We are knitting around the kitchen table while the babies nurse and children play about us. Mariah and I are having one of those familiar mama conversations where you leave out words, make gestures, and generally talk above the heads of the littles. My ten-year-old is tucked between us, knitting and listening. You can’t talk over her head anymore. She isn’t a little anymore, and not a woman yet either. But she knows she can sit and listen to the women if she doesn’t jump in the conversation. So she keeps knitting and listening. She knows we know she is listening; we are including her in the circle — she just can’t join in the discussion yet.
From these afternoons my eldest is learning all sorts of information that will benefit her on the path of womanhood. She learns how adult friendships flourish. Listening to our complaints and jokes, she learns the harder moments of motherhood. Other families have cash flow issues too; everyone gets frustrated and angry sometimes; everyone second guesses themselves, and everyone needs an understanding shoulder. Not even fully aware of what she is doing, she is setting herself up for the day she can join the conversation. She is trusted, she is accepted.
I know this girl sitting between us won’t always spend hours on the swing outside, or converse incessantly about Hogwarts. As I look towards her future for ways to support her, I have to meditate deeply.
Meditation has led me to this. If there is one thing children can carry into their adulthood, it is their character. Which leades to a new mediation: what exactly can we do to foster balanced and complete character in our young people? How is character defined?
For our children, I think character means a knowledge of their truth, their true selves, and the ability to recognize and adapt to the needs they see around themselves. We would want the children to grow to value their intrinsic unique self — but find a comfortable place of concern for others, their community, the earth, and world at large.
I would hope that the children know this as they set foot on their own paths:
You are supported, you are needed, you are valued.
You are a tiny speck on the continuum of humanity, a tiny speck that can make all the difference — with the aide of all the other specks. You are not alone.
You are not alone (not when you wish you were, not when you wish you weren’t).
You — and everyone else — is whole, radiant, and complete. Respect yourself and others.
What can we do to aid our children in holding this knowledge? Let them practice.
Give them practical (age appropriate) work within our household. So they might learn how to run a household, learn how to take care of themselves and others. So they might take pride in our home and their contribution.
Let them see us helping others, give them the opportunity to help too. So they might recognize the reciprocal cooperation and support of our community.
Let them join in some of our struggles. That they might reason, life is not always smooth — but we can handle it.
Let them join in anything. Our conversations, our yoga classes, coffee rituals, anything (age-appropriate, of course).
Give them, their friends, and their generation respect.
If young childhood was about always having my arms full of them, late childhood is about always having my mind full of them. Even more attendance is called for as I field questions, and provide footsteps worth following. My ultimate goal is that their feet soon stand next to mine in the circle.
For our family, supporting and respecting our children on the path to adulthood means offering them responsibility, protecting their free will, and embodying the value of responsibility as an honor. I am honored to be the person responsible for their care, honored to do the work required in that care. May they find as much joy in their callings.
Sherene Cauley and her husband live in Maryland with her their two daughters and joyous baby boy. As a childcare provider and yoga teacher, she spends her days learning about and attending to the day to day work of growing up. She journals about their journeys on their blog.