How to Learn from Children

Let Go and Listen

Thirty-two years ago, when my son Peter was eight, we were driving south from downtown Kansas City to our home at 3600 Charlotte. At 27th street we saw an enormous wrecking ball smashing into a ten-story building.

“Dad, can we stop?”

“No. We have to get home for dinner,” I said.

“Rats,” he said, and the simplicity of his reply went straight to my heart. The car hadn’t gone a hundred feet before I realized that “no” was the wrong answer. But momentum is a funny thing, and I just kept driving.

During my 44 years as father I have worked with thousands of other people’s children. Almost all the parents were good parents. Many of them are simply marvelous parents, and none of them are perfect. I have a deep understanding of our cultural neurosis: we are too fearful about our children. That fear shows up in trying too hard to pave the way for them, to give them enriched experiences, to protect them from “the negative,” to ____(You fill in the blank. Add yours in the comment section)____.

We want so much for them, but for their own good and our own happiness we need to tease apart wants and needs. They want our attention. They want us to spend time with them. They want us to have fun with them—their interest or ours. They want us to work with them in the unfun things, too. They want our participation during teachable moments from “Go to your room” to “What’s an orgasm?” to “I don’t understand the homework.” They, also, want us to leave them alone. But they only need us to fulfill these wishes about half the time, and they have a tolerance for much less. If we let go of our agenda and listen, their needs and wants and ours often fall into place.

My heartbreak at not stopping when Peter said, “Rats,” is about my loss not his.

When Peter said, “Rats,” a voice inside me said: “Rick, do you really need to be in such a hurry? It wouldn’t hurt for you to take ten minutes to watch a building come down with your son. Think of the moment you could share. You, two, will be referring to it with each other and in conversations with others for the rest of your lives. This is a moment to connect. Don’t miss it.” But though I heard this message, I ignored it.

Take a grandfather’s advice. Don’t try so hard. Just love your children, be yourself and open yourselves up to all those times when your love for them will teach you something. Peter’s genius was looking out for Peter’s education, and Peter’s genius is still propelling him toward his destined greatness. Peter was fine missing that wrecking ball opportunity. My failure to listen to my inner voice didn’t hurt Peter’s education. The loss was all mine.

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6 thoughts on “How to Learn from Children

  1. Rick, this is a beautiful story. Made me think about my own son who is six now and would love to see a wrecking ball! Thank you for sharing this insightful explanation of how over protecting our children can hinder their development…and ours.

  2. Our children continue to teach us, in every conversation, encounter and meeting whether local or long distance. From one I learn about a 1967 Triumph GT parked at Trader Joe’s and that the cherry blossoms are also in full bloom in California. From another, I learn that she, her husband and three kids are excited about a ski weekend in Vermont where there is two feet of fresh, new snow and she communicates the sheer joy they anticipate of being together and sharing this time and place. From a third, I learn that baseball season is nearly upon us, a harbinger of Spring for sure. A fourth shares her concern about her chickens and sub zero weather. (I have chickens too!) The fifth wants us to come to dinner tonight with him and his wife of six months and share some time together before we leave on a ten day trip. The sixth sends us pictures of his new boat and his excitement around being able to enjoy being on the water on Lake Mead. And the seventh regales us with his new job, beyond our understanding and comprehension, in the world of technology, something like CISCO where he worked previously. What does all of this mean? They learned from us how to make the choices that give them meaning and purpose whether in their own families or for themselves and in turn they are teaching us to continue to pursue our own passions. As they became adults, they became our best friends and taught us that understanding them and accepting them for who they are was among the greatest gifts we could give them. So we plan to keep on giving and receiving and loving and forgiving and enjoying and celebrating life together.

  3. As I am new mom
    my littel baby changed the way I see the life
    she made me more loveing
    forgetting the past and looking forward to the futur
    she tough me how to be happy with the littel things , living my day not worry about tommoro

    actully I am growing with her physcialy and emotionaly

    thank you Rick for sharing your experince
    I love reading ur writes

    btw I am new teacher also
    from kuwait 🙂

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