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“They’re just after attention”. If you are of my generation, and from an anglo-saxon settled country, you may recall this phrase from your childhood,.
I’ve just spent a week with a 5 year old and and 8 year old and their single mother. Children certainly do want attention. They hate being ignored – and can be quite vocal in letting you know this.
The question is: if they are after attention, why not give it to them?
Behind this attitude I think is a morality. This morality is that it is wrong to ‘indulge’ children, or ourselves. This is a morality focused on disciplining (which usually means punishing) ourselves. The thought is that children will be ‘spoiled’ if they are given what they want. And that adults will succumb to all manner of dubious practices if they are ‘just allowed to do what they want’.
This was the attitude that prevailed in my house. It was also at the heart of the evangelical Christianity that I grew up with. And so I am inclined to rebel against it and reject it. And I am convinced that it is wrong.
It seems to me that a joyous life is one where our needs are satisfied. If our needs are not met this leads to stunted lives. If we are denied food our vitality is diminished. If we are denied attention we will seek it, if we are denied touch we will crave it.
I think children are spoiled when they are given things instead of love. However, I am not a parent and I have no desire to add to the parent guilt industry. This post is more about our attitude to our own needs that bringing up children.
When we ‘discipline’ ourselves there can be unfortunate consequences.
1. We don’t get to know what we need. When we suppress our impulses the danger is that we become insensitive to our own (and consequently others’) needs.
2. Our joy is diminished. The inhibited and tight bodies so characteristic of anglo-saxons testify to this morality of self-control. It turns the world a uniform grey.
3. We become unable to express our feelings well or listen to the emotions of others. With awful consequences for our relationships.
It is better I think to listen to our desires. We need to learn what our needs are. This doesn’t mean ‘giving in’ to every impulse. It does mean listening to them. If we are scared there may be good reasons for it (and ignoring them would be foolish). If we feel the need to be touched giving a hug to friends may well be appropriate. To learn how to love and be loved seems like a good project to devote our life to, not something to be suppressed.
Here are a couple of ways to start learning about your needs:
*Take a moment every now and then throughout the day to tune in to your body.
*Imagine your perfect holiday. What would you be doing? Does this reveal a need unmet in your current way of living? If so, do you have a way to get at least a little of this?
Are you aware of wanting attention? Do you feel it is a need you have or maybe being ignored doesn’t bother you at all. Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your experience.
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