“There are times as a parent when you realize that your job is not to be the parent you always imagined you’d be, the parent you always wished you had. Your job is to be the parent your child needs, given the particulars of his or her own life and nature.” – Ayelet Waldman, writer
“… called him ‘Dad’ in public but reverted to Edgar at home.”
Earl’s bright red t-shirt with black lettering said, “I’m perfect but it’s not quite OK with me, yet!” Earl, named after his great grandfather, had just turned nine years of age. He was a big, bright, articulate, brown eyed boy bordering on obesity.
Earl’s mom, Emilia, and step-dad, Edgar had come in to see me first a few days earlier. They were both concerned with Earl’s well being. He did well in school academically but lacked the skills to make and keep friends.
They felt that his social isolation was contributing to his weight gain and increasingly making things worse for him. Recently, he had been accused of bullying another child in his class. Now his teacher was also concerned. He had been seen by the school guidance counsellor but to no avail.
When I asked his mom what she thought was going on with Earl, she said, he had been asking about his biological father over the past several months. And, she wondered if this had something to do with it. She went on to say Earl’s father, Ed, was still into the drug culture and made no effort to connect with him. And, Ed’s family, including his parents, Earl’s grandparents, lived out west and had little contact.
I inquired how Earl related to his step-dad, Edgar. They said he was close to Edgar and called him ‘Dad’ in public but reverted to Edgar at home. They also noted Earl had never actually met his father face to face or even seen a photograph of him so far.
The final point they made was that Earl was a friendly kid who was used to talking to people in authority, ‘suits,’ whether it was teachers, counsellors, doctors, or school principals.
“So, if I tell you a secret wish…”
So, when Earl arrived in his red t-shirt, I met a warm, engaging young boy full of questions about everything like, “Why is a broken coffee mug hanging on your wall?”; “Are those really Canada geese in the creek out your window? and “How long will we be talking today?”
Once I had assured him the mug was art, the geese were real Canada geese and we would be together for an hour, he settled down in the big rocking chair with an eager look on his face.
I explained my job and the rules about confidentiality. He listened carefully and demonstrating his quick mind and articulation skills, said,
“Do you mean what I say is a secret unless it’s against the law or it could hurt me or someone else?”
“That’s about it, Earl.” I said.
He continued, “So, if I tell you a secret wish, you have to keep it a secret too? Is that how it works, Ken?”
“You got it again, Earl!” I replied.
“How would your secret hurt Edgar?”
“Do you have a secret wish that you’d like to tell me, Earl?” I asked, wondering if he was ready to trust this ‘hired suit.’
“Well…kinda!…But I don’t want to hurt the people I love…that’s why it’s a secret, you know!” he said, flashing his big brown eyes at me like I was missing the obvious.
“Would you tell me who’s feeling you don’t want to hurt?” I asked, very carefully.
“Everyones! But especially Edgar!” he said, the concern dominating his young face as he twisted in his chair uncomfortably.
“How would your secret hurt Edgar?”
“His feelings might get hurt and he might think I don’t love him or something like that.” he replied.
“Well, since everyone’s feelings get hurt periodically in life and it is not illegal, I think it will be OK to share your secret with me, if you decide to do so, Earl, because I won’t tell him. And, there is something else you may find useful to help you decide.”
“What is that, Ken?” he asked.
“At every step the child should be allowed to meet the real experience of life;
the thorns should never be plucked from his roses.” – Ellen Key, writer
“Do you mean being embarrassed has a good part to it…”
“Do you remember a time when you thought someone hurt your feelings, Earl?”
“Oh yeah! Just the other day my teacher asked me why I hadn’t done my homework, right in front of my whole class. I was so embarrassed and felt really hurt.” he said with all the facial drama only a child can create when they feel ill used by an adult.
“I’ll bet you felt bad at that moment, eh? But Earl, what was the thing you learned that is really good and that you can use in the future to protect yourself from that kind of embarrassment?”
“The only thing I learned was to make sure, from now on, I have my homework done!” he said, the earnestness in his voice inflection and his youthful face.
“Earl, will that learning help you do well in school this year?”
“Yeah, I guess so!”
“And, will it help you do well next year and the year after that as well?” I asked him.
He gave me a look that said, ‘I think I’m getting this now.’ and replied, “Do you mean being embarrassed has a good part to it…like I’m learning to get my homework done?”
“That’s it exactly, Earl! And, everything having a good part and a bad part is the way everything works all the time.” I added to complete the idea.
“…I don’t see anything bad about it!”
“Do you mean there are no exceptions…always a bad and good part to everything?” he asked, his honest skepticism rising to the surface.
“No exceptions, Earl!”
“Not ever?” he asked.
“Not ever, Earl!”
“But, what about my birthday party last week? I got presents and cake…and ice cream. And, my friends and whole family were there. I don’t see anything bad about it!”
“You can best find the good and the bad together inside a single moment. So, tell me the best moment of your birthday party for you, Earl.”
He thought for a moment and replied with a big smile, “I guess that would be when I was getting ready to blow out the candles on my cake. I was so excited…it was great!”
“Earl, would you close your eyes right now and remember back to that very moment when you were so excited to be there blowing out your candles? OK?”
“…everyone I love was there at my party…except…”
Earl, with the innate self confidence with which he learned to walk eight years earlier, and with which every child is born, immediately closed his eyes. I continued,
“Earl, as you remember that special moment at its very best second…imagine yourself freezing that picture like we do with videos. So, can you see yourself frozen in that moment of excitement?”
“I sure can! My cheeks are full of air and I’m getting ready to blow out the candles on my cake…it had a hockey rink on top and blue icing all around.”
“Good work, Earl. Now, as you were getting ready to blow out your candles, there had to be something that wasn’t good at that same time, go and find it right now!”
Earl’s eyes were still slammed shut tightly. But, I could see his eyeballs under his lids moving back and forth looking for the information. Children are so unencumbered in their perceptions and have trust in their own ability to deal with life. I was reminded of this as I watched Earl looking for his answer.
Then, his eyes popped open and he blurted out, “Ken, everyone I love was there at my party…except…”
“Except who?” I asked gently.
“Every word, facial expression, gesture, or action on the part of a parent gives the child
some message about self-worth.” – Virginia Satir, psychologist
“… like when we put blue and red beads on a string at school.”
“Except my Nan. She has been at every birthday party I can remember, but she wasn’t at this one.” he said, the sadness engulfing him so much so that his eyes flushed.
“How come she wasn’t able to be there, Earl?”
“Ken, she died last winter, just before the holidays.” he said, his eyes continuing to glisten.
“I bet you have been missing her, and you especially missed her at your birthday party, eh?”
“Yeah!” he said, looking down for a moment.
“So the bad part of a great birthday party was your Nan not being there. Earl, that’s what every moment of my life is like…half good and half bad. But, what I want you to learn today is that it’s the way it is supposed to be…it’s how Mother Nature works…and it’s OK!”
“You mean missing my Nan is OK…even at my birthday party?” he said with a hesitation.
“Sure it is! Can you see how it helped you appreciate all the other people who were there?”
He replied, “It sounds like when we put blue and red beads on a string at school. First a blue and then a red, then another blue and then another red, and then another blue and then another red….my good party part and then the bad part of missing Nan, and then, my family and friends being there, and then, another bad thing like my grouchy Uncle Bert drinking too much that day.”
“Earl that’s exactly right! Now, you know one of the most important laws of Mother Nature which you will see everywhere. So, even if Edgar found out your secret wish…it would be good for him even if he felt hurt by it.”
“Listen to the desires of your children. Encourage them and then give them the autonomy to make their own decision.” – Denis Waitley, writer
“So, how come he ignores me.”
“Well, I’m gonna tell you then!” he said, a determination in his nine year old voice to get it out of his head.
“OK.” I said and waited.
“I love my Mom and Edgar. He treats me just like I’m his kid. But I’m not! I have another father who never calls me, visits me, sends me a birthday present…or even a card. I don’t know why, Ken! I didn’t do anything to him, unless it was when I was a baby and I don’t remember. So, how come he ignores me. I don’t even know what he looks like. I don’t know if I look like him or not. I don’t know anything except his name which is Edward! And, I wanna know…but I don’t want to hurt or embarrass Edgar cause he’s really my Dad anyway…but I still want to know about my other dad.” he blurted in what seemed like one breath, releasing all his hurt, frustration and confusion, simultaneously.
“This is a big deal for you, eh Earl? You really need to know about your biological father, Ed, and you need to know now!”
“Yes I do, but how do I not hurt my Mom, and especially, Edgar?”
“Well, because of that law of Mother Nature I mentioned, you can’t hurt your Mom, or Edgar, without helping them at the same time. Do you want to find out how that could be possible?”
“I sure do!” he said with a sense of doubt sprinkled with relief in his voice.
“…that I’m OK just as I am!”
And, that’s what we did. Earl, like most kids, intuitively thinks and feels close to Mother Nature. So, he was soon able to identify how it would serve both Edgar and his Mom, if he knew more about his biological father. He figured out quickly they were trying to protect him by keeping him in the dark about his first father.
He also realized that knowing more about his first father, Ed, would take some pressure off them and enable him to show his Mom and Edgar that he didn’t love them any less. Earl negotiated with his Mom about getting more information on his biological father. She gave him more details and showed him some pictures of him. As family discussions progressed, which included Edgar as well, she also told him he could contact him if he wished. Earl said he didn’t want to right now, but maybe later he might.
Earl still hasn’t decided whether he wants to contact Ed. But, he told me he feels even closer to his Mom and Edgar than before. And, he summarized his thoughts on the matter with this comment,
“I’m not sure I understand why Ed hasn’t kept in contact with me. Maybe I’ll ask him some day. But, I do know I’m loved because my Mom and Edgar tell me regularly. I guess that’s what I need to know the most anyway…that I’m OK just as I am!”
“Children are not casual guests in our home. They have been loaned to us temporarily for the purpose of loving them and instilling a foundation of values on which their future lives will be built.” – James Dobson, psychologist
Until Next time…
Now you know, everyone gets parented by someone otherwise they don’t survive. Since you are alive and well, you had the perfect parents for you to be who you are, do what you do and have what you have at this moment. That’s why you are OK! Notice who parented you and what you learned from them that has formed your life, to this very day. Appreciate them…and yourself!
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Our next seminar is entitled, “How to Bring balance to Life and Purpose to Work!” It will be on Saturday, January 28th, 2017. Details are available at ww.kenpiercepsychologist.com
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Namaste, (I salute the grandly organized design of the universe, manifested in you!)
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