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The Most Important Thing We Can Do

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This weekend I heard a quote attributed to Arnaud Desjardins:

"The unmet needs of the child become the desires of the adult."

That simple statement struck my heart and I realized that the most important, most basic thing we can do for our children is to meet their needs so that, as much as possible, they can grow into adults free from attachment to desire.

Desires based on our unmet childhood needs drive us relentlessly towards their fulfillment - to the detriment of our being. We lose the ability to make conscious, sane choices. We spin hopelessly down the spiral of addiction. We struggle, in varying degrees, with suffering and depression. Feelings of self-worth and self-hatred are tied to having our needs met as children. When we begin to doubt our worth, we look outside of ourselves for validation. We will never find it out there. Neither will our children.

Children will let us know what they need if we listen to them. They will insist on telling us if we let them. We need to be able to put our own preferences aside and attend to the child. Depending on the degree to which our own needs were met in childhood, this may or may not be easy to do. If we can break through our own mechanical resistance, to provide “what is needed and wanted in the moment”* we can be surprised to find we are recipients of a rush of unconditional love. Fulfilling children's needs is the most important thing we can do for them and for the future of human beings and the planet.

 

* a statement coined by Lee Lozowick

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Juanita lives in the Canadian Rockies and has been a mother for nearly forty years. She has three children with a 22 year age spread between the oldest and the youngest. During this time Juanita has also worked with youth in a variety of capacities including as a rehabilitation worker in the public school system and as program director and facilitator for a local youth group centre.


Magic and mysteries have been a life-long pre-occupation of Juanita's and she has published one book Almanac of the Infamous on the unexplained and unsolved. She also is known for her mystery entertainment parties (mysteryfactory.com) for children and grown-ups. Staying in touch with a playful spirit and miraculous possibility is something that she feels is vital to passing on to our children and retaining as adults.

Comments

  • Guest
    Nancy Lewis Friday, 07 November 2014

    Right on, Juanita. Listening to what our children are telling us in word and action and responding appropriately to their needs is indeed the most important thing we can do. Well said.

  • Rick Lewis
    Rick Lewis Saturday, 08 November 2014

    I think I know what you mean when you say we need to be able to put our own preferences aside and tend to our children, but sometimes I think our children suffer because we don't know what our real preferences are, or we've suppressed them, and so we do not model clarity, commitment, and adult behavior by having a connection to our own vision and priorities, which would allow us to demonstrate what it looks like for a person to make their highest point of contribution to the world. I'll get really provocative and say that parents who justify and cover up their own lack of direction or clarity by "devoting" themselves to whatever is wanted and needed on behalf of their children are engaging in a form of child abuse. It positions the child as central in the adult's world and terrifies the child because the child needs the adult to have an orientation that is larger in context than the child himself to feel held and safe. The trick is to hear and understand the real needs of the child behind the ways in which it might be asked for. If I take what my child is communicating about his or her needs at face value, and take my child's expressed needs literally, then I'm not always doing them a favor since the child him or herself doesn't fully understand those needs. The listening and responding obviously has to come from the wisdom of the adult, who understands the root of human need and that "I want that toy!" or "leave me alone!" are not statements that necessarily warrant a literal response. They might just be cries for help, that if we could translate them properly might just mean, "Please get a life dad!" Of course we need to be responsive, connected, and surrendered to our kids. I'm not disputing that. I just think that step might come after we really know who we are and what we are here for in a much bigger picture even than parenting and then that surrender will provide a deep sense of sanctuary to our kids. If we haven't done that work then the same "surrender" just creates anxiety for them.

  • Guest
    Everett Sunday, 09 November 2014

    Hi Juanita,

    Parents need less reasons to be hard on themselves. The idea that we could possibly meet every child’s need is a recipe for failure and may not even be the right recipe. We are all born into this world with karma’s, even our innocent ones. There is no way we can prevent them from desire and suffering in their adult lives. It is part of our work as incarnate creatures – and it will be part of theirs. Besides, there are equally valid times when it is appropriate to not pander to every need. We don’t want to set our children up with bourgeois suffering either do we? How many children have no shoes, education or even food? So much of what we get overly excited about comes from a very privileged perspective, and so much of what we think a child might need, may come from our own sense of entitlement and desire – dangerous waters indeed.

    Everett

  • Karl
    Karl Monday, 17 November 2014

    I wish i'd read your response before writing mine. It would have saved me much time.

  • Karl
    Karl Monday, 10 November 2014

    In response to this consideration I believe that there is no better or special efforts, to provide for your child’s needs other than to be happy, mature, people busy with their own creative lives as a model of for our children.
    “It is easier to exemplify values than teach them.” Theodore Hesburgh
    My experience with children’s needs was not at all ambiguous. “I need a PlayStation”, “…a motorized go-cart”, etc. “ I need/want”, loud and clear. (Discrimination, and patience was what was needed from me.)
    Consider what are ‘legitimate needs’ as opposed to a child’s desires, and our desires for them. Food, shelter, safety, stability and ‘love’. Love needs practical definition or it’s another meaningless word by virtue of its catch-all ambiguity. So I’ll restate it for now as ‘unconditional acceptance’.
    So, “Fulfilling children's needs is the most important thing we can do for them and for the future of human beings and the planet.” So this seems a bit of a sweeping generalization, which I don’t agree with. One big solution that is undoable to boot.*

    Is the author of that statement saying get them whatever they ask for or you believe they are asking for and ‘it’s all good’? Sounds like it’s a parents obligation to provide no questions asked no payment required. How about an old practice that children have chores and the satisfactory accomplishment of these chores earns the money or age appropriate privileges? You want work? Coming up with chores and monitoring them is a real work out.) Getting what you want by earning it can give a real sense of accomplishment and a useful outlook on life. As opposed to being given everything. Think about this.
    (Most of us live in an incredibly privileged existence that we don’t understand or appreciate. I don’t know that you can really get this without some sort of experiential reference.)

    By the way, we cannot guarantee safety, despite our best efforts. And stability seems to be getting more difficult outwardly. But then through our own constancy we can provide a real measure of stability notwithstanding outer circumstances. I believe this is innate to everyone in the school.

    But what if you don’t believe that you are whole perfect and complete as you are, if you don’t believe that you have self-knowledge, if you don’t have self-acceptance? That seems the unaddressed assumption of some as evidenced by the initial consideration.

    Just about all parents love their children, definitely so in the school, so that’s not the issue. When you trust yourself you are better able to relax and respond out of your/our innate condition of organic innocence, than if your assuming that you need to listen for something special or somehow get something right. This situation of assuming that you need to ‘get it right’ creates a kind of hyper vigilance that distorts perception and action.

    There is the notion that there is a better way than the natural way, that one needs to somehow do it better or right is a kind of seeking perfection. There is no such thing. The ‘best’ of parents, if there is any such, has difficult stressful times when they will say and do things that they would not have at another time. That’s life. And those shortfalls can have great value if accepted and not denied out of some sense that any mistakes are a sign that your not properly ‘loving’ your child.
    And we can’t guarantee our children will have easy, ‘normal’, stress free lives, fortunately. Life demands being lived on its terms not ours. We don’t have a choice about much of what’s coming down the pike at us. But we do potentially have a choice as to whether we react or respond.
    See the attached short documents.

    Have you ever seen documentaries of indigenous peoples village life? People are just living their lives simply not fretting about everything. And yes, our lives are not as simple and of such ‘whole cloth’. We don’t live in community nor have we ever experienced organic community, where life takes care of itself without our help.

    So what to do if you believe you need advice, (from whom, which expert)? until you’ve had enough experience to trust yourself - until you’ve read and talked and listened and feel some self trust and have some self- knowledge out of personal experience? (Why listen to your mother!) Perhaps ‘do’ as little as is not really necessary (see necessity list above,) not doing what isn’t requested, excluding the obvious needs of providing for health and safety.

    I’m mostly talking to mothers here. They are more identified with the earlier years of children’s growing up. Fathers can get identified with there sons when they get older. A father’s job is simpler but not necessarily easier. Perhaps the clearest information I’m presenting here.

    “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”
    – Fr. Theodore M. Hesburgh

    *Perhaps as important as the primary ideas about parenting explored above, it is worth re-noting the assumption that life can be lived out of simple sweeping comprehensive moral directives thus avoiding struggling with ambiguities and complexities.
    “…the Third Force implies that no moral dogma is comprehensive enough to inform one involved in The Work on how to act in alignment with the Creative principle in every possible situation.” Is this statement valid?

  • Guest
    Juanita Wednesday, 12 November 2014

    These responses are great although I am a little surprised at how quickly the statement 'what a child needs' is interpreted as everything they ask for.

    Thank you Karl for your comment. The first sentence sums it up nicely and your final statement sounds valid to me.

  • Guest
    Juanita Wednesday, 12 November 2014

    Hi Rick, Hi Everett,

    You both raise good points. Thank you for your contributions to this posting
    .
    I agree, though I hadn't thought about it with such clarity before, that knowing who we are and what we are here for is a foundational piece of work - whether we are parenting or not. This is a splendid consideration and I believe that if we are conscious of that 'piece' of our lives, many other pieces will naturally fall into place.

    In the meantime, however, children need to be fed, hugged and guided, even if we don't know what ground we are standing on. Perhaps it would be useful to have some distinctions and definitions need to be in place.

    In the case of being attentive to our children and their needs we have to be able to discern what is needed rather than what is wanted and to understand that what is needed can be a 'no'. I totally agree that a privileged pandering can create a dangerous situation and unnecessary suffering. I think that most of what children need is our attention and our understanding and if we can give them that, in a healthy way, then we will know what their true needs are. I will probably need to raise another ten children to test this hypothesis though (and that is not going to happen), so I'm just going to go with my best understanding based on my experience to date. What do you think?

    Regarding the statement that "Parents need less reasons to be hard on themselves", while true, also needs some qualifying. A distinction needs to be made between being 'hard on ourselves' as a judgemental self-hatred, and 'being hard on ourselves' as a requirement of self discipline. When we are hard on ourselves it behooves us to discover which type of being hard on ourselves is happening.

    In my experience and observation, if we are not able to be gentle with ourselves, we are equally unable to be gentle with others, including our children. Sure, we might be able to not act on or communicate our judgements most of the time but they still take us away from reality.

    Thank you once again for your comments. It is through diverse discussion that value can be made available.

  • Bhadra Mitchell
    Bhadra Mitchell Sunday, 16 November 2014

    Hi Juanita! I like this entry a lot. I have lived and continue to live the results of not being paid attention to or of having my needs not met, which in some ways are one in the same.

    I do think there is an edge and skill to meeting our children’s needs. Identifying real needs versus desires requires skillful means as children get older. When children are infants, it is crucial that attention is paid to them then for that is when most survival strategies are created and when children feel “that fall from grace,” which actually begins to develop the psyche. The development of the psyche versus essence, is development of a survival strategy that incorporates all the perceived unmet needs of the being.

    The whole consideration of organic innocence, which I interpret in part to be feeling the connection to the divine, falls away when the being experiences neglect, rejection, lack of care at an early age.

    I don’t think we can subvert the desire machinery. I think it is hardwired into the human being and is in fact fuel for spiritual development. I do agree that when children’s real needs are met at an early age and throughout (with the caveat of understanding what real needs versus desires are as they get older), their ability to make more conscious choices in their future lives is facilitated.

    Instilling in a child the sense of self worth comes from attention, love and modeling that for ourselves. The modeling part for ourselves is ever and always the ongoing challenge as we guide our children along their paths. It is often more what we do, then what we say that really provides the self-worth directive. Therein lies the beauty of parenting as a spiritual path. We have to continually work on ourselves and strive for our own development so that children see what it is to live a more conscious life.

    Finally, in chapter 3 of Lee’s book on conscious parenting, he spends a great deal of time discussing the fact that there are two basic dispositions that human beings feel: loved or unloved. If children feel loved in the very first two years of their lives, then the unconscious motivating factor of feeling loved will sustain them throughout their lives and provide a strong basis for self-worth.

    Best,
    Bhadra

  • Guest
    Juanita Wednesday, 19 November 2014

    Thank you Bhadra. Dare I say not only does it take a village to raise a child it takes a village to write a blog about raising a child.

  • Guest
    Karuna Fedorschak Saturday, 10 January 2015

    Juanita,
    Thanks for this pithy point about the impact of un-met needs in childhood. In truth, childhood needs have and will go un-met. We, as parents, will fail to meet many of our child's needs. We, as adults, suffer our un-met early needs. What can be different? I think the difference can be a conscious parent's intention to bring a quality of attention and witnessing to their relationship with children such that children are held in an embrace that is bigger than the particulars. Such a vision encompasses human failings-both our own and others. The degree to which we can be with the reality of the moment with children, is the degree to which we model the way to work with the circumstances of life. By the way, I noticed you attribute "what is wanted and needed" to Lee Lozowick, but I believe this phrase was coined by Werner Erhardt, and is a concept used throughout Landmark education.
    Cheers,
    Karuna

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