Monday, December 03, 2018

Should I stay or should I go?

When is it better to encourage children to keep going with something hard, as opposed to allowing them to withdraw from the fray?

Parenting in the early years involves making these choices for someone else. "He doesn't want to do swimming / football / beavers / the party. And a) he's free to decide or b) it'll be better for him in the long run if he does."

While responsibility for others clarifies the sensation of struggle in these decisions, it is a struggle we fight always, long and hard, on our own behalf.

Rowan Williams dedicates a chapter of Silence and Honeycakes (about the early Christian desert fathers and mothers) to 'fleeing'. And another to 'staying'. Hermits 'flee' the world and it might be seen as escapism. But Williams talks about the courage and determination it takes to face up to one's terrifying self largely in isolation, without distracting stimulation to sweeten reality.

'Staying' is also part of the deal: a hermit (or monk, nun etc) is committed to one, usually small, place forever or at least the long-term; to living alongside a small set of people, however irritating; to completing the same, simple tasks day after day, without hope of 'success' (or even progress).

This might seem safe and dull. But it can take courage, determination and discipline to stick at something in this way.

I once wondered if people fell into two 'types'. I might have put myself in the 'flee' category. Or, more favourably, described myself as an independent adventurer.

I am learning to see a bit more nuance, more depth. When I'm doing something, be it a relationship, a conversation, a task, I tend to compulsively stick at it until it (or I) is finished. This is my Stay self. It can be very good. But since few things in life really can be 'finished' and some completions leave a bitter taste in the mouth, what better permission to let go of these duties than a brave new world of 'fleedom'  - new job, break-up, new city, etc? Armed with this self-understanding, I'd like to think I'm a bit better at making those choices.

There is no blanket rule of right or wrong in these choices. But getting to know ourselves really well (which in itself is a kind of dogged insistence on staying put) helps us see what's really going on behind our decision making.

And, I expect, a similarly tenacious insistence on paying attention to our children can help parents guide them towards good choices, too.