When my daughter was just shy of her first birthday, we joined a toddler class. Every week, a dozen or so parents and the instructor would quietly observe the children, in an effort to raise “authentic” and “competent” human beings, with a minimum of intervention.
One afternoon, a little boy toppled off a slide and began to cry. His startled father hugged the child and said in a comforting tone, “You’re all right.” A moment passed. Then the instructor said, “Children don’t cry when they’re all right.” It seemed harsh at the time. But I soon realized that it wasn’t empathy that was being discouraged; it was telling even a small child what he was supposed to feel.
Each week, the instructor would prepare a snack area on the floor. If a child wanted bananas and juice, he or she had to put aside the toys, sit down, and put on a bib. It was totally optional. But there were requirements. And it was astonishing to watch as these tiny children made their choices. Some went in for the snack in the first or second week. Others took longer. All of them got there eventually.
I’ll never forget how I felt the first time my daughter had the snack. Crazy as it sounds, I was really moved by her little act of independence and the obvious satisfaction it gave her. Now, as my children near adolescence, I try to remember that I can guide them, but I can’t tell them what to think or feel. I can try to teach them to make good choices, but ultimately, they must be trusted to choose. And if they know what they want – if they can learn to recognize that special light inside themselves—and if they are brave enough to follow it—they will be satisfied.
And that will be enough for me.
Dee Dee Myers has the distinction of being the first woman to serve as the White House Press Secretary. She is currently a Managing Director at The Glover Park Group, a Washington D.C. based public affairs firm. www.gloverparkgroup.com