The other day I wrote about a mother who posted the question, “What should my four year old know?”. The question surprised me a bit and the answers from other mothers, with their ambitious lists, saddened me. Since then, I have been thinking a lot about her question and also about the response of the mother that I met last week at my daughters’ new school in Costa Rica: Speak kindly and show respect towards their peers and elders. Have good hygiene: Wash face, ears and private parts and wear clean clothes. Smile, play freely with their friends outside, and watch out for cars.
Two completely different cultures, languages and lifestyles. One thing in common: love. The love a parent has for his/her child is universal. We all just want the best for our children. We all wish for them to be happy, safe and well. And while we all make mistakes, this desire motivates us to become better, wiser parents and think about how we can achieve this ultimate goal by asking ourselves the question… what does it take to raise a happy, peaceful child? In this fast paced world, we often get wrapped up in what “they” want us to believe about what our children really need, and lose track of what we instinctively know is truly important for their wellbeing (and ours).
Last year our family visited Durika*, a community immersed in the jungle in the Southern Puntarenas area of Costa Rica. Although it is located only
12.5 miles from the nearest town, the road is so rocky (and intentionally remains that way) that it takes more than an hour in a 4×4 to get there… and when you do, you find pure paradise. No cars. No stores. No noise. Just nature and a group of wonderfully dedicated people that work every day to preserve it. Early to bed, early to rise. 3 square meals prepared with mostly homegrown food. Fresh air, spectacular mountain views, starlit nights.
We had just arrived in Costa Rica. It was Kenia and Havana’s first time returning to the country since Havana was born (6 years earlier).
There were four other children there. My daughters didn’t speak hardly a word of Spanish yet. There was no playground, television, videogames or toys.
They played all day long swinging on a heavy rope tied to a tree. We worked in vegetable gardens, harvested coffee, trimmed banana trees, milked the goats and brought them out to pasture. After only a few days, our new surroundings became a part of us. All that peace and beauty entered our very beings. The expressions of my daughters’ faces changed. The expression on my face changed. Perhaps for the first time in our lives together, all four of us were completely relaxed and comfortable with who and where we were at that very moment. It was all so simple and so incredible at the same time.
My girls were happy and safe and well and free.
I relearned so many things during our time spent at Durika, about life and simplicity and parenthood. Here is a list of things that I believe our children should know:
- They should know that they are completely and unconditionally loved in every moment. Children need to know that they are accepted for exactly who they are. Children who receive unconditional love will be capable of facing all types of difficulties and challenges in life.
- They should know that the world is magical and so are they. They should know that they are wonderful, brilliant, creative, loving and completely accepted and cherished for their individuality and not despite it. They should know that it is ok to be different.
- They should know the importance of telling the truth and that they never, ever have to be afraid to tell the truth. Mommy and daddy get angry for what they do not say, and not for anything “bad” they have done. They should know that they have someone who will truly listen to them and acknowledge their emotions.
- They should know that they are safe and should be taught how to deal with situations in diverse environments and among different types of people.
- They should know that they can trust their own instincts and should never do anything that does not feel right. They should be taught about limitations and their personal rights and how to protect themselves.They should know that they don’t have to feel good all the time. It is ok to cry or feel hurt or get angry. They should be taught ways to deal with these emotions in a positive way when they arise.
- They should know how to deal with difficulty. It is ok for them to feel chilly, hungry or bored. We don’t have to race to satisfy their every request. Many of our efforts to protect our children from discomfort simply weaken them and do not prepare them to deal with greater discomforts in the future.
- They should know how to laugh, be silly and use their imaginations. They need not stay between the lines and should be complimented for their purple tree, green sun and bear with wings.
- They should be able to follow their passions and interests and not be conditioned by competitive adults. They should not be pressured to learn numbers and letters, learn a second language or use a computer. When they are ready they will learn. In the meantime, let them fantasize about fairies and rainbows and three eyed monsters. Let them dance in the rain and get their hands dirty.
- They should be taught to appreciate nature and to love the outdoors. Man was not created to sit on a couch in front of a huge screen with one hand in a bag of chips and holding a remote with the other.
And if nothing else they should know:
- They should be taught that all people are equal. That we all have the right to clean water, healthy food, clothing and a roof over our heads.
- They should learn gratitude and loving kindness for life and all living things.
- They should know peace and happiness in their hearts. They should know how to spread their smiles**!
Wishing for you to encounter the greatest, most simple act of kindness – a heavenly smile!
*Durika is a community that is dedicated in projects related to conservation and reforestation, preservation of indigenous cultures and to a self- sufficient lifestyle (www.durika.org).
**Every morning before sending my daughters off for school I remind them to spread their smile. If it is grey outside I tell them that they will make everything sunny and bright. It is a nice little mommy-daughter ritual And it is so true! A smile is so simple and it makes everything just better. A smile is the best gift you can give to anyone whether you know them or not. In this world of serious people, arguments and work schedules, it is the best gift you can give to yourself! So let’s remember to smile!