Do We Protect Our Children from the Wrong Things?

My Patrysie
On 12 May 2010, my pavement special companion of 15 years, Patrys started showing signs of liver failure.  Eventually on Saturday 15 May 2010, I had to take her to a very compassionate veterinarian to have her euthanized. 

Think it still is one of the most traumatising experiences in my whole life and I still cry when I think about it.  I see my sadness as a tribute to the great dog Patrys was to me and the rest of my family. 

When my brother broke the news to his girls, Brigitte and Cassandra, they were inconsolable and cried passionately for a good hour.  I found great solace from the girls as they would not mind talking about Patrys and what they miss about her; something that I found hard to do with adults in the same free manner. 

More than that, they wanted to talk about Patrys and what they missed about her and how they miss her. 
Cassandra and Brigitte in the outfits I got them in Chennai

Precious Ashes
Two weeks later I received her ashes and I showed the girls.  Cassandra grabbed it and hugged it to her face with a huge smile and closed eyes; clearly a happy reunion. 

Brigitte, on the other hand, in her quiet way just inspected the little bag of ash and handed it back to me without a word.  

Since then we have had many talks about Patrys, Cascas has been reunited with Patrys’ ashy remains a few time and I find that I don’t miss her every day any more. 

That was until last week when 9-year old Brigitte used Patrysie to teach me a huge life lesson about negative protection.
The Ashes Prt 2
We were driving somewhere and out of the blue Brigitte said she missed Patrys.  My stomach made a flip when she said she thinks of Patrys often because of the way she died. 

After probing a bit, I realised that Brigitte interpreted Patrys’ ashes as a sign that we had her killed by burning her to ashes!!! My poor soft-hearted, deep thinker, pondering Gitte!  Now I understand why she was so quiet when she saw Patrys’ ashes and why she never wanted to see it again like her sister. 

Of course I immediately explained the process of humane euthanasia to her to reassure her that Patrys did not suffer.  I told her how my doggie looked at me as if to ask that I take the pain and feeling garra away and how hard it was for me.  She seemed satisfied and sat quietly, processing the new information; still sad, but not as horrifying as before.  
The Dog Whisperer
Palatable Pain?
It made me think about big picture and detail and age appropriate sharing in real life.  How we tried to make Patrysie’s death palatable for the 6 and 8-year old girls which meant cutting down on details.  We wanted to spare them the pain by shielding them and because of that, we often cause them more pain. 

Now I’m beginning to question how I instinctively deal with difficult and painful things my kids are presented with.  I’m a big fan of the dog whisperer, Cesar Milan and using his methods have done wonders for my other pavement special, Chipi.  More on that another time, though. 

Listen to Daddy's Daddy
The Dog Whisperer believes that dogs (and children) live in the moment and are less concerned about the past or the future than we adults are.  This means that if a dog has been abused before we got him, we are likely to feel sorry for him and treat him like a victim as a result.  In this manner, we trap the dog in dysfunctional behaviour because we expect the dog won’t be able to cope with our expectations or with change!   As soon as the owner change their approach and energy (Cesar loves that word) to calm-assertive, the dog usually changes noticeably! 

I can do it...
I have noticed the same type of dynamic when I do play-therapy with children.  As I’m not the parent, I don’t hold back from setting boundaries, explaining expectations and “pushing” the child to express and digest emotions and information.  I am calm-assertive and just deal with “the moment”. 

But why not with mine?
When I’m with my kids, however, I am afraid I’m going to hurt them or I find it hard to see them hurt by life.  I lose my mindful “in-the-momentness” and are driven by fears of the future (that they will be hurt by me and I will spoil their future) or fears of the past (remembering my undealt-with painful events of the past when I was hurt).  So I try to protect them and I limit their exposure to the natural lows life offers. 

Pain leads to growth
I’m realising that by limiting their exposure to painful things of life, I’m also limiting their ability to grow and cope with life.  I forget that I can help them process and digest the information they are given so they can learn to trust that emotions are not scary or dangerous but are helpful and vital.  So, when I limit their exposure to pain, I’m actually burdening them with my issues. 
We under-estimate them!
I also think we underestimate the ability of children to digest information and emotions.  They are so resilient.  I’ve experienced their bounce-back ability from my interaction in therapy with children.  I’ve seen children who had seen their mothers abused, who had been raped, whose parents got divorced, and who had been physically hurt by their parents digest and process their experiences within a few sessions!  Every time I tell myself I must remember how resilient children are...and every time my kids hurt, I forget it.  Eish. 
Just to reassure you:  I don’t think the indiscriminate age-inappropriate sharing of painful information with children is good either.  I will definitely not tell the gritty information about Patrys’ last moments to Gitte until she needs it or wants more detail.

The point is just to examine how much my own fear of pain is interfering with my ability to foster emotional skills in my kids. 

Obama, the most difficult, influential and powerful job in the world is NOT being the prez of the US – it is being a Good Enough Parent! 



Fiona (aka @nlpmum) said...

Great Post Amanda. It's really interesting how our society hides death. There was a really interesting article on the radio about this the other day and someone phoned in from Ireland where they still have proper Wakes - the body is displayed and everyone, children included, goes to visit and pay their respects. There are lots of things which are taboo in our society - this is one of them. I think it's probably what contributes (in part at least) to the unhealthy obsession we have with killing - in movies, computer games etc. - my 6 yo is obsessed with death. He's never seen it up close and he so wants to understand it. Keep up the good writing. Fiona

Amanda said...

thanks for the kind words. You know, I think you're right about being too divorced from reality. Think about the obsession about youth and beauty for example. It's in a way the denial of the certainty of death.
Great comment, thanks.

Mickey said...

Good info Amanda. Made me think about how to respond to some questions that kids ask me. Being honest, gentle, understanding and explaining it in simple terms is better than hiding the facts about death and dying or any other thing in this life.

Amanda said...

the point about being gentle is such a good point. If only we can match the honesty of a child: the curious acceptance of life.

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