I learnt from a pretty early age that actions had consequences. An attempt at a burnout on Ann Street in Proserpine in some loose gravel and sand led to a badly grazed elbow. Waiting at the side of the dance hall in Charters Towers to build up the courage to ask Susan King or Jennifer Lewis for a dance resulted in the more confident studs of my grade getting that first dance and subsequent dances while this stuttering would be Romero was left a wall flower.
I have worked most of my life with adolescents. And yes, these formative years are years when we learn academically, we grow physically, we acquire new skills and discover our unique gifts. But they are also the years when we grow and mature emotionally. Key to this growth are boundaries. We all need those limits, those expectations and those rules within the boundaries of which we bounce off, we rebel and challenge, we struggle and wrestle with and through it all – ultimately grow. Grow beyond childhood and childish responses. Grow beyond ego centric attitudes where it is all about me. Grow to discover that it is in giving that we truly receive. Grow beyond being like a puppet on the end of the mood swings and strings of life. Grow to take responsibility for my actions.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley 1849-1903.
The quote immediately above is from the poem Invictus. It was this poem that Nelson Mandela went to for inspiration and courage all during his long years of imprisonment on Robben Island. Mandela walked free from prison not only a free man externally but free internally. Over the post Robben Island years Mandela – with great clarity of purpose, choose not to walk down the path of revenge but rather, statesmanlike, to seek the higher ground of integrity and honour.
What makes an adult? In short it is the ability, the willingness, the courage to take responsibility for our actions. Blaming others keeps us a child. Looking for excuses never grows us. Avoiding hard work, tough decisions and the consequences of our actions ties our maturity hands behind our back and leaves us permanently in adolescence. Constantly comparing self with others never allows our unique gift and contribution to come forth and make our world an ever more beautiful place.
One of my most often quoted lines is, “Whose needs are getting met here?” One of the times I find myself using this question most is when I observe parents vacating the vital but difficult space of boundary creating, consequence imposing and responsibility embracing in the rearing of children. Sure it is difficult to create boundaries, allow our children to feel consequences and take responsibility for THEIR actions and choices: we all know that. Sure it is thankless: but that is life and what we signed up for – and in the long term it will bless us a thousand times over. Sure it requires being other centred: but that is the key to true happiness.
The term ‘tough love’ is often banded about – and with good reason. When we do the hard yards of creating boundaries (that protect) and enforce them – when we patiently allow the space for children to truly experience the consequences of their actions – when we continually link actions to responsibility – it is tough – but it is true love.
How often do we see parents and care givers attempting to protect their children from the difficult, negative and tough elements of life – THE VERY THINGS THEY NEED TO EMBRACE FOR TRUE PERSONAL GROWTH. How often do we see parents blame the teacher, blame the coach, blame the employer, blame the team-mates, blame blame blame! And all the while the child, boundary and responsibility less, is left without the opportunity to truly learn from pain and difficulty, failure and frustration and grow to be their best ‘adult’ self. Such an approach is like setting off into the ocean which is life with no rudder.
Sadly too many parents and care givers buy into a false narrative of love. By ‘giving the child all the things I did not have as a child’, by wrapping them in cotton wool, by never saying ‘no’, by smothering them in “Yes” and calling it love we demonstrate a very adolescent understanding of what love truly is.
I am not for a minute saying that there are not times when in the face of an injustice perpetrated upon the child we don’t go to their defence and aide – often in the face of an ego driven, ‘me’ centred, power hungry adolescent in the disguise of an adult.
If we are not careful our whole society can be trapped in adolescence. Everything I have reflected above can be projected into all aspects of life regardless of age. It is the governments fault, the Church’s fault, the media’s fault, the neighbour’s fault and more. Sure there are times when we need to be critical of others – indeed the skill of critical thinking is probably – along with self-discipline – one of the two things that will save our planet.
The team loses three games so we sack the coach. The athlete does not do the hard yards so we attack and blame the coach. The player continually breaks the rules or engages in foul play and so we abuse the referee from the side line. We smoke heavily for years, develop cancer and then the Legal Firm knocks on our door to help us sue the cigarette manufacturer. We leave our children with no boundaries, no rules, no consequences and no true responsibility and then when we discover the delinquent adolescent right under our noses, we blame the school, the media or the in-laws.
None of this is easy. But boundaries and responsibility taking – when set, and especially when set early in life, become easier. They sow seeds of self respect that will flower as adulthood dawns. They create inner self-discipline and boundaries that will make life easier and the attaining of goals more real.
There is no greater way to climb the mountains we are all called to climb than embracing ‘no’. A ‘no’ in the form of self-discipline, a ‘no’ in the form of taking responsibility for my own actions and choices, a ‘no’ to a lesser version of myself wrapped in comfort and easy answers, easy fixes and easy but shallow friends. When we embrace these ‘nos’ and make them a part of our lives they quickly become part of who we are, they get easier and they gift us with true and deep and profound freedom.