The Education of Our Children
by Judy Ryan
“Consider the kingdom you have made and judge its worth fairly. Is it worthy of a child of God? Does it protect his peace and shine love upon him? Does it keep his heart untouched by fear and allow him to give always, without any sense of loss? Does it teach him that this giving is his joy, and that God Himself thanks him for his giving?”
A Course in Miracles
Note: No offense is intended by using this favorite quote that mentions God. If it feels better to substitute Love or another phrase, please do so and take this in with the intent in which I offer it.
I know many children are returning to school as I write this, and this has brought to mind the important lessons I have learned about what matters most to me when educating children whether they be actual children, or those that live within every adult I meet.
As a parent of my own five children, my first born in 1980 and my last born in 1997, I remember how determined I was to help each of them to become good citizens, who would be happy and loving, and who would find their way to living authentic, meaningful lives; ones they were intended to live. I just didn’t know how to do that as well as I wanted in the beginning.
Like most parents, I was limited by the exposure I had to parenting in my own family of origin, which was not terrible, but which had deficits that wounded me significantly. So, I wanted to build upon and improve the parenting I brought to my children. So, I went on a search. I knew I needed to consider new information if I wanted to set up a better experience for them. Otherwise I’d do what Einstein warned against when he said, “You can’t solve existing problems using the same thinking used to create them.”
So I set off to learn how to improve upon the existing parenting systems I knew. What I found in 1984 changed my life dramatically, as it did to the lives of my children, as well as many people I work with today in businesses, schools and homes. I had the good fortune to stumble upon a model that educated me in five critical components based on the work of Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Freud and Jung and other rising psychiatrists of that era.
Adler is the person who coined the phrase, “inferiority complex.” He believed that the conditions and conversations we provide either support feelings and beliefs of inferiority or worthiness, but not both. He said that when they regularly support inferiority, people fall into a state of continuous struggle within themselves and with others. Based on how much of our world today struggles in uninterrupted fashion internally (we are the most medicated, addicted, obese, and indebted people to date), and interpersonally (have you watched the news lately?), all point to us that we are missing the crucial understanding, conditions and conversations critical for joyful and caring lives.
Adler’s psychology was called individual psychology because he focused on how each person forms their belief system (especially in childhood) and why they become either successful in their life and work, or not. He offered keys that have unlocked the door to effective (re-)parenting of myself, my children and many others, so that each has been able to experience joy, hope and the ability to be helpful. I offer them to you now for your wellbeing and for those you love, too:
1. We are social beings. And we must experience belonging and significance to function well. When conditions and conversations create this effectively, we feel empowered, lovable, connected and contributing. This is the most important concept to reflect on as parents, educators, and leaders; as human beings. Most of what we do in our homes, schools, communities and businesses does not make people feel these feelings. Instead our centuries-old most common practices more-often-than-not make people feel small, invisible, insignificant, isolated, and disposable.
Here’s one sign of thought patterns that support this as if it’s a fact: “You can’t be a good parent and a friend,” or “You can’t be a good boss and be a friend.” I agree with these statements if the conditions and conversations you support are based in power-over, control methods such as being autocratic, using rewards and incentives, bestowing positive and negative judgments, or spoiling and pampering others, all in an attempt to coerce and compel compliant or helpful behaviors from them. In my experience, these are the generally accepted ways of operating in most homes, schools and businesses. Not only do many of our current practices hurt children and influence them to be unhelpful to themselves and others, they continue to hurt the children who live within each of us.
2. We are subjective. We have our own individual private logic about how one can belong and find significance. Our children are watching us, and our behaviors, making interpretations, creating neuro-connections that stimulate (and re-stimulate) emotions and physical reactions, as they decide how life works, what’s possible for them within it, and what is basically true, even when its not. Again, such as, “You can’t be a good parent and be a friend” as just one seemingly harmless, but lethal example. Our children need to first learn to express and uncover their beliefs and biases, understand how they formed them, and to be ok revealing them, in order to consider (and challenge) especially those that do not result in effective functioning in life and work. Yet most adults do not encourage this type of interior reflection, receptivity and examination of multiple perspectives, and deductive reasoning about ones’ private logic and that of others.
3. We are purposeful. Whether we are aware of it or not, all of our thoughts, words and deeds are in service to our above, subjective private logic and social needs, including how we reinforce beliefs about life in general and about ourselves in particular. Therefore it’s helpful for children (of all ages) to recognize positive and negative patterns and look for those that are serving purposes based in fear and limitation and those based in love and possibility. They need to be able to track back from their results to understand and correct limiting thoughts and intentions. They can be led to not only see the purposes of their behavior but also examine the beliefs that drive them.
4. We are self-determining. We are constantly making macro and micro (often unconscious) impacts on what’s happening to us, around us, and within us, causing us to create our own reality to a much larger extent than we’d ever imagine. We do this all the time, including children. That’s why I believe it is particularly important to teach them that they have extensive personal power, so they might use it and their minds to self-determine best outcomes and the way to highest functioning. If we just focus on getting their compliance, we allow them to remain ignorant of the power they are already wielding, often without informed reasoning or positive intent.
5. We are holistic. This is my favorite one of all. In it, Adler is saying we are all just working to get past the feelings and beliefs of inferiority we contract like an illness, and in that attempt, we are all alike. None of us is different from the murderer who killed someone to fit into a gang or the greatest saint. We just have the chance to see the positive intention behind all behavior so we don’t shut down in fear and shame and instead learn the way through. The only difference between us and a murderer or saint, may just be that we perceive other options for belonging and significance than another person. If Adler is right and we are all doing our best to feel worthy, consider the quote at the top of this article and reflect on this: are you creating the conditions and conversations that bring about the best in all you meet, especially any you parent or lead?