I am sure that many of us had a piggy bank when we were young. As a child I had a square tin replica of the Commonwealth Bank but then I progressed to the traditional pig shaped vault containing hard earned pennies or found by the side of the road sixpences!
Now, before I continue I need to confess. I am not a parent. I have not attempted to parent a moody teenager whose language at times with its grunts and groans and rolling eyes and hunched shoulders resemble a savage hunter gatherer or cave person. I am not a parent. I have not spent sleepless night after sleepless night with a crying, teething child attempting – often without success – to get some sort of sleep rhythm going. I am not a parent. I have not changed nappies, ridden the rollercoaster of hormones with my children, attempted to translate teenage body language nor manage to get the towels and underpants left laying on the floor to be placed upon racks or in cupboards that children appear not to know exist!
But I have watched thousands of youth grow and dance, stumble and stagger, run and waltz towards responsibility and adulthood.
The piggy bank is awesome. Its whole reason for existence is to put things into, to build up a bank and to prepare for the future. As you save the pennies they eventually become pounds – the cents become dollars. So what do we need to put into the piggy bank of life? Each of these things we ‘put in’ through thousands of small choices and actions – each in their own way, a ‘coin’ that will one day bear fruit beyond its individual worth and appearance now.
We put into the piggy bank thousands of small actions, words and responses that say over and over again, “I love you!” I love YOU: warts and all. I don’t just love you on good days and when you are good. I love you – full stop. Sure your actions, decisions, attitudes, behaviours may frustrate, disappoint, annoy or even anger me. But they are NOT YOU. You are the beautiful, wonderful creation of life and of love beyond these actions, decisions and more. The door of my home and of my heart is always open to receive you home. You don’t earn my love – it just is. You don’t need to grovel and come back on your knees with a litany of “I’m sorry” (though to admit your sorrow is at time truly liberating). So, during childhood and adolescence we – through our words and actions – put daily into the piggy banks ‘coins’ of total and unconditional love. Slowly these words and actions do their work – deep within (where the true piggy bank is), they whisper that “you are worthy” even when you feel you are not. They tickle that “you are loved” even when you don’t feel lovable. And when that day comes when your outside is shattered (it will come to all of us in someway and at some time) it will be OK – for in the shattering the inner coins of total and unconditional love are released to do their work. Sure, we are hurt, sure we are broken, sure we are laid low – but these coins wrap their arms around our weary shoulders and pick us up again – stronger and more determined for life’s journey.
Into the piggy bank of life we adults – especially with small children – nurture and mentor resilience. Daily we put in ‘coins’ that build a resilient spirit. You will fail, you will fall, you will be disappointed, you will hurt, you will cry – but that is NOT the end of the story, only part of it. So we walk beside our children and when ‘life’ comes their way – we teach by word and example, that we are stronger than we think, with a toughness of the heart and that after the allowed moment of self pity or “poor me” we lead them and encourage them to get up again and again and again. So we allow them to fail. So we allow them hurt. So we don’t give them everything they want and when they want it. We lovingly say “no” and that ‘no’ liberates. Each of these moments of resilience is like a ‘coin’ that goes into the piggy bank of life. When true and deep pain comes in its thousand faces – we will not run away, we will not cower in fear, we will not feel powerless or over whelmed – we will (taught by word and example) stand up, face and grow through.
Resilience toughens us up in the best sense of being ‘tough’. This is not the rubbish toughness of the thug who lives by ‘power over’ or by bullying. This is the toughness that gets us out of bed in the wee hours to care for the crying child, it is the toughness that helps us fight cancer or the toughness that leads us to forget self and live for others in a way that truly liberates both us and them. It is the resilience that knows that life is NOT FAIR and that is OK. It is the resilience – wrapped in self discipline – that digs deeper and gifts us with the rewards of sheer hard work, tough but important choices and the satisfaction that delaying gratification brings.
Into the piggy bank we need to put the results of our hard work and tough decisions leading to a self belief beyond fleeting feelings and shallow satisfaction.
One of the things life’s journey had taught me is that no one else can give you self belief. We can affirm and thank, we can appreciate and point to your successes – but each person has to choose to believe in the goodness around and within. One of the beautiful things about self belief is that it must be built on reality – on real pennies in the bank. I was walking along near North Kirra beach recently and there was a small girl with her father at the edge of the water. He had her on a boogie board and would ‘tow’ her out about five meters and then release her when the small waves arrived. I watched as the little girl ‘rode’ the wave right into the beach. She was so excited. A huge smile broke out on both her and her father’s faces – when they met they high fived one another. Wow! Without knowing that father put a small coin of self belief into that girl’s piggy bank. He did not ride the board for her, he did not walk along beside her – sure, he set it up, but then he let go – and she did the riding. The day will come and come pretty soon, when she will be riding those waves totally without dad or perhaps even with dad on his boogie board close by!
So the coins of self belief are those thousands of small times of achievement. We kick the goal after a hundred practice attempts. We change gears in the manual car without kangarooing through an intersection. We can play the F Major scale – we master ‘House of the Rising Sun’ on our guitar with its A minor and E minor chords. Each must find their thing – their achievements – mastered through hard work, repetition and determination. But self belief will only grow when we do it – we can’t be mollycoddled or have our hands held through the journey. Sure, those around me will encourage me, advise me, pick me up when I have fallen – but they must stand back and let me do the work – my work to a self belief built on reality, on real achievements that are mine and I am proud of.
We adults need to be really aware of praise and affirmation here. Praise and affirmation are important – really important – but they must be real. There is no value in affirming when the effort is not there, when the behaviour is not good, when effort is held back by laziness, stubbornness or ego. When I conduct a student retreat – I will often thank and appreciate the efforts of the group but just as importantly – perhaps even more importantly – I will challenge and express disappointment when the effort just is not there. I am not doing anyone any favours when I build a sand castle of self belief that the tides of life will wash away.
The piggy bank itself
Finally there is the piggy bank itself. The structure that holds the self belief, the resilience and the unconditional love. The piggy bank is the boundaries that are vital for maturity and for a happy and successful life and relationships. The child can only grow through adolescence into adulthood through bouncing off boundaries. We need boundaries. Boundaries give us our identify and they teach us respect and responsibility. Self respect and responsibility for self and the other.
When the toddler reaches towards a hot plate on a stove we immediately stop them: we place a boundary. We place boundaries around crossing roads, what movies children can watch, how much they can access a mobile phone, their use of the internet, their behaviour around visitors, manners and more. These boundaries are a pain. They are hard work. They require discipline on our part but they gift the child with the boundary within which to grow to be their best selves.
I can clearly remember driving a mini-bus of students to a debating night against another school. On the way a group in the back of the bus we using bad language and sharing highly sexualised stories. When we arrived at the other school I did NOT open the door of the bus. I turned the engine off and then blasted them. They were not respecting me but more importantly they were not respecting themselves nor the young women in their lives. Years later I met some of those students and they relived my ‘ticking off’ with amazing accuracy – and they thanked me for it!!!!
The piggy bank (the boundaries) works with the bank of effort within it: the self belief, the resilience and the unconditional love. Together they liberate the young person to be their best selves. Together they produce beautiful self-discipline. Together they provide the blueprint to handle the difficulties of life and grow from them. Together they kick in when life gets tough – and when it does, there is bank of wisdom, self pride and inner strength to draw upon. Together they gift the world with a happy and peace filled child. What more can we ask!