Helping our children keep an open heart in a scary world

March 23, 2016

I have a 15 month old daughter and this is not the world I wanted her to inherit. I don’t know how to explain something as awful as what happened in Brussels. Not that I have to right now, she’s only a baby, but one day I will and I dread that day. A few days ago on a trip to buy her some shoes, she walked right up to a little two year old girl whom she never met and wrapped her arms around her in a big hug. Just last night I watched her naked little body march proudly up to the mirror to admire her belly. She pointed out her belly, eyes and nose, then promptly said I love you and gave her reflection a kiss. Her heart is open. Wide open. It’s the most spectacular thing to see in the world. The fact that I recognize how wonderful it is must point to the fact that once upon a time I was like that to. We all were. We come into this world from some unseen place as a force of love, open, willing, alive, and somewhere along the way we begin to build walls around our hearts defending them against the painful realities of life as a human. One of the worries that causes me countless sleepless nights, is the agonizing question of how to protect my daughter and keep her heart open? How can I preserve her loving nature in the face of a world that is so often cruel and punishing? The terrors (and I mean that literally, sadly) of the world aside, she will inevitably experience the difficult emotions that are part of a full life. She will be rejected, she will be brought to tears, she will be the victim of injustice and have to contend with the anger that only unfairness can breed. I can’t stop that from happening without restricting her life in damaging ways. I can’t hide her away from the world, from relationships, from experiences. I have to let her live. This is not easy for me. Sometimes I have to fight myself just to let her walk across the room without shadowing her every step. The thought of anything causing her pain is more than I can bear on my best day, and yet I must. I must let her have the full human experience but at the same time provide her the tools to keep her loving heart open as best I can.

I work in entertainment and there is an inhuman amount of rejection involved. I once had my therapist tell me that she was in awe of the fact that after so many years in this business I have managed to keep an open heart. All I could think was “if she only knew me before I started” she might not think that. I work daily to tear away at the new adhesions that threaten to restrict choke and ultimately encase my heart in tough scar tissue. As quickly as I tear it away, new tissue forms. The work is constant. Most of the time I feel I’m failing at it, but I have to keep trying not just for my sake but for my daughters. If it is something I cannot do for myself then it is very unlikely I will be able to do it for her. You can tell your child one thing, but if your experience is different from your words you bet your ass your experience is what’s influencing them no matter how convincing your words may be. The wounds of the parent will almost always become the wounds of the child. So I can’t just try to cultivate these skills in her. If I want them to stick I have to cultivate them in myself. That’s the interesting thing about parenthood. It brings you face to face with yourself in a way nothing else can. Sometimes I can’t believe how I talk to myself, how cruel I can be to me. I would NEVER let her talk to herself in that same way. NEVER. This is something I hadn’t really noticed before having her. Or if I noticed it, it didn’t have the same meaning that it does now that she is in the world. I realized that I have a responsibility to myself, to her, to the world. Because what are we if not microcosms to the macrocosmic world. Just a teeny tiny reflection of the bigger picture. How can we expect to have tolerance love and compassion for others when we can barely muster it for ourselves? And that is not to say we have to live in a narcissistic haze of self-love and admiration. Not at all. Sometimes it takes focusing your awareness away from yourself and towards other in order to learn this lesson in earnest. Like with my daughter. These are not questions I would ponder had I not become a mom recently. Often times focusing your attention towards someone else, whether it is a family member, a friend, or a struggling soul at your local soup kitchen, will bring you a clarity about who you are and what your purpose is. So my most pressing question now is,  How can I make this process easier for my daughter? How can I help her keep her innocence for lack of a better word. Keep that giant loving open soul that embraces everyone? This is a work in progress and probably always will be, but here is what I think helps so far.

Allow her her emotions whatever they may be

This is a tough one for me. Hearing her cry is like a knife to my soul. I want it to stop immediately. My eyes tear up right now just thinking of her crying. I assume this goes away with time as she gets older, but for now it’s so hard. I catch myself trying to fix the problem immediately. Either by sticking a pacifier or a boob in her mouth, or distracting her as best I can. This doesn’t honor what she’s feeling. I’m telling her it’s not ok to feel, and I’m not helping her process those emotions. It’s ok for her to have emotions, and if I can just be present with her and ride it out she is completely fine soon after. If I try to suppress or distract, it may work for the moment, but I sense an extra fussiness that stays with her throughout the day and comes up in smaller more benign little bursts. I believe that when we suppress our emotions they get stored in our bodies, our tissue, because that energy HAS to go somewhere. We all know energy cannot be created or destroyed. I want it to move through her freely so she can release it, and be unafraid of her emotions, but I have to fight a lifetime of conditioning that tells me to avoid emotional pain at all costs.

Really listen to what she is telling me

When she fusses or outright cries there is usually a reason. If I’m present enough to allow the emotion and really listen to her I can usually figure it out. She’s tired or bored or scared. Now it’s even easier because she is starting to talk a little bit and can point me in the right direction. If I can stay with her emotion, I really do find that she is trying to communicate something to me. It might be as simple as she is hungry, or something less concrete like she just wants to be held.

Staying present

This is the real bottom line. I can’t allow her her emotions, or listen to her truly, if I am not present. Being in the here and now exactly as it is. This is required for me to be there for her fully. I have to tell you I am not good at this. I certainly work at it, but it does not come naturally. My husband is much better at this than I am and I could not be more grateful for that because he often brings it to my attention when I’m unable to see how I’ve detached from the present moment. Usually I am obsessing about something in the past or worrying about the future. He might not always realize my gratitude because often times I get defensive when he mentions it (just one more knee jerk reaction to work on!) but I really am deeply grateful.

Teaching her that her self-worth and happiness come from her and NO ONE else.

I struggle with this one as well. I know it to be true, but I’ve also had  a lifetime of conditioning that would lead me to believe that happiness and self-worth come with that job or home or relationship or car or fill in the blank. All you need do is look to the nearest person you know that in your opinion has it all, and you will most likely see someone struggling just like you are. Achieving what you want will lead to great feelings, as it should, but those feelings are temporary and can never truly fill the void of uncertainty that comes with being human. Our culture is designed to make you feel that material wealth and possessions are the only way to self-worth and happiness and it simply isn’t true. Those things can ENHANCE your self-worth and happiness in many ways, but they can’t create what isn’t there to begin with. KNOWING our innate worth is essential. I want this for her more than anything. Right now it is still a bit of an intellectual concept to me, and I will continue to work on it, but I know that I will do everything in my power for her to know this truth.

That’s it so far. I’m still learning, still processing, and looking to my daughter who is my greatest teacher. When I think of all the atrocities in the world I feel overwhelmed and at a loss as to how to make it better. Then I remember that even the lost souls who attacked Brussels were someones baby once. They came into this world alive and loving, then something happened. Most likely they grew in an environment steeped in hate and violence, and their hearts closed for good. How would this world be different if our first priority was to teach our children how to live with an open heart? How to love and be loved, and to know the innate worth of not just themselves, but of every human being on this planet? I think it would be a different world indeed. My love and prayers go out to Brussels. Peace.



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1 Comment

  • Reply joanna March 23, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    this is so spot on and so informative I wish I could have been such a mom!!!!!! but how lucky and blessed am I that we all survived to be able to see all of this beautiful wonder and life!!!!!!

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