Written by guest blogger and super-dad Chris Kingsley.
Isa is the apple of my eye, but she is not the center of the universe.
At this stage in her life there are a lot of ways in which Gretchen and my world does revolve around her, of necessity. But no one else’s life does. Long before Gretchen and I had Isa, we had many conversations about children and child-rearing. I’ve always enjoyed observing the philosophies that people live by and where they lead. When it comes to raising children, we all know that you don’t usually have to look too far to find the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between. How do children fare when they are raised as the center of the universe?
O, well, they learn quickly enough. Do they? They’re just kids. Meaning that they are VERY formable.
I am personally very much a realist. While most people use that as a code word for pessimist, I really mean realist. My personality is one that says I don’t care how you wish things were, let’s snap out of it and deal with things as they are. The reason that this does not lead to pessimism for me is that I actually think that the true reality is much better and richer than our imaginary ones. But…I digress.
Realism recognizes that while Isa is the apple of my eye, she is not the center of reality…far from it. Just as you and I are far from the center of reality. To prepare her to live a healthy, full life, my goal is for her to know at a deep level both of these seemingly paradoxical things – Isa, you are the apple of Papa’s eyes and you are not the center of the universe.
Actually, Isa is not and cannot even be the center of my own universe. It isn’t healthy for me or for her. She isn’t even the only apple of my eye (another paradox that having her helped me understand). Gretchen is the apple of my eye and will be ’till death do us part. I want Isa to see and know that as well.
A pet peeve of ours is how pop culture works at reinforcing to children (who are we kidding—everyone) that they are the thing around which all other things should revolve. A lot of the current popular clothing goes to what I would consider shocking extents to convey this. One of the things that we at CheekyBums are really excited about is carrying a line of clothing that is modest, tasteful , cute as all get out, but NOT promoting unhealthy, unrealistic attitudes. We are all soapboxishly passionate about this J.
Again, it all comes back to being realistic. If Isa truly was the center of the universe, than the most loving way of raising her would be to reinforce this fact. If the cumulative wisdom of the ages empirically proved that being a brat is the healthiest, most life-giving, and richest way of conducting oneself, then……..well, I still just couldn’t do it.
One of my life’s goals is to gracefully accept my humble state and live with thankfulness for being loved and blessed in spite of this. I am entitled to very little, but have been given much. The other morning, kitchen items were practically leaping off of the counters and out of our refrigerator to meet their demise on the tile floor. Grethcn—did you just drop something else? Chris – Well, something else just fell (oops, I guess I wasn’t such a realist there). I was a little frustrated, but, you know, given my clumsiness, I should be thankful I still have anything left in the kitchen to break. The point is, things almost always go way better for most of us than we are entitled to.
I am grateful that neither I nor Isa is the center of the universe. Again, my realism is also my source of hope and optimism. How do I model this reality to her?
A couple of thoughts (far from exhaustive):
- Make sure that if I tell her she is not the center of the universe, I do not at the same time behave as if I am. She will learn to approach life by observing how we approach life much more than how we try and teach her to approach life.
- Be diligent about the types of attitudes that I frequently expose her to. What does this cartoon teach about how to approach life? Is it realistic? What does this shirt that I am putting on her say to her?
- Teach and model the distinction between apple of the eye and center of the universe. Isa absolutely is the apple of my eye and should never back down from that. I’ll never back down from it either. Not burdening Isa with being the center of the universe will actually free her up so much more to love fully and be loved fully. True love always keeps true perspective.
- Always reinforce selfless acts and acts that demonstrate obedience and submission to authority.
- Etc., etc., etc.
To be very honest, the more I have embraced and continue to embrace reality, the more I will just naturally raise Isa accordingly. The best strategies in the world have little power without sincerity and consistency. Likewise, the inevitable mistakes and growing pains of parenting will have less power to negatively impact Isa if I am modeling a life that is in the process of more gracefully accepting reality (remember, we’re all in process and modeling this is the more helpful than perfection, since our children will also always be in process).
As I raise Isa, I want to keep a perspective that she was brought into this world to be a blessing to it, not a vacuum that sucks the life out of everything. I want to facilitate as much as possible view of life that sees it as better to serve than to be served, better to be thankful than to complain…I don’t see this as some utopian idealistic blah blah blah view of things (utopian literature always makes me soooooo happy that I don’t live in utopia – I’d never be able to keep my food down – did I just digress again?). I see it as the thing that will allow Isa to live the fullest and most joy-filled life.
We’re all coming to grips daily with the fact that we are not the center of the universe. I am thankful for the way my parents modeled that for me and desire to give Isa as big of a head start as possible.