Bits and Bites of Everyday Life

 

'Be of love a little more careful than of anything'

Advice from children on how to be better parents

By Geneviève Hone
True North Perspective

Geneviève Hone is a grandmother, family therapist and social worker.  With her husband, Julien Mercure (also a family therapist), she has co-authored three books on couples and family life. Her home on the web is www.hone-mercure.com/index_hone_en.php.

 
  Painting by Julien Mercure.

“So what has Alberte written about this week?” asks my husband as I walk into the room holding Alberte’s latest TNP article, Choosing to live with love on a daily basis. He knows I like to gather inspiration from my friend’s writings and use her thoughts as a launching pad for my own articles. He remembers also that no later than yesterday I had announced that “If Alberte gives me half a chance, I’m going to write about Santa Claus.”

At first glance, there is not much Santa Clausy stuff in my friend’s latest article. Alberte who never shies away from difficult issues has written about violence, bullying, family dysfunction, incompetent parenting. Not exactly light fare, though as always, she has managed to share hope along with anguish.

I sigh: “You remember my ‘love poster?’ Well she wrote about that.” My husband does remember the poster that was dragged from my life in college and university into his life when we put our lives together. He had always liked the poster and understood its significance to me as a spouse, a parent and a family therapist. The poster finally crumbled of old age, heavily scarred from rusty thumb tacks and dried up Scotch tape. We mourned it briefly and probably used it to start the next morning’s fire in our wood stove, but we never forgot the saying: “Be of love a little more careful than of anything.

My husband laughs as he plunges back into his newspaper: “Good luck with Santa Claus!” “I’m going for a walk”, I announce. He chuckles again, “Going to meet some people, are you?”

This fellow knows me too well for my own good, I grumble to myself. He knows that my morning walks are my favorite times for meeting the people I need to converse with at a given moment. I’m quite good at conjuring up people from my past, my present and what I imagine to be my future and if these “real” people don’t suffice, I’ll invent a few and make them as real as I need to. This morning, I need to have a serious talk with some seven year olds. Seven year olds are delightful creatures. They are old enough to be capable of faith, hope and occasional charity, they have a wild imagination, and they are not afraid to share their opinions however uninformed they may be.

Today, the seven year olds take their jolly good time showing up in my brain and heart. Probably stayed up way past their bedtime. No matter. I have other things to think about as I start my walk. I turn a corner and a few minutes later pass by the house I lived in when I was training as a family therapist. “Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by your clients’ suffering” my supervisors would repeat again and again. “Your clients, including children, don’t need your pity; they need your support and that of their community. They have resources and with the proper help, they might be able to pull out of their doomsday scenario. Take their problems seriously but take their inner resources just as seriously.”

So I began to ask children and parents alike: “If somebody appeared by your side when you are going through tough times as you are now, and this person loved you, understood you, and supported you unconditionally, what would this person say or do to help you through this rough spot?” An answer I never forgot came from a bright, tough as nails, already cynical seven year old, who shyly declared: “It would be Santa Claus. I know he’s checking who’s naughty and nice, but my grandma says he doesn’t mind because he’ll love the little children anyway. It doesn’t matter that I’m bad.”

It’s probably then and there that I began to respect and gradually come to like Santa Claus. Prior to this moment, with great arrogance, I had classified him as yet another example of crass commercialism. It took a seven year old to make me realize that Santa can be a symbol of love, tolerance and generosity. No wonder Jesus assured us that the Kingdom of heaven belongs to the children!

The seven year olds have finally joined me on my walk. Mention Santa and kids of that age will come out of the woodwork if that’s where they have been hiding. Today, I have a question for them. It’s not “Is Santa Claus real?” They know he is. At seven, they have of course already been told by big brothers and sisters that Santa does not exist. But, they are old enough to make informed decisions, or so they think, and these kids are true believers. One little girl put it quite nicely: “Personally I don’t know if Santa is real, but I choose to believe he is.”

No, my question is not at all related to the existence of Santa. It concerns his wardrobe: “Why does Santa Claus always wear red?” Didn’t see that one coming, eh? The kids immediately start debating hotly and I shall spare you the arguments they throw at each other, sometimes using words not meant for polite company. Suddenly, one of them comes out with an answer that stops me in my tracks: “Santa wears red because red is the colour that says: ‘Stop, look and listen.’” And then he adds, with the tone of one who has considerable experience in the matter: “Stop, look and listen will help you learn to behave. Sometimes you really need to stop what you’re doing, look around to see if you’ve been seen, and next time, listen to your mommy.”

All families behave “badly” at times, for one reason or the other. Every human being has experienced fatigue, stress, anxiety and illness and the pain affects the functioning of the whole family. People may feel trapped, powerless, haunted by a painful past and incapable of receiving and giving love. They cry out for help but too often in a way that pushes loved ones away. It is as if they are dancing to a song from a broken record and are stuck with forever repeating steps that lead nowhere. The melody of what used to be a love song has transformed into a horrible noise or worse still, a terrible silence, and the words that once were beautiful now express only confusion and pain. Parents and children no longer know how to “be of love a little more careful than of anything”.

I call the seven year olds back to my thoughts. “What should I do to help families where there is lots of yelling and people are not happy?” Well, apparently kids, at least this bunch, like discussing families almost as much as Santa Claus. They very quickly come up with a long list of suggestions. “Make the dads listen when their kids tell them about school. Make the mommies understand that tummies hurt when they fight with daddies. Make the parents listen to their kids’ ideas. Make the dads notice when their kids just had their hair cut. Make the daddies say ‘thank you’ to the mommies when mommies make dinner. Make the mommies understand that sometimes it really isn’t the kids’ fault. Make the daddies’ voice softer. Make the mommies and daddies say “sorry” too. Make the mommies look at us when we’re interrupting their TV show. Make the daddies say our new boots are nice. Make the parents understand that kids are little even when they look like big kids. Make them understand that cupboard ghosts exist even when kids are older.”

In other words, mommies, daddies, STOP, LOOK and LISTEN!

I thank the seven year olds, send them on their way and head home. My husband asks: “Met any interesting people?”

“I sure did and they helped me figure out a few things about life and love. I’ll tell you all about it. But I am worried about Santa Claus. You know, he is clinically obese, he binges on cookies, he’s obsessed with lists, he’s badly jet lagged, he thinks he must make everybody happy and he’s certainly not getting any younger. He’s heading for a major breakdown, I’m sure of it. I so wish he would take better care of himself.”

My husband laughs: “Well, I guess you could always send him a letter. If you think he has the time to read it.”

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