How good are we at receiving? Not just the physical gifts at Christmas and birthdays, or the new house or car, but the emotional gifts people offer - a smile in the eyes behind the masks, a hug (within the Covid bubble) the compliment. And when we need something, how good are we at actually asking? Do we consciously teach our children to ask for what they really need and to receive graciously from their own truth? I am studying the section of my Money EQ quest with Ken Honda, where he is discussing our lack of skill in receiving. He reminds us that our cultures place a heavy emphasis on giving but very little on receiving and consequently most of us are not very good at it.
Why is this so important? Because as with almost everything in life there is a natural rhythm or flow that maximises our mental health and bodily wellbeing. If we constantly give, we are all familiar with the term “burn out”; if we rarely receive what we need we can become inwardly resentful or even physically ill.
I decided to Google “how do we teach our children to ask”, and was somewhat shocked and disappointed. Every offering was from what I would call a relational view, not a bad thing per se as we have to live in society, but certainly a pre cursor to anxious and depressed teenagers and adults in my opinion. The posts explore how we can help our children to ask politely, to ask questions in a way to help the teacher understand, to ask others how they need help etc….. then when I tried to refine the search a little better I came across posts on “how to get your children to say thank you for a gift even if they don’t like it”. This particular heading caused a reaction in me something around “who is the child here?”.
Now don’t get me wrong, of course ‘nice polite children’ are a lot easier to “handle” in school, the shops, the hospital but I believe there is a very fine line between teaching our children to first know their own truth and to learn ways of expressing that appropriately and simply teaching our children to hide their truths for the sake of others around them. One article seemed to be encouraging parents to help their four year olds differentiate between “white lies” and other lies. Is this really fair to them? They will go the rest of their lives trying to differentiate and will sometimes get it horribly wrong; far better to encourage our children to articulate their truths. Their own unique experience of the world and how to balance this with the experience of people around them will lead to deeper connections, making friendships that last and finding lifelong partners who “get them”.
Parenting around this topic is fraught with challenges because we will no doubt encounter those adults who will tell us our child should have been more grateful; should not have asked outright for another piece of cake etc…. I’m sure you have your own examples. We let these things go because we hope it was insignificant in our child’s life, but these small incidences all add up and we end up as compliant adults, unable to make good decisions for ourselves or touch base and connect with our own needs. These are often the core influencers in mental health concerns in later life.
Ken Honda’s chapter reminds us that as adults we almost forget how to receive simply because we take things for granted. The receiving is ‘expected’. Children automatically, smile, scowl, laugh, squeal when they receive anything – we somehow lose that and miss the small everyday gifts that we could choose to bring gratitude to. So even when our child opens an ‘unwanted gift’ we could encourage them to understand that something in this is truly ‘good’ – the time taken to wrap, the thoughtfulness behind buying and even gratitude at receiving an opportunity to find ways to articulate “I am grateful for this aspect”, discussing process rather than outcome. When we feel the balance of our children’s behaviour moving towards pleasing an adult simply for that sake, we perhaps need to be mindful of how that giving adult can help us to explore the art of receiving truthfully. In the long run, as an adult we know if the child is faking pleasure at a gift, and even if not in that moment, we will inevitable notice that we never see them wearing it or using it.
Ken asserts that if we wish to receive more we need to learn to ask. Do we let our children freely ask? Or do we find that we sometimes stem some requests or even scold our children for asking because we ourselves are embarrassed by their behaviour?
Perhaps most poignantly for me, Ken says “unless you learn how to receive, you cannot give; life is a constant exchange of energy”. I know people who give give give – of their time, their money, their emotional energy and when others try to give back it is rebuked in some way, often gently, but still batted back as though they don’t feel they deserve to receive gifts themselves. The irony here is that if we do not learn to receive, then we are stopping others being able to give. We need each other! We need to learn to ask.