An apple on the teacher’s desk and a lot of… questions

SCAN0042Kids are filled with questions.  Parenting is rife with endless questions too.  Rather than thinking that there is a right and wrong answer, let’s kick of this school year by striving for child-mind alongside our children.

When my older son was four or five, we happened to mention that there were once some really bad people called Nazis, and my kid became immediately fascinated with Nazis.  He had so many endless questions about everything from tall leather boots to Hitler’s cruelty and a thirst for any and all examples of how it was expressed, that we eventually had a faux-radio show when we were driving in the car:  “Good evening and welcome to Nazi Talk.  What is your question?”  And my son would ask them until we would say, “I’m sorry we only have time for one more question on this evening’s show, but we will be taking more questions next time on Nazi talk.”

Sometimes we have to keep ourselves sane, and/or amused, in the face of our children’s relentless questions, but it’s worth keeping in mind that when we value the questions, even more than the answers, we help teach our children to become learners; we teach them to be curious, and it is that very curiosity that will help them learn both how to learn, and how to enjoy not knowing things.  In contrast, lowered self-esteem assumes that one should be a know-it-all and this blocks learning, listening and, often, good relationships and fun.

It’s also worth mentioning that kids thrive on our attention.  Questions that demand a lot of words in return therefore reinforce our kids while “yes/no” questions don’t give a kid much, at least in the way of attention.  We don’t have to know why the sky is blue, we’ll have more fun and do more for our kids to ask them back, “Why do you think it might be blue?”  There will be plenty of time for science later on, and besides, much of what we think is the “truth” may later turn out to be incorrect (i.e. think about the days where bloodletting was a common medical treatment, or ancient Egyptians drilling holes in skulls as old-school answers to modern medicines).

So, as we stumble forward together this school year as parents, perhaps we will think about each others’ questions and strive to enjoy and appreciate them, not as a mark of parenting inadequacy, but rather as an emblem of child-mind and positivity.  Since we hope to take up parenting’s most compelling questions, even if we have no answers, please feel free to share your questions with me, via comments or emails:  the more unanswerable, probably, the better.  My hope is that if we find community in our questions we will be happier than if we find someone to answer our questions for us.

And in that spirit, let’s dedicate today, and this school year, to questions, asked in sincerity and pondered and wrestled with in honor and service of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce

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4 Responses to “An apple on the teacher’s desk and a lot of… questions”

  1. Laurie Says:

    Bruce, my son is 10 and an only child. He’s a wonderful bright boy but enjoys stirring the pot with us and friends. He seems to enjoy the drama it creates. It is not new behavior and we are always dialoging with him about the different situations. My latest is we all have the wolf inside it is whether we feed it or tame it. He does show remorse. My partner and I think we’ll try some Tai Kwon Do for the respect and discipline aspect of the sport. As always your insight is appreciated.

  2. Kevin Says:

    Over the course of the last year or so, I’ve been putting off facing my now nephew who is now a disturbed young adult. He has intermittently attempted to contact me during this time. My procrastination is partially due to a vague feeling of guilt about not having done more to help him during his childhood. But the other, and perhaps more compelling reason for avoiding him has to do with a more troubling enigma. Let me explain.

    Starting from a very early age and continuing on into early adolescence he had many broken attachments from caregivers. In addition to that he and his family must have moved to different locations more than a dozen times. There were signs that he was troubled as might be expected of any child under those circumstances – mostly stealing, lying, vandalizing. Over time, the behaviors worsened to the point of starting fires, truancy, fighting and on at least one occasion animal abuse. All of these occurred before even reaching middle school and only worsened later on. He also had learning disabilities that impaired his school performance. Over time, my sister began insisting that something more profound was wrong with him. She used terms like “bad seed” which enfuriated me every time I heard it. I felt that he was being blamed far too much for his behavior without addressing the root causes.

    It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began thinking that my sister was right. Could my nephew be a sociopath? During grad school while studying child development and reviewing some of the literature on sociopathy it began to dawn on me that my nephew fit the profile. He manipulated and hurt so many people with no sign of contrition.

    What can I do to help him while minimizing chances of inviting needless trouble and heartache? My sister and many others have resorted to shutting him out completely. And on some level it seems that I’m doing the same thing. But I’m not okay with this. With the exception of my nephew’s father, he has become a pariah to everyone who has been in close proximity to him for any length of time.

    So Bruce, these are my unanswerable questions: what is the most loving way for a parent to handle a situation when his or her child shows evidence of real sociopathy? Is that child and those around him or her doomed to experience extraordinary pain and misery?

  3. privilegeofparenting Says:

    Quite right, Kevin… Unanswerable. But I’m going to give this further contemplation (as it’s something I’ve thought long and hard on already). Perhaps in the meantime other readers will have some ideas.

    One thing I emphasize is that the Shadow is a part of us all, as a culture we project, and then attack, the Shadow in the other. Yet the mysteries of sociopathy may be intertwined with our DNA. Perhaps the more willing we are to see our selves in EVERY other, the less the ones carrying disproportionate darkness will be pushed to the extreme ends of the spectrum—and toward acting out as a way of connecting with the group.

    Does the Great White Shark hate the seal? Or does it love it so much it eats it? Maybe over enough lifetimes we are all the sociopath, learning about karma in the classroom of our world?

    Although this might sound new-agey, when a sociopath hurts someone we care about, or when a member of our family hurts others in this world, we rest uneasy and rightly feel that we can’t just turn away and ignore it, nor can we find all the “bad” people and lock them up for some imagined greater good. Truth is dark and light, and this lesson is repeating until we grasp it.

    A healing attitude about sociopathy might include a “disease” model (like AA) rather than a “badness” model which places all blame and responsibility on the one who already suffers with lack of empathy. Perhaps it is that they are so impaired in holding feelings, and not that they have no feelings, that compels them (unconsciously) to evoke feelings of fear and anger in other people (sort of a psychic transmission process of emotion).

    A disease model has its problems, but at least it might include a trend away from parent-blaming, which would free parents to see, and seek help for, darkness in their children rather than deny it (out of guilt and shame) where it grows ever more pronounced.

    Further evidence of the Shadow within is our culture’s level of interest in crime scene murder shows, viewed through the peep-holes of our personal screens, their popularity must tell us something about our zeitgeist, don’t you think?

    Still, I’ve been very humbled in my experiences with unique, flesh and blood sociopathic teens, and circle back to admitting that I have no satisfying answer, and so I’ll lean back against Jung who said, “That which we cannot be conscious of, materializes and meets us as our fate.”

    This does suggest that talking about darkness, caring about it, valuing our questions more than our answers… all might help us unify as a light-dark world and help us trend away from acting out (hurting and exploiting others) and toward greater consciousness.

    Thank you for your comments and questions. Namaste, Bruce

  4. Kevin Says:

    Thank you Bruce for your thoughtful reply. This is something that I too will continue to ponder. In the meantime, I’ve decided to contact my nephew to talk with him. Although he does carry disproportionate darkness, I don’t think he has no feelings. Maybe as you suggested he has little capacity to hold feelings and projects them on to others. I don’t know. I do believe that there is an ember of light that can be stoked. We’ll see what happens…

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