In this issue, we look at the fifth step of the series for parents on how to empower and launch your child into adulthood. The key point from our introduction was that the underlying goal of healthy parenting is to prepare sons and daughters to be self-reliant, independent individuals who are at home on this planet and in the culture in which they plan to live.
5. Help your child discover their unique strengths
Our current cultural methods do not support the nurturing of many of our children: their strengths or uniqueness. "No Child Left Behind" is not about celebrating or honoring the individual, and how he/ she would best expand, learn, and grow. Instead, it trains kids to conform and to become good consumers who do not make waves.
This type of "assembly line" education is one reason why many youth believe "something is wrong with them". The system does not match their interests or utilize their learning styles. Many of these children think they are stupid and won't amount to anything, even if they are exceptionally bright and talented in many areas.
We forget that so many of today's children fit outside the box of the traditional educational system. We try to mold children to be like everyone else. Their gifts need to be recognized. Kids can become depressed, bored and find it hard to connect with other people when their gifts are unrecognized. They may turn to addiction, gangs, violence or even commit suicide because a vital part of who they are feels like it is being rejected.
This gives our children two choices: either conform to the cultural norms or rebel. The conformist will learn to squelch their own gifts and do whatever they can to "fit in" even at the cost of their inner identity. They will never feel fully appreciated for who they are. The rebel will take one of two roads. They may become "hopeless" and reject parents, school, religion and anything to do with a culture that gave them no way to be authentic in a positive way. Or, they will become a hopeful rebel who will try to transform the culture by working within it or at least on the fringes of it.
One of the ways parents can support their children is to recognize that each one comes with their own soul identity. The deeper nature, that we call the soul, holds the seeds of who they could become. When the environment supports a human being in their natural growth (stages of human development), there is a high potential for that "soul-seed" to produce incredible fruit that benefits us all.
If you can nurture and receive your child at the soul level, they will grow up with an authentic sense of their purpose and meaning. They will find learning and growing both rewarding and exciting. They will have the courage to move through rough life transitions (childhood to adolescence to adulthood to Elder). The problem is, our current society is basically an adolescent culture, which means many of us haven't fully made our own passage into full adulthood. Bill Plotkin, in his book Nature and the Human Soul, is exceptional in contrasting a society that honors the authenticity that produces mature adults and one that does not.
Parents can help their children by their personal expansion and by healing their own childhood wounds to follow a path with "soul". If your life is still a reaction to your parents, (attempting to prove dad wrong or still wanting his approval), or to social class expectations, you may not have moved into the "soulful identity of adulthood" and have some work to do. Notice if you are holding onto jobs or relationships that no longer feed your soul. Remember we lead our children more by our examples, than by our words. If you want them to become bright shining empowered individuals, you must lead the way.
Second, find a way to be present with your child. Listen to them with an open mind and try to hear what they are saying. Try to hear the "real me" that needs support in order to come through. In the Disney movie Hook, starring Robin Williams, there is a great scene that mirrors this. One little lad - one of Peter's old childhood friends - tweaks and twists the face of the grown-up Peter Pan. He finally finds just the right angle, smiles and says, "Oh there you are Peter!"
The greatest gift you can give your child is to seek to recognize their true self or soul self. It will give them a sense of "belonging" that we all need to be able to move out of childhood and begin our journey to become authentic and thriving adults. What we all long for more than anything else, is for someone to see us for who we truly are.
About the authors:
Randy and Colleen Russell direct Parent Workshops for Empowering Young Adults and lead workshops and coaching for families and individuals. For more information call 208-255-2290 or visit Empoweringyoungadults.com.