Although all newborn babies look remarkably similar in a wrinkled, reddish sort of way, each child is a unique and fascinatingly complex individual. Each child possesses a physical, emotional and intellectual inheritance from both its parents. Scientists can now trace back the patterns of our genetic inheritance almost into the mists of time and are constantly discovering different ways in which this inheritance impacts not only on our physical characteristics but also on our personality and its growth. But not only do we have a natural inheritance we also have a spiritual inheritance, latent potentialities towards self-centredness, that can ultimately lead us to live contrary to the wish of our loving Creator.
The physical birth and nurturing process in a newly born child reflects and parallels the process of regeneration in a mature adult. Just as the creation of an adult from a baby is a lengthy process so is the creation of a spiritually reborn adult a lifelong process. We are all, like small children, essentially self centred, and just as a young child has to become aware that he/she is not the centre of the universe and that others have needs, so we too need to be aware that spiritually speaking God should be at the centre of our life and love and that humanity should take precedence over ourselves.
Our environment affects our physical and intellectual growth in the natural world and adds its layers to our basic personality. Our parents, our family, our friends, our religious upbringing, our education all contribute to the making of the adult from the child. It may seem that some individuals may have unfair advantages over others, but God always seeks to provide a person with a basic store of loving experiences at some stage in the early years of his/ her early natural life and provides unseen spiritual opportunities for an individual to follow the right pathway. Emanuel Swedenborg refers to this ‘store of loving experiences’ using the term remains as in this quotation from Arcana Caelestia:
Remains are all things of innocence, all those of charity, all those of mercy, and all those of the truth of faith, which a person has acquired from God and learned since early childhood. Every single one of them lies stored away. And if a person did not acquire them, no innocence, charity, or mercy could possibly be present in his thinking and actions, and so no good and truth at all could be present.
A young child needs to know that he/she is loved and cherished and in the same way we need to know that we too are loved unconditionally by our Heavenly Father who seeks always what is best for us. Just as a child needs to be fed, a human being also needs to be fed spiritually. We are fed spiritually by the teachings given to us in the Word of God, by the good examples that other people set us and by the myriad everyday experiences that help to develop our attitudes and our characters. This spiritual learning is vital for our inner development and growth.
As a child grows it acquires knowledge at an amazing rate. The understanding of the knowledge that is acquired usually comes much later. For example we may know that you divide two fractions by turning the second one upside down and multiplying but a true understanding of the reasons why may not come until much later. In the same way in our regeneration, as we read and learn about God and his purposes, a fuller understanding and perhaps most importantly an affection or love for that wisdom develops. This takes a lifetime to acquire, not just in this world but to eternity.
“Smile, God loves you” is an easy thing to say but if God loves us why does he allow us to suffer? How can we reconcile a God of Love with our everyday experience of the world in which we live?
To try and get some idea of how God loves us we could start by thinking about parents and their children. It is a very human thing for parents to try to love their children equally whatever their different characters and abilities and to seek the best for them as individuals whatever happens. Now parenthood is tough and however idealistically parents approach the bringing up of their children it is often the case that one child will think that mother or father loves their sister or brother more than them. And yet that is not what the parents really want or strive to achieve. And if children grow up and go in very different directions to those envisaged by their parents, truly loving parents will continue to love their children just the same.
Now God loves his children, you, me and everyone else, not with the imperfect love which we express in our lives, that has limits and conditions, but with an unconditional love that has no limits and no boundaries and is shared equally with all. And it is the nature of God’s love that it is given with the freedom for us to accept it, reject it or misuse it – there are no conditions in which God’s love is not given – it is unconditional.
In our human relationships we know how wonderful it is if our love for someone else is freely returned – not because they have to love us but because they want to love us. Paradoxically the more freedom we give to those whom we love the greater and stronger is the love that is returned. Force someone to love you and no real mutual love develops. Now offering to love someone and leaving them the freedom to respond or not is a high risk and potentially painful strategy – as most people find out at some stage in their lives when love is not returned.
And this, in a very human and finite way, is an image and likeness of how God loves us. He offers us love and gives us the freedom to say yes or no. God knows that if we return his love then a deep relationship can develop but if we are unable to respond to his love then he feels pain for what might have been.
One of the hardest things a parent has to do is to let their child make mistakes – despite realising the probable pain and suffering that will ensue. Children have to grow and develop and make their own way in the world and not feel they are being manipulated or directed by their parents. They will make the right decisions and the wrong decisions and yet the loving parent has to stand back and not intervene. They just offer advice to their child as to what they should do and then leave their child the freedom to make up their own mind.
And this is how God’s love works with us. God wants us to be happy and to be fulfilled. He wants us to respond to his love in freedom and he shows us how we should live. But because God values our freedom above all else he cannot intervene when he sees things going wrong. If he intervened in the greatest disasters that beset mankind surely he would also have to intervene in even the smallest personal problems in life and then where would we be – we would be like puppets being controlled by God in the play of life.
Bad things happen. God does not want them to happen. But God cannot intervene because of the freedom he gives us to choose to respond or not to his unconditional love. This is the nature of the God who loves you. God loves everyone equally but what we receive of his love depends on our openness to his love and our acknowledgement that all love comes from God. If we respond to his love we can feel loved, free and forgiven and we will then want to share God’s love with those around us.
There are three things which make up the essence of God’s love – loving others more than oneself, wishing to be one with them, and devoting oneself to their happiness.
It should be known that God is constantly present, continually striving and acting on a person, and touching his free will but never forcing it. For if God were to force a person’s free will, his dwelling in God would be destroyed, and he would be left only with God’s dwelling in him.
Many working mothers feel torn between staying at home to look after the children and going out to work to earn needed money. With the high cost of housing in the UK, being ‘a stay-at-home mum’ is often not an option.
Yet such working mothers may feel guilty about not being around for their children to give them sufficient needed love and support. So when can mothers go back to work and what more can fathers do to help? Different family circumstances obviously influence what parents feel about these questions. Nevertheless there is usually some scope for personal choice. Here are some questions that might guide the judgment.
After child-care costs and extra travel are taken into account, is the extra income worth the candle?
Even a small candle might make a huge difference when money is extremely tight. Could the father earn more money by taking on over-time or extra responsibilities at work? Or even trying to find a better paid position? For exactly what are the extra earnings thought to be needed? Is the money required to pay vital bills like food, and house rent? Or is it wanted to keep up the same standard of nice things bought before the children came along, like fashionable clothes, good mobile phone, stylish car. Could some lifestyle aspirations like wanting a better house be postponed?
In addition to financial reason does the mother want work partly because of boredom?
Many a mother longs for a change from nappies, toys, stories, and crying kids to an interest outside the home. Variety is the spice of life and personal fulfillment is something that is multifaceted.
Does social pressure play a role?
‘Stay at home mums’ are widely thought to be ‘old-fashioned’ whereas working mothers more with it. I get the impression the message from government is ‘go back to work’ and for young children to go to nursery, often full time.
Would a job and contacts made at work stimulate the mother?
This might result in a energised state of mind at home. Or is the job likely to make her so tired that she has less get-up-and-go for doing things with the children and less patience with their ordinary demands, noise and untidiness? If so, can the father help compensate by say doing more housework, taking the children places, and re-organising his own work to create time for looking after them. Could the couple afford a cleaner if there is extra income?
To what extent could others provide caring love?
At unpredicatable times children need attentive listening, kind words, physical expressions of love, family fun times. With both parents working, there would be less shared meals for the whole family to come together in harmony. Could this be offset by more contact from family friends and relatives invited to visit the home?
Do the parents feel it is their role to be around to show the children what is right and wrong?
Choice of a suitable child-minder with values shared by the parents may be an acceptable alternative. On the other hand a succession of child-carers, with none of whom the child able to form an attachment, might mean to some extent loss of a good role model with whom the child identifies. The legal responsibility of being in locus parentis does not necessarily imply exercising all parental responsibility for administering discipline and instruction.
Are the children old enough to learn some measure of self-resourcefulness by experiencing being on their own more?
Children might benefit by being obliged to get their own tea, to take responsibility for securing the home, and to get on with self-planned activities. It is also potentially useful to learn to be a bit street-wise. However, depending on where one lives, this might lead to getting into mischief if easily led. The age and maturity of the child dealing with independence comes into play. Are they ready to look after themselves until an adult is around? I understand that loneliness, boredom and anxiety are more likely to occur in children when left in the house alone if younger than 10 years of age.
Is it necessary for a parent’s career to be put on hold for several years until it is possible for it to be resumed with full-time working when the children are old enough?
If so, re-training will probably be expected. And the worker may need to accept a drop in position due to interrupted experience. Is the parent in question prepared to accept this sacrifice?
How is putting under-three olds into a full-time nursery being considered?
What is the attitude of working mothers to the psychological theory that children need to form a secure attachment to at least one special person if they are to thrive and that if mother and child are separated too soon, this attachment is undermined and health and well-being can be impaired. An alternative view holds that infants can receive good child-care outside the home and that the attachment to the mother is not broken but merely put under strain as contact is resumed each day after work.
Is it thought that women on the whole are no better than men looking after small children?
If so, then whichever parent would earn the less might be the one chosen to stay at home. What attitude is there about working mothers replacing working fathers?
Spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg suggests that women are more suited for this role. He writes that women tend to be more in touch with their emotional side and that there is a spirit of tender affection for children that they more readily receive into their hearts than do men. He attempts to explains this in terms of a spiritual sphere of innocence and peace from heaven which he says directly affects infants and is expressed in them. More about possible gender differences.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Emanuel Swedenborg writes that one of the best ways to grow spiritually is to embrace and embody love in the same way God radiates it. That may seem like a pretty tall order, but throughout his writings, Swedenborg offers some clues about how we can put divine love into practice in our everyday lives.
1. Do something that’s useful for others
“God dwells in the individual useful things because he dwells in the purpose behind them.” — True Christianity #13
Swedenborg often talks about usefulness, the idea that everything and everyone has a purpose—a unique service that they provide to the world just by being who or what they are. What’s something that you could do today to help others, to move a project forward, to contribute ideas or inspiration, or to help bridge a communication gap?
2. Forgive someone
“The Lord forgives everyone’s sins. He does not accuse us or keep score.” —Divine Providence #280
Many people are taught to think of God as a wrathful being who punishes people for the smallest transgression. But Swedenborg says that God is pure love, incapable of hating or even being angry at any person, no matter what they’ve done.
It’s human nature to hold grudges, big and small. Are you holding on to anger at someone who was rude to you at a store, or who cut you off in traffic, or makes your daily life difficult in some way? One way to deal with those situations is to think about them as whole people who have goodness inside them, even if they make mistakes or if their actions have consequences they might not have intended. Just as we can forgive ourselves for having a bad day, we can forgive others, too.
3. Take care of someone
“The sphere of divine love has a special influence on parents. Because of it, they tenderly love their children (who are outside themselves), the want to be one with them, and they want to bless them from themselves. The sphere of divine love affects not only the good but also the evil, and not only people but also animals and birds of every kind.” — True Christianity #44
Parents aren’t the only people with the urge to help others. Is there someone in your life who needs extra help, maybe someone that you already spend a lot of time caring for? Are there little ways that you take care of the people in your life, even if it’s an action as small as cleaning up a mess or helping them to find a lost object?
If we consciously choose to perform caring actions for others out of a sense of love or kindness, Swedenborg tells us that we open ourselves up to even more of that love in the future.
4. Celebrate differences
“It does seem as though Divinity were not the same in one person as in another, as though it were different in a wise person than in a simple one, for example, or different in an elderly one than in a child. This is just the deceptive way things seem, though. The person may be different, but the Divinity within is not.” — Divine Love and Wisdom #78
Celebrating differences can be a bit of a cliché. It’s easy to forget that it’s human nature to judge others—not just for obvious reasons like race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and so on, but for things as simple as how a person dresses and what kind of music he or she likes.
Every day we’re surrounded by people who are different from us in some way, large or small. Have you ever caught yourself forming preconceived ideas about people who aren’t like you or people you don’t understand? How might those people be expressing the Divinity within themselves?
5. Be generous
“The love we were created with is a love for our neighbor that makes us as generous with our neighbor as we are with ourselves, and even more so.” —Divine Providence #275
Everyone has something that they can share with others, whether it’s a tangible item like food or money or an intangible like time, experience—or love. It’s easy to share things that we have in abundance, but sometimes it can be a powerfully loving act to share something that you don’t have a lot of. Try it, and see how it feels.
If you’d like to hear more about Swedenborg’s take on divine love, you can:
Our early impressions of God are strongly intertwined with our early impressions of our parents. After all, when we are young children, our parents are the ones who clothe us, feed us, teach us, and sustain us—they act in some ways as surrogates for God. It’s no surprise that so many religious traditions, including Christianity, refer to God as a divine parent.
If it’s true that our ideas about parenthood shape our ideas about God, it’s also true that our understanding of God shapes how we raise our children. If we think of God as stern and dictatorial, we’re likely to be stern and dictatorial as parents. If we think of God as gentle and warm, we’re likely to act gently and warmly as parents (or at least try to!).
The Swedenborgian understanding of God comes from reading the Bible with the firm conviction that God is love and that Jesus is God. The picture of God that emerges in this reading is one of a God who loves each and every person in creation, who protects human freedom as the apple of his eye, and who always acts for the eternal welfare of all. Looking at those attributes, we can draw insights into how we might better imitate God in our parenting.
Here are three ideas that have been particularly valuable to me as a father of two young kids:
1. Loving your child means loving everyone else’s children, too.
There are passages in the Bible that explicitly suggest acting in imitation of God. Several of them have to do with loving as God loves. This means loving not only ourselves, our own families, or people who agree with us, but loving even our enemies:
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44–45)
What does this mean for parenting? Because we know our children’s hearts, we can be tempted to assume that in any conflict, they are in the right. But if we’re called to love as God loves, then we’re called to extend love to other people as much as we extend love to our own kids. Obviously, we will feel a stronger affection for our own children, but we are called to act as lovingly even toward strangers and those who seem to be our enemies.
This doesn’t mean we have to choose between loving our children with all our hearts and loving everyone else. One of my favorite Swedenborgian concepts is that in the long run, caring for an individual and caring for the good of all make for one and the same thing. For example, if we teach a child to care for the less privileged, we’re serving the less privileged and our child by creating the foundation for a life—an eternal life!—of joyful service. It’s not an either/or situation, so it’s a useful exercise to ask in any situation whether there is a course of action that will be best both for our children and for everyone with whom they are interacting.
2. Protect your child’s freedom and sense of self—even if it’s easier not to.
My personality is such that I find it much easier to just do things myself than to try to help others do them. In some situations, this is a useful trait; in many others, though, it’s a failing. This is particularly true in parenting: it is much easier to pick up after my kids than it is to coax them to pick up after themselves. It is much easier to wrangle over my son’s head whatever shirt I choose than it is to patiently wait while he tries to choose between dinosaurs and robots.
It is significantly harder to offer a child freedom and a sense of self than it is to do everything for them. It takes much more work, but I remind myself often that the work is worth it. We do have to set limits, of course. But within those limits, it is vital that children be free to make choices and to have a sense that they are acting from themselves.
The book Divine Providence expresses just how much the Lord cares about human freedom. One of the Lord’s greatest gifts to us is heavenly freedom: the sense that we act from ourselves and that from this we have the ability to act with free will. According to Swedenborg:
The Lord protects our freedom the way we protect the pupil of our eye. The Lord . . . is constantly using our freedom to lead us away from our evils, and to the extent that he can do so through our freedom, he uses that freedom to plant good things within us. In this way, step by step he gives us heavenly freedom in place of hellish freedom. (Divine Providence §97)
It’s not easy to watch my kids make choices I don’t want them to make. But I remember that it’s not easy for the Lord to watch me make choices he’d rather I didn’t make—and yet, he keeps giving me the freedom to make those choices. I think it’s important that I offer the same gift to my kids.
3. Discipline with a purpose.
I firmly believe that there is no inherent value in punishment—it must always be for a purpose and never simply for payback. The prophet Ezekiel records God as saying, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). If God allows punishment, it is never for its own sake; it is always so that the person may “turn and live”:
People have charity and mercy . . . when they exercise justice and judgment, punishing the evil and rewarding the good. Charity is present in the punishment they inflict, because zeal moves them to reform the wrongdoer and to protect others from the harm such a person might do. In the process they are looking out for the best interests of the wrongdoer, their enemy, and are wishing that person well. At the same time they are looking out for and wishing well to others, and to their country itself. (Secrets of Heaven §2417)
As parents, we are required to instill discipline in our kids. While discipline is much broader than consequences or punishments—involving other such things as establishing routines—it does still have to include these kinds of corrective actions. With all our choices in this area, we need to be asking ourselves the following questions:
How will this disciplinary action help my child make a better choice next time?
How will it help protect the child herself and the people around her?
So we should keep some things in mind:
Encourage our children to think about what they might have done wrong and what other choices they could have made.
Help them come to those conclusions themselves; but if they are unable to do so, always be very clear with them.
Demonstrate, when possible, a clear connection between consequence and behavior (e.g., “I am going to take away the baseball bat for a week because you had trouble stopping yourself from hitting the walls with it, and that hurts the walls.”)
Let them know they are still loved, and let them know you believe they can make a better choice next time.
There are thousands of different perspectives on exactly the right way to set up discipline. Find what works best for you and your family, but make sure it follows these guidelines: it will work to helpthe child in the long run, and it will work to keep the child and others safe. Remember the first principle mentioned above: from the eternal perspective, loving our children well and loving our neighbor well make for one and the same thing. This is the perspective of God, who desires what is best for all of his children.
Coleman Glenn is an author and a New Church minister currently working with General Church Outreach in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.
Ask parents what is deeply important for their children to learn in life and they will often say things like being a decent human being, having meaningful relationships, leaving the world a better place, and being freed from personal hang-ups. How can children be helped to form their own personal and spiritual goals? Religious education is seen as an opportunity to provoke challenging questions about the ultimate meaning and purpose of life, beliefs about God, the self and the nature of reality, issues of right and wrong, and what it means to be human.
The rise of prejudice, discrimination and violence associated with religious fundamentalism has led more people to question the certainties of any religion, and there is growing doubt concerning even the need for any kind of system of spiritual belief. Given the decline in belief of the traditional Christian version of God — particularly in north-west Europe — there is a tendency for thinking adults not to see ultimate reality as fixed into any certainty: it being likely to change with different experiences. Thus religious education tends to be sidelined.
The question is sometimes asked about the individual who knows love and does good works that grow out of that love and is content with the richness of the life that love brings. What need have they of any sacred writings or of any belief system?
Religious education and history of spiritual ideas
Clearly, some humanists and agnostics live a better life than some of those who are affiliated with a religion. Nevertheless, I would claim that religious education can reflect the historical source of spiritual concepts: not just concepts that can help one to see through the illusions of the natural world to a deeper reality within, but also that are essential to bring about the good life for all.
These days, the aim of teachers in religious education is to provide information about a range of faith traditions — especially now in multicultural Britain where pupils in one classroom often come from a range of ethnic backgrounds. In its latest report into religious education in British schools, the Government agency Offsted concludes
“There is uncertainty among many teachers of RE (religious education) about what they are trying to achieve in the subject.”
Need for religious education despite non-religious language
In our increasing secular society, there is a growing trend to use non-religious language. We use such terms as getting in touch with one’s higher self, becoming calm through meditation, gaining a better understanding of one’s attachments and cravings, recognising the life force all around. In other words spiritual ideas are seen as potentially useful and important even if they are usually not explicitly linked to traditional religious teachings.
I would say what we appreciate as the ‘Good’ in life is difficult to get a handle on and communicate without ideas taught in religious education. Don’t you need an awareness of ethical ideas and spiritual teachings to guide your actions? For example the golden rule ‘Do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you’ is an idea in the mind about the `Truth’. This is something which puts into words your appreciation of the importance of where other people are coming from when you are dealing with them i.e. what can be ‘Good’ about your relationship with other people. Knowledge about what is ‘True’ tying in with awareness of what is ‘Good’.
Here are a few other spiritual ideas:
We should take care of the earth and protect the environment.
Rules defining right and wrong should not be based on enlightened self-interest but on the needs of all.
Learn from your mistakes and move on.
Something must have started the universe.
Your life does not cease at bodily death.
Don’t you need such worthy ideas to guide your thoughts and intentions? From such ideas come systems of belief that can give you hope especially when you get discouraged by the set-backs in life. In other words I feel it does matter what you think, as your understanding about things guides your actions — what you do, how you do it and how confident you can be you are on the right track.
According to Emanuel Swedenborg an awareness of deeper ideas concerning what is ‘Good’ and ‘True’ is essential. Without a religious education and thus knowledge about such things, how could there be a channel for deeper understanding: arguably without understanding, you cannot find a system of spiritual belief that will give you hope and confidence in the good life.
I would say unless they first learn about deeper ideas children are not protected from the illusions of life. Teachers in religious education however can only go so far in helping the young. They can impart information, but isn’t it up to the learner what to do with it?
Limits of religious education
According to Swedenborg’s theory, religious education has its limits: an awareness of ethical and spiritual ideas by itself is merely something in the head: personal choice and heart-felt desire are also important. So he asserts that an inner thirst for what is really ‘True’ and ‘Good’, based on a memory of ethical and spiritual ideas, when put into practice will result in enlightened understanding. In other words a heart of good intent coupled with a head full of good ideas will lead to an inspired system of belief that not only provides meaning, but can lead to the hope and confidence needed for personal transformation and commitment to some worthy goal in life.
“It’s what you choose to believe that makes you the person you are.” (Karen Marie Moning, Darkfever)
What should religious education teach
So what should religious education teach children?
Government has identified a difficulty in structuring and defining a clear process of learning in religious education. I believe this difficulty reflects an emphasis on religious diversity in practice and belief across different faith traditions, at the expense of offering clarity regarding beliefs that different faiths have in common. Are pupils being expected to work all this out for themselves without being offered spiritual ideas about what is universally “Good” and “True”?
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Even living as independent adults in their forties, people can still be haunted by their experience of being mistreated as a child. Such individuals also tend to have recurring negative moods and worry, and long-lasting problems like poor self-esteem, or low self-confidence. From my experience of over thirty years as a clinical psychologist, I can say that an unhappy childhood is usually one of the main causes.
Whether therapy for an unhappy childhood is necessary
It is probably unhelpful to dwell on very bad memories and re-open deep wounds without a good therapist. However, not everybody with an unhappy childhood needs help. If you have not suffered serious abuse, it may not be necessary. There is much you can do to help yourself start to turn your life round. Partly, this will involve reflecting on how you respond to life’s challenges now. But also, it will involve reconsidering your past, through adult eyes, to gain a more mature perspective on yourself as a child and on your parents at that time.
Clinging to childhood wounds
It can be surprising for adults to learn how their behaviour is so unconsciously influenced by the ‘hurt resentful child’ still in their heads. If we cling to childhood wounds, they can distort our current relationships, produce emotional blocks and lead us to make inappropriate responses.
For example, one’s response to authority figures, as an adult, can be governed by the kind of thoughts and feelings one had as a ten-year old child facing a punitive parent. As an adult it may mean difficulty tolerating any form of criticism or direction at work. It is as if the supervisor were like one’s parent who was punishing or dominating.
If the response to an over-critical parent has been ‘You blame me for everything’, then one is likely to be ready to feel blamed for mishaps and errors at work.
If the response to an over-controlling parent has been ‘If it weren’t for you I could have …’, then one is likely to feel prevented from gaining a bonus or promotion.
Looking at one’s childhood through adult eyes
The adult mind can understand things in a more mature way than can a child. For life isn’t as black and white as it is to the youngster who doesn’t appreciate the effects of stress and responsibility on parents’ behaviour. The child has only a dim knowledge about the real dangers lurking in the outside world that parents seek to protect him or her from. As a child you probably will not appreciate the time constraints on busy people preventing them attending to all what you want.
Your feelings may be based on an accurate perception. On the other hand whilst your parents mistreatment of you should not be dismissed as insignificant, have you missed any good qualities in them? You might see anger in your parents as dislike and intolerance of you. Could it at least in part have been due to a concern for your knowing right from wrong as they saw it. Or if you thought of a parent as stubborn or dogmatic could you now see his or her views as having conviction and strength?
Looking for positive aspects of one’s childhood
For some people it is relatively easy to recall a pleasant experience with a parent. For others, however the process is a bit more difficult. And for some it feels impossible. Without an effort to look at the positives as well as the negatives, you can get yourself into a negative mood and miss out on any sense of appreciation for your parents positive qualities and fail to recall the good times.
I believe that to dilute some of that sense of hurt from past mistreatment, one has to take another look at the whole picture of one’s childhood through the eyes of love and compassion. Don’t just consider parent’s bad points but ask yourself about any acts of kindness you can remember. What were their strengths as well as their weaknesses? Can you recall any words of good sense they passed on. Have you acted on their useful advice?
Parents’ criticism of us and attempts at directing us when we were teenagers, may have been unappreciated at the time but could have derived from concern and hopes for our future well-being. A parent giving more time and energy to someone else, with their own unique needs, doesn’t necessarily mean she or he didn’t love you as much.
When we take a holiday flight, the plane flies above the clouds where all is gloom, into the bright sunshine. Likewise, if we try to raise our minds above any exaggerated negativity we can find positive ideas that illuminate the past and provide a more balanced view not just of our parents but of people we now meet in our everyday lives.
Spirit of loving kindness
Many people have come to realise that looking for the good in other people has opened them to receiving a spirit of loving kindness rather than mistrust and wise discernment rather than uncertainty. I strongly feel that being able to see people for what they really are – their good points as well as any bad ones — does actually reduce the intensity and frequency of negative moods and cynicism. The improvement in communication and quality of relationship that ensues, can improve one’s self-confidence and increase one’s sense of self-worth.
But how can we hope to do this if we are carrying around bitterness and disrespect for the parents who had some unappreciated good as well as bad qualities?
Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems