“I am a child, I'll last a while. You can't conceive of the pleasure in my smile. You hold my hand, rough up my hair. It's lots of fun to have you there...” These iconic words written by Neil Young in the mid-sixties give us an interesting perspective of the child-parent relationship from the child’s perspective. The song continues, “God gave to you, now, you give to me, I'd like to know what you learned. The sky is blue and so is the sea. What is the color, when black is burned, what is the color?” I won’t assume to know exactly what Mr. Young was trying to convey in these words, but there are some interesting elements here which I would like to explore and apply to a broader discussion.
Having raised three biological sons and a foster son, and now enjoying five grandchildren, I don’t hesitate when I say, children are amazing. Sure, they present some challenges here and there, but when you look past this, kids are really entertainingly wonderful. I will forever be overjoyed with the innocence, creativity, imagination, energy and joy of children. As the song says, “God gave to you… ” this amazing gift–-a child totally dependent on parents for love and comfort; for life and survival; for health and safety; for training and development; and for joy and laughter.
It’s been said that each child is a lump of clay ready to be molded and shaped into a healthy, well-adjusted, successful individual. While a mostly true statement, there is a caveat to it: every child comes pre-wired with a distinct genetic predisposition, personality, physical attributes and will. “Now you give to me…” implies responsibility and opportunity for parents to properly understand the uniqueness of each child and guide-shape them according to this uniqueness— not forcing them to be someone who parents want them to be. I know, I know! I can hear the protests now. What about character attributes, values, inappropriate behaviors? Of course these areas are an important part of a parent’s responsibility, but what I am referring to here is a parent’s role in enabling a child’s unique aptitudes, skills, talents and strengths to come to fruition; to bloom like a gorgeous flower.
For me, the lyric “What is the color, when black is burned, what is the color?” speaks to the potential disappointment parents may experience when their children don’t “turn out” just as they had anticipated, i.e., when their parental expectations aren’t realized. Understanding and shaping the child’s uniqueness and “special wiring” is certainly one way to prevent disappointment or, at the very least, to minimize it.
Children’s behavior is a snapshot of many, many factors. Every honest parent knows that their child is very often a mirror of their own behavior. Children unashamedly mimic what they see–both good and bad. I was taught in a psych class eons ago that, “if you want to learn what your potential spouse will be like, spend some time with their parents.” Children embarrass us, humor us and reveal us!
Part of the wonderment of children is their unabated creativity and imagination. Parents will spend thousands of dollars on toys and such, only to see their kid be equally (or more) entertained by the boxes said toys came in. It is an absolute treat to unobtrusively observe children playing. They can create realms, stories, fantasies and intrigue out of just about anything. Do you remember any of your childhood play? Even though it was many decades ago, I can still remember the joy of creating, building, exploring and spending time in my world of fantasy and imagination. The science and practice of non-directive play therapy teaches that children act out their experiences, both good and bad, through their play. This practice is especially true of children victimized by trauma. Play becomes a window into their world which they cannot, or will not, express verbally.
My own children’s play served as a wonderful forecasting model of their individual identities, strengths, weaknesses, propensities and potential. And witnessing these qualities revealed in such a way, certainly helped us as parents shape them into the adults they eventually became—each one having a very distinct, individual persona. And now observing my grandchildren has become a delightful new pastime; getting to imagine what they can and will become.
As we muse upon the joyful, often entertaining activities of a young child, let us not forget there is a “dark side” of human behavior which every child manifests as well—it’s the nature of the beast! Selfishness, stubbornness, willfulness, anger, manipulation, and even deceitfulness and dishonesty can be clearly displayed in children. Maybe this is what the phrase “...when black is burned…” was referring to, I’m not wholly sure, but there is no denying that these challenging behaviors exists even in children.
These polarized qualities create such a contrast, kind of like the sacred and the profane. Every child has tremendous potential for good things, but we can’t deny that they have potential for challenging things as well; to delight and to disappoint. But there is good news! Parents, grandparents, care givers and significant adults are handed a wonderful opportunity to positively influence and direct each child towards realizing their potential and to blossom into the amazing persons they were designed to be. Children really are a gift to be appreciated and handled with care!
“I am a child, I'll last a while. You can't conceive of the pleasure in my smile. You hold my hand, rough up my hair. It’s lots of fun to have you there...”