I gather that the impulse to lie to children is widespread. All the plots in Harry Potter depend heavily on it with the ‘good’ adults doing it at least as much as the ‘evil’ ones do. It comes up plenty of other places too. No, fiction is not real life, but the ideas that make sense in fiction do so because they have real life relevance. As a parent I’m familiar enough with the desire to be thought well of by my child. Who wouldn’t want that? There is also the terrible desire to want the world to be a good, fair and lovely place for him, and not to want to have to tell him how awful things can be out there.
It’s normal to lie to children and tell them that everything is going to be fine, even when we’re pretty certain it’s not. (Think about how Umbridge behaves around defence against the dark arts issues). Sooner or later the child grows up and gets some experiences that don’t sit right with the lovely, safe world you wanted to create for them. I remember that transition as not only uncomfortable, but undermining my trust in my parents. Many children are smart and alert enough to pick up on the standard lies, and I doubt there’s much comfort to be had in feeling your parents (or Umbridge for that matter) aren’t willing to be straight with you. Lying to them is more about our comfort than theirs, all too often.
This is one of those issues where what is normal conflicts with what is right. Lie to your children and no one will think the less of you. We lie to ourselves alongside it, we say ‘it’ll be better for little Johnny this way’ when really it will be easier for us. (Think about Snape, Dumbledore, Sirius Black). We can so easily project our motives, needs and feelings onto our own children and then go after the things that will serve those needs, whilst telling ourselves what excellent parents we are (Sirius) . I try very hard to make sure I’m not doing that. But then, the idea that our children should come first in all things is culturally ingrained – especially for women, I think. (Harry Potter’s mother personifies this). Saying ‘I want this for me’ feels a lot less comfortable than pretending to be doing it for them and there’s a lot of cultural encouragement to go about this the wrong way as a consequence.
I still carry a feeling of affront that the world is not a fair place, people in authority cannot be trusted (Ministry for magic), and poetic justice seldom shows up. I know most ugly ducklings do not get to be swans (even if Hermione does), and that wicked stepmothers are not reliably thwarted by the direct consequences of their own evil actions. I grew up with all the stories about what the world should be like – as did most people. What I needed was a little more Han Solo saying ‘life isn’t fair, Princess’ and The Goblin King’s observations on the subject: I wonder what your basis for comparison is?
I’ve run into people along the way who are horrified by my determination to be honest with my child. He knows I’m not perfect. He also has an awareness that it’s not all about him. He is not Harry Potter. I will put him first more often than not, but I have limits and he knows about them. He doesn’t expect the world to revolve around him, nor is he waiting for a patronus to come out of a lamp and grant all his wishes. There are times when we have the news on, or are talking about badgers, or the state of the world when I would give anything to be able to reassure him that it’s all going to be fine. He wouldn’t believe me if I did. He pays too much attention. I’d rather have his earned trust than mislead him.
I cannot give my child the world he deserves, where justice shows up with a wand if all else fails, where happily ever after is pretty much a given and good things eventually find their way to good people. He’s made me acutely aware that I can, and should, do more to try and make that a reality. Unlike fiction, reality does not produce tidy story lines and coherent resolutions. One thing Harry Potter reminds me, is how powerless kids feel when you lie to them, how angry and disrespected (the entirety of book 5). I want to do something different.
Tag Archives: pagan parent
All fledglings must at some point leave the nest. My son was telling me this morning that when it is time for bear cubs to go it alone, the mother bear chases them up a tree and then abandons them. He said he’s glad he isn’t a bear! For him, it’ll be a slower, more gentle process over the next eight years or so, but it is a process we have most definitely started. This week he’s away on a residential thing with the school, having adventures. By slow degrees, he will learn to leave the nest and fend for himself. My definition of being a successful parent is that I will get him to the point where he doesn’t really need me anymore.
There is a lot of similarity between teaching and parenting in this regard. Getting it right means getting them to the point where you wave them goodbye and watch them strike out into the world. Students and offspring alike must not be under your sheltering wing forever. The trouble is, keeping them there can be really tempting. It is very human to want to be wanted, to need to be needed. And so we can easily hang on to children, and students because we like the comfort of them being there and needing us. It can tempt us to hold back a few things, to not tell them everything, so that they still need us for a few bits and pieces. It’s not the right way to go.
In many ways students are easier, because they are more readily replaced. Most of us, on waving the newly adult offspring goodbye, are not going to go and create a whole new person to replace them with. Some of us will get a puppy instead. Students tend not to be around for so long in the first place – perhaps a few years. That makes the letting go easier, and if you’re any good as a teacher, the next one will turn up soon enough.
It can be tempting, with students, to take them on when they aren’t right for us, or to try and keep them once we find that we aren’t the teacher they need. Saying ‘there isn’t anything I can usefully teach you’ is hard. Having a whole flock of students feels like kudos, feeds the ego, helps us feel important and worthwhile. Pushing just one away feels like admitting defeat, or being a failure. It isn’t. Failure is keeping them when you can do them no good.
Of course once you’ve got a child, you’ve got a child and this is a very different scenario most of the time. It’s much less usual for a person to have to consider that they cannot parent the child they have in the best way. But it does happen. Seriously physically disabled children, or ones with profound learning difficulties can be more than it is feasible for a parent to manage. Sometimes what you need are professionals who do not have to manage things 24/7. I can’t begin to imagine how hard and painful a decision that must be to make though. There are the parents who fail so badly that social services intervene and tell them they can have no role in the child’s future. There are also the parents whose offspring reject them. That can happen at any stage in life, and as they get older, if we have messed up, they are more likely to flee from us.
What of the parent who tries to hang on to the child they are unable to properly take care of? We may feel every sympathy for them, may pity their problems, recognise their grief, but it’s not enough. Regardless of the age of the child, no amount of thinking you love them justifies trying to hang on to them when they really need to be somewhere else. It’s far easier to recognise when you aren’t the right teacher for the job than I imagine it must be to recognise that you aren’t the right parent for the job.
Getting trained as a teacher isn’t difficult, but how many of us are trained as parents, or know where to go for help when we can’t manage the workload? It’s one of those issues where I can see the problems all too clearly, and the solutions seem hard to imagine in the context of the kind of society we have.
I want to juxtapose two thought forms today and then work up a third.
Thought form number one is that childhood is supposed to be a magical time, and that children should believe in magic. Father Christmas, the tooth fairy, and anything else fantastical that you care to toss their way. Babies being brought by storks featured in my childhood. As children grow up, they realise that this is all a pack of lies, created by adults. I remember feeling really let down when I found out, and I resented having been lied to in the first place. Others I know have admitted to huge feelings of disappointment and betrayal. Finding out that the magic you’ve been told about, was a hoax, sucks. Ok, so you get the years of happy belief, but are they worth it when the time comes for disillusionment?
Thought number two is that no responsible person teaches actual magic to children. They aren’t equipped to deal with it or make good choices, there’s the whole turning into teenagers issue, and the desire to wait for psychological maturity before magic gets thrown into the equation. One of the consequences of this is that younger folk who find out there are adults who do spells and won’t teach them, go online, buy books, or start messing about for themselves. The allegedly responsible solution to children leaves them even more alone and vulnerable if they get the urge to start experimenting. Forgive me if I am uneasy about this.
So where does that leave a pagan parent? I want my child to trust me, so I don’t want to go through a process of lying about the existence of tooth fairies, having to admit that one and then going ‘but you can trust me on this other magical stuff.’ I don’t want my child to think it’s fine for adults to mislead him, even if the motivations are cute. And if he stays pagan, I want him to be able to trust me enough that he’ll talk to me about magic, not go off on his own, thinking it would be fun to try and summon something, or that a Ouija board would be a really great toy to get for a drunken party. I talk to my son a lot about all kinds of issues, the nature of reality included. He’s an information hungry chap.
We’ve had a series of bizarre experiences happen one after the other over the last few months. The kind of series of disasters that leaves you wondering which deity you’ve offended, or if they’re just trying to get your attention for some reason. So I ended up trying to explain to him (he’s 9) how you hold a dual perception of reality, maintaining awareness of what the rational, logical interpretation of events is, whilst simultaneously being able to explore a less ration, more intuitive perspective that allows the possibility that things happen for a reason and random things can turn out to have meaning. It’s a hard combination to hold at the same time, but I think it’s vital. No matter how pagan and magicky you feel, general survival depends on being able to interact with consensus reality.
I think when it comes to children, there is much to be said for working with the magic of awe and wonder. Children are perfectly capable of experiencing the numinous. In many ways, having spiritual experience and perceiving the numinous depends on being open to it in the first place. Greeting the world with both an enquiring mind, and one that is willing to be impressed, moved, delighted, frightened and exited, sometimes all at once. A jaded psyche will never be open to magic, cynicism will not allow us meaningful religious experience.
I’ve just asked James what he considers to be magical He’s thinking hard about it. It turns out that his current understanding of the word ‘magic’ is very Harry Potter led. That has a great deal to do with how we as a family tend to use specific words, I think. James is also someone who believes that spirit is manifest in all things, and it’s only just crossing his mind as I write this, that it could be magic as well, that everything we do might contain a little bit of magic. It’s a good way of viewing the world, and I hope he manages to hold onto it.