In my lifetime I have experienced more than a fair share of ups, and downs. Situations have presented themselves having to do with both life and death. No matter who you are you will at some point experience a trying time. Having said that I found myself thinking tonight after having saw the new Disney movie Up (in 3d), when was the last time you saw a children’s movie really deal with death, and grieving? If you haven’t seen the movie I do not want to give too much away but someone dies and the way that the grief and feelings of loss manifest in the character are very interesting and typical. The viewer gets to see on screen how the character works through the five stages of grieving and finally reaches closure.
In general, I think that our society believes we should sugar coat things in order to protect our children. We let them watch violent movies and cartoons but shy away from topics such as death, suffering, and pain. I’m sure all of you can think of a time when either your children, or a child you know lost a pet and the parents were, well… lets just say less than truthful about what happened.
Now, don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting we reveal the ills of the world to our children all at once, that would be overwhelming for a grown adult let alone a child. I do however believe strongly that our children model their behaviors after ours. Avoiding addressing anything but positive aspects of life with your children teaches them maladaptive emotional responses.
You can imagine an adult who spent their entire childhood living in some fake sugar coated world who suddenly looses a parent when they are just 18. Based on the behaviors modeled for them they will behave in the same pattern. For a child who thinks of the world as mostly good and learned to ignore the bad they will be likely to ignore the death. This is the type of person who cries at the funeral but pretends that their life is still good; it appears they have moved on and are being strong, in reality they learned to avoid confronting the real issues.
Why is this problematic? Ok so, after one tragic event the person is able to ignore the issue and continue living in their bubble. What happens after 2, 3, a lifetime of living in a less than perfect world. All of those repressed negative feelings; everything that was pushed away and never dealt with suddenly becomes too overwhelming. I believe this is a large contributor to mid life crises and explains why so many people in the later half of their life seek counseling. You can only pretend for so long and then it all comes crashing down and it is too much to handle.
Spiritually these individuals do not pray about their problems or grieving, or at least fail to do so on a regular basis. Sure they might pray for God to mend a broken heart once but they successfully repress the situation they obviously no longer pray for something they are in denial about.
Where am I going with all of this? Well, I believe that this trend needs to change. Children need to be taught how to handle grief, stress, sadness etc. starting at a young age. Let’s face it, no ones life are perfect and it is entirely more harmful to keep our children in shiny plastic bubbles then to guide them through hard times. Don’t create two bubbles one for your child and one for the ‘real world’ make sure you integrate your child into the real world to the extent that it is appropriate for their age. Teaching your children at a young age how to properly handle negative emotions and circumstances will help them to grow into adults who are better able to handle negative situations.
Lastly, get rid of the white-picket fence fallacy. No family is perfect, you can never beat the Jones’s, don’t expect perfection out of your family, this is setting them up for disaster. We are God’s perfect creation but we are not perfect, we all make mistakes. Let your children know that you aren’t the perfect parents and they aren’t the perfect kids. Normal really is just a setting on your dryer. Let your family be who it is. Fake facades encourage the development of negative emotional patterns and coping mechanisms.
If you are a parent or grandparent, and you see this type of pattern within your family I strongly encourage you to do something now to fix it. It is never too late to start, but why not start sooner rather than later. I see too many people wait until they experience a tragedy to seek counseling for not only the tragedy but also their immature coping skills.
I believe that if you and your family are ready to start making changes, if you are motivated, you can do anything you set your mind too. Books are your best reference, pick a book or two, which fit your situation and stick to them. If you are a typical family I would start with a parenting related book, as well as a marriage book (you cant fix your kids until you fix yourself) Make a commitment to your family but also to God. Keep God involved in the whole process, he will help guide your family to an emotional healing.