ALL children need is to know that they are loved. That simple sentence has been the most poignant thing anyone has said to me for a long, long time. He’s right, this bloke. And he’d know. He was a broken-hearted little boy and he is now a beautiful father.
Repeat after me. All children need is to know that they are loved. Say it every day, have it tattooed on your forehead and write it in the sky. All children need is to know that they are loved.
I was reminded of this as I read a story about a Family Court judge in New Zealand who ruled that a girl named Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii could change her name. Her parents actually named her Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii. The judge then cited examples of children named Midnight Chardonnay, Number 16 Bus Shelter, Violence and twins called Benson and Hedges. Funny? Sure. A bit off topic? Absolutely. But it reminded me yet again that children do not need unusual names to make them special.
They are special. And all they need to know is that they are loved.
Kids don’t need an en suite, computer games, jumping castles, ukulele lessons, bandanas, ironed clothes, matching socks, fancy private schools, trophies, in-ground pools, electric toothbrushes and rooms full of toys.
They don’t need to have a bath every day. They don’t need their own room. It’s OK if they sleep in their clothes and have Weet-Bix for dinner in front of the telly every now and then. Lollies, plastic junk that gets broken underfoot, fancy renovations, junk food and outsourcing parenting are not good ways to love them. Loving them is the only way to love them.
It won’t spoil them. It won’t make them greedy. Loving them will teach them there’s enough to go round and there’s no need to be stingy. Loving children will teach them to love. Withholding love will teach them to withhold.
When I had my first child, I asked people what they did with their second child. There were a lot of uptight first children around and second and subsequent children generally seemed more relaxed. People said things such as happy parents equals happy baby, follow the child and don’t muck about with cloth nappies, just go the disposables. I thought to myself, I’m not going to treat this baby like he’s an only child. I’m going to treat him as if he’s got four brothers and sisters.
When my eldest was four days old, he wouldn’t stop crying. People were getting more and more anxious about trying to stop him crying. Pacing up and down the hall, patting, jiggling. The cries got louder and louder. I was lying on the bed and said: “Give him to me.” I held him and said: “You just cry as long as you want.” Calm descended. Instead of struggling with the reality (thanks to a few champagnes), I went with it. I used this technique many times and although it never stopped a baby from crying, a toddler from whinging, a child from nagging or a bunch of kids from squabbling, it stopped me from struggling with what was happening.
Around the age of 60, people seem to start looking back on their lives. Before then, they were too preoccupied living it. My new theory on parenting is to parent like a grandparent. All the grandparents I know look back on their parenting days and tell me they wish they’d been more relaxed and less controlling. They wish they’d enjoyed it more. Sure, get the homework done, teach them to be kind to each other, to help out and to wait their turn. It just means not going into conniptions when they leave their wet towels on the bathroom floor. It means stopping what you’re doing to give them a cuddle on the couch, tell them a story or lie together on the trampoline looking at the clouds. Just for a moment.
The wisest bloke I know is a cabinetmaker. His name is Michael Clarke. He’s 60 in January and has spent 45 years going into homes installing wardrobes, drawers and bookshelves to help people store their stuff. His wife’s a psychologist. The two of them have spent a great deal of time in other people’s lives and under their roofs. He told me they’ve come to the conclusion, with their vast and varied experience, that the only thing you can do for your kids is to get your own shit together.
When you were a kid isn’t that all you wanted? To know that you were loved and to feel that your parents were trying, and sometimes failing, but at least trying to get their shit together? Is it possible that it really is that simple?
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