We all have our weaknesses, those touchy-feely subjects that instantly knock us off balance and push us on a wild ride of emotion. For me, one of those subjects has been my youngest son’s school.
Samuel is a second-grader. Don’t get me wrong—it’s an amazing school that offers alternative education. And I like the idea of approaching schooling from a holistic perspective, where both spiritual and emotional aspects of my child are invited into the classroom, along with reading comprehension and mathematical equations.
There are some critical aspects of the curriculum that I completely disagree with, even though it’s still better than the public school system, at least in my mind. Things like a zero electronic device policy in the early grades, no homework and standard testing, and ultra-strict snack options—no natural smoothies allowed. To me, these rules are extreme and obsolete. So in time, I began to wonder if this school is worth all the effort of driving the distance, volunteering, and paying the steep tuition.
So what should I do? What’s the right decision? I can’t fail and put my innocent child, so vulnerable to his outside environment, in jeopardy. So for a while now, my mind has been ping-ponging obsessively back and forth between the pros and cons of letting him stay or pulling him out, keeping me stuck in the worst place of all: non-decision.
And then, late one night as my teenage son Zach and I munched a bedtime snack, I shared my dilemma, and he gave me his perspective on school: “Mom, you are overthinking this way too much. Why don’t you just ask Samuel what he wants to do and let him decide? He’s the one attending this school, not you. You let me choose my high school, and look how well I am doing, because I’m happy.”
What?! Let my eight-year-old make his own decision? My mind exploded. That’s absurd—negligence and irresponsible parenting! Besides, what does happiness have to do with anything?
“When the kid is happy, he will do well in any school,” Zach said wisely, as if sensing my mental frenzy. “And he’s happy when he’s allowed to decide for himself,” he added heading out of the kitchen.
Zach must be onto something, because his comments trigger an inner revolution within me, indicating that I’ve touched upon something worth investigating.
So, as a hypnotherapist who digs into the minds of her clients, I confront myself with a series of questions: Why do you believe that your child should not decide this issue for himself? Does this say more about how you feel about yourself and life than about Samuel? In fact, I tell myself, what might really be happening is that Samuel is triggering some unresolved inner upset that needs to be healed.
This feels like that old and rusty, yet painfully active, sore spot (trigger) when you were eight years old and nobody asked you about what school you preferred, or about any of your feelings. Instead, they took you away abruptly from your home city to live on a remote air base in Siberia! Remember how disempowered you felt? It was as if no one cared, and you had no say in the matter—as if you didn’t matter.
Is this what this is really about?
The burning in my eyes confirms that I’ve just pressed on an inflamed, emotional root in my mind responsible for my conflicting feelings about my son’s school; that the insecure “little me” has clashed with the mature, adult me. I don’t like the term “inner child” much. To me, it’s more about reframing the way we refer to ourselves. But until I address this contradiction within me, I can’t be clear about the appropriateness of my future actions.
And so, I do.
I let my mind cogitate on an updated version of who I am today. I am an adult now, which means I know better. I can speak up for myself, voice my preferences, say yes or no—and truly mean it. Also, I’ve been studying various theories of the mind and spiritual psychology enough to know that even though our children may not be as experienced and mature as us adults, still, they have their own intuitive sense—a microchip of inner guidance. It’s like their own, innate GPS. And now, my own inner wisdom is turning up the volume, edifying me further…
I believe that teaching our children to connect with and listen to their inner voice is what parenting is mostly about. Nothing is more important than raising self-assured, confident, independent, thinking people. And this is where it starts.
Suddenly, our vacation to Yosemite National Forest from several years ago surfaces in my mind. I recall how, as we approached a resting place on the hiking trail, there was an opportunity for the more adventurous folks to climb up the massive boulders. All to claim the grand prize of jumping into the small natural spa nestling cozily on top of the summit, rising gloriously thousands of miles above the valley.
Zach, then 12, was drooling over this challenge. In my heart, I knew it was appropriate to let him try, yet I firmly stated no because I was scared. Suddenly, there was a little commotion next to us, and as I looked, I saw another family. It was a rabbi, his ultra-pregnant wife, and three young girls. The kids were jumping around their aba (dad), begging to climb the summit. Smiling broadly, he asked: “Do you believe you can climb these boulders? Eagerly, they nodded yes. “I believe you can, too!” he said. “So, let’s do it!”
I remember puffing in annoyance; this man’s unconditional trust was too much for me to handle.
“Mom, look!” Zach’s voice brought me back, “Those little girls are doing it. I wanna do it too! Have trust in me.”
Helplessly, I glanced over at the friendly, smiling rabbi, as if to steal some of his resolve, and dismissing my husband’s violent head-shaking. I asked Zach firmly: “Do you believe you can do it, and that it’s going to be fun for you?”
The dancing lights in his widening eyes were my answer.
“Then go!” I squealed, and for the next hour I remained frozen, tracing his rapidly disappearing red baseball cap all the way up the slope during this most outrageous adventure.
And while I’m at it, my mind, eager to drive home its point, presents me with another memory. When my daughter Jessica was in high school, her entire grade went on a three-week trip to Israel. At the end, she called me to announce her decision to extend her stay by two weeks so she could volunteer as an active combat member of the Israeli army. I remember the familiar, prickling numbness I felt while she was explaining to me how important it was to her to do this, and how she knew in her heart it was the right thing to do. And all that was needed of me, at the time, was to be happy for her and trust in her sagacity.
And now, as the tiny speck of Zach’s hat disappears from my view, somewhere between the blurry boulders and the grandiose summit, I am left to wait. And so, I am contemplating…
Assuming that my kids do have a say in matters that concern them, and that they have a sense of what’s right for them, for reasons I may never understand (life-lessons they are meant to learn or karmic agreements), then these decisions were never mine to make. It may actually turn out (and often does) that they know better than me. Either way, whether to be hysterical and worried or choose to trust them is entirely up to me. And the thing about trust is, it’s such a powerful mental state that it can actually project a positive outcome.
And yet, it doesn’t mean I always have to agree if my kids’ decisions feel really off to me. After all, I, too, have my own inner sense of wisdom. But I can only be receptive to it when I am calm, self-assured, and open-minded.
So now, fast forward several years to my kitchen, and as I unwrap my fourth Ferrero Rocher chocolate ball, something shifts within me and the weight of all those Yosemite boulders of doubt fall from my shoulders and clarity resumes: I don’t have to figure out the best school choice for Samuel; I can just ask him!
Suddenly excited, I can’t wait till he gets home from school (my husband is picking him up today), and as soon as my little guy runs into the kitchen from the garage, I grab him in a hug. “I’m so happy to see you!” I exclaim. “I want to talk to you… Is now okay?”
He looks at me and smiles, “Sure, Mommy,” he shrugs, “I guess so.”
“Let’s go to my room. Follow me!” I lead him down the hall to my bedroom and jump onto the bed, inviting him to join me.
“So I’ve thinking…” I begin. “You know how you told me you don’t like your school and you want to leave it?” (He’s been complaining about several subjects and teachers for weeks now, and would come home grouchy.) “So,” I continue, “I have an idea.”
He looks up at me—I’ve got his attention.
“Remember how your teacher at Hebrew school said that a piece of Hashem (God) lives in your heart?”
He nods, acknowledging.
“This means that you can ask Hashem any question you want! Would you like to ask about your school?”
He thinks for a few moments while I begin to freak out. What if he says no?
“Sure,” he agrees, and I let myself exhale.
“Great! Then let’s relax your brain so you can hear Hashem within.”
Samuel snuggles on my pillow, his blond hair against the brown sham, and closes his eyes.
“Just take long and steady breaths in… and out,” I help him to calm his mind. And imagine that your brain is a circus full of busy monkeys.” He giggles, and I kiss his cheek. “And now the monkeys in your brain are getting tired, yawning and stretching, wobbling over to a pretty, blue tent to take a restful nap.”
I can see his face relax as his entire body gives in to the support of the bed. This is a good indication that the circuits of his mind are slowing down, and now he can hear his inner guidance.
“Ask Hashem within your heart,” I say softly, “What is the best school for me? Where am I going to have the most fun and be the happiest?” (I couldn’t believe I’d just asked this question, but somehow, in this moment, it’s clear that how my child feels inside is more important than his grades and athletic achievements.)
“Mommy, Hashem says to stay at my school, but my brain wants to leave.”
“Let your heart talk to your brain—we want them to be friends,” I encourage him, knowing that without mental-emotional alignment, mind and heart in unison, he’s not ready to make a decision.
“Mommy,” Samuel speaks, “my brain has decided to listen to Hashem, so I am happy now. So yes, I will stay at my school for the third grade.”
“But how about teachers and subjects that you don’t like?” I challenge him.
He focuses within and says: “I’ll ask my brain to keep me happy regardless.”
Inside I’m all lit up—my kid is realizing the art of unconditional happiness!
So taking advantage of his mental receptivity, I suggest a few affirmations that I know will gradually become part of his belief system.
“You know what’s right for you, and I trust you; you are amazing, capable, and smart… When you think of something you want, and believe it’s possible, it will come to you. You’re always trying your best, and I see you succeeding at everything you do. Your life is good and always getting better.”
Samuel rests next to me for a few more moments; then, as if he’s had enough, he opens his eyes, smiling broadly. “I’ll stay at my school, and it will be good. Bye, Mommy!” He jumps off the bed, skipping to the kitchen, and I can hear the pantry door squeaking.
A week flies by, and what I notice is that he goes to school more eagerly and comes home excited. It was his decision to stay, and his brain is doing the job that was intended by the intuitive heart—and it’s keeping him happy.
Also, the issues that bothered me about his school are no longer my concerns. They are pacified by a sense of acceptance; my son has stated his ruling, and I am choosing to respect that.
And though I’m galaxies away from knowing all the answers about parenting, and I’m sure I’ll stumble and mess up a lot, I can now testify to both sides of the parenting equation. As parents, there’s nothing worse we can do than project our own fears and insecurities, formulated from our life experience (“Life is hard, unfair, and you’re helpless and powerless to change anything; you can’t trust people; the world is not a safe place”) onto the wide-open and highly receptive minds of our children.
And if we flip this around, there’s nothing more important for us to do than step back and assist our children in recognizing and listening to their special voice within. This is the voice in their heart that knows what’s right for them, and our job is to let this voice upload their thinking with empowering and inspiring messages of happiness and hope, setting them free to choose.
We need to trust fully that this voice of God within them will never lead them astray, even if they deviate into pain and suffering; for these, too, are part of their journey. They can only learn through living their own experiences, on their way up toward their blessed lives as worthy and independent human beings.
Author: Katherine Agranovich
Image: Unsplash/Caleb Jones
Editor: Travis May
Supervising Editor 1: Callie Rushton