The Village Is Accepting

By Melody Schalm

We had a house full of visiting family this past weekend for Canadian Thanksgiving.   To free up beds for our guests, my three young kids and I camped out on foam mattresses on my six year-old son’s bedroom floor each night.  Although blanket hogging and “you crushed my stuffy!” protests could be heard, to me our makeshift sleeping arrangements were a joy, like a bonus fair weather family camping adventure in October.

With my kids nestled in close each night, I found myself gazing at each of them as they slept and asking myself:  What do they need? What do they most truly and deeply need from me as a parent – and, indeed, from all who will become their ‘Village’ – to be happy and resilient and to thrive in this life?

The answer that kept coming back to me for each was the same:  They need total and complete acceptance of all that they are.  As parents and as the Village that will raise them, we need to be a secure base for our kids from which they can venture forth.  First and foremost, this comes from kids knowing in their hearts that they are unconditionally loved, accepted and valued.  

I teach social & emotional learning programs in school and after-school programs, and I learned long ago that who I am, and how I relate to the kids, matters much more than the actual curricula I teach.  In fact, my most successful teaching inevitably comes when I throw the curriculum on the floor, lean forward, look in kids’ eyes, connect with their hearts and say something like: “What’s up?” There are evidence-based practices that assist with particular social and emotional issues, however it is our moment-by-moment presence, our heart-to-heart connection with and acceptance of kids that has the greatest effect on their well-being, more so than any words we say or teaching techniques we employ.

So if being wholly accepting and present for kids is indeed so important, as parents and others who wish to ‘become the Village,’ how do we get there? We have all experienced how, when we are feeling stressed, run down or battered by life – not to mention annoyed, angry or wronged in some way – it can be difficult for us to open our hearts and be present and accepting.  In fact, for many of us, our automatic reaction to stress is to judge and lash out at those around us, the opposite of the prescription of presence and acceptance needed to grow kids’ well-being.  So, what are we to do?

I think the answer lies in the all-important question raised by social & emotional learning pioneer Linda Lantieri at the recent Heart-Mind 2014 conference:  “Have we done the inner work necessary to do the outer work we are being asked to do?” 

Becoming the Village requires that we make a genuine and heartfelt effort to be present, compassionate and accepting of ourselves, our kids and our community members.  This takes a certain commitment and work.  The form of the inner work will vary from person to person, however research always comes back to a few ‘tried and true’ sources of compassion and well-being:  practicing mindfulness, kindness, gratitude and forgiveness, fostering social connections and making a point of savouring the good things in life are a great start.  As parents and members of the Village, we often forget that filling ourselves up so that our blessings overflow onto our kids may be the best way of supporting them.   

As Thanksgiving leaves us for another year, now may be an opportune time to think about whether focusing a little less on the to-do list and a little more on fostering meaningful relationships, gratitude, kindness and mindfulness may benefit our lives.  If we all work to ensure our wells don’t run dry, our Villages will become more compassionate and accepting, a secure base for all.






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