‘well, this is the way it is and that’s ok’ through to ‘wow, this amazing and that’s ok, too’. But it is the capacity to find joy in life regardless of what that life maybe.
In terms of being safe, Merriam-Webster suggests it is ‘the condition of being safe from undergoing or causing hurt, injury, or loss’. If this is what we want for our children, not only does it seem an impossible quest for human beings, it seems to designed to keep them as children. Without risk and the possibility of harming and being harmed, how do we grow and learn what ours and others boundaries are? Without people stepping outside the boundaries of safe, little of the things and experiences we enjoy would exist. I doubt that we take this idea of keeping our children safe seriously when we put them on a terrifying ride at a theme park, tie them into a bungey harness, give them a motorcycle at five, or teach them to ride a pushbike. These all have risks, but we seem to think they are o.k. Life has risks and we can not keep our children safe, simply teach them how to make good decisions in the light of circumstances, peers and options. On the way to that place, they will take risks, get hurt and hurt, but that’s o.k. for thats how we become adults living in an adult world.
Lastly, we want them to be our friends. There is something concerning when parents say their nine year old, or even scarier, heir fourteen year old is their best friend. Parents are parents and their children are their responsibility. Parents must parent and not be friends, they have enough friends, they do not need an adult acting as one. (Wow, did I really say that?)
What they need are parents who set boundaries, set the example for acceptable behaviour and who are consistent. This starts from the day they are born and goes on until they have families of their own. They respect that. And it’s respect you need when they are still your children. There is time enough to be friends when they have grown up and become adults. Now they are looking to you for wisdom, direction and discipline, by discipline I don’t mean punishment, I mean the discipline to remain an adult and a parent and not to cross the line and become a geriatric teenager in the hope you can stop them growing up.
And that is why being a parent is not just about having children, it is about staying in relationship with them as the parent, guide and mentor. If you do this, you will be their friend.
(For more photos like this go to http://sandakan-deathmarch.com/ and click on gallery)