It’s been a while since I wrote anything for the Little Bear Chronicles. I’ve grown up as much as my son has grown up. For those interested in reading previous tales of raising a child while being more spiritually aware, feel free to visit the Chronicles.
My son and I have grown apart as well as closer together in certain aspects. It’s been a joy raising him, and honestly I had to let him live his own path for a while. He pulled away from what I was teaching him, and part of it was because he’s young and wants to be with the other kids around him. It’s one of the reasons why community is so important to me. At one point we had a frank discussion, where he detailed that he didn’t like talking to his Helping Spirits because not a lot of other kids did. He fell away from the practice and the teachings, but sometimes one has to choose to let go and let the child discover their own path for a while. After many months, he came slowly back to it when a friend of mine also began teaching him the same things I was, but in a different way. He realized he liked the company of spiritual guidance, and liked the person he was while he was more connected.
He came back to the path in a big way shortly after his 9th birthday, and it showed up in a way I did not expect. It was an extremely embarrassing moment for me, but it proved to be a teaching moment for the both of us. Little Bear had been progressively receding into his own reality, escaping to the imaginary world of games/Youtube videos instead of facing what is out in the world around him while still being intact with his feelings. I had a feeling that the teachings that we were giving him were only sinking in to a superficial level, where he would retain the information and spit it out, reciting what I told him word for word. Well I mean, come on. That’s easy, right? Acknowledging and then escaping is so much easier then facing how you really feel deep down inside.
This great awakening happened this past weekend. A friend I know leads a really great sweat lodge, and Little Bear was very excited about the prospect of being a junior fire tender. He loved playing with fire, and seemed attracted by the glamour of doing an important job. Tending the fire at a ceremonial is something that is sacred to me, and I tried to pass along the importance. He got it… but to a point.
Needless to say, he was upset when I asked him several times to pay attention to what he was doing. There were several little things that built up over the course of the day, all leading toward more selfish and self satisfying tendencies then looking at the bigger whole. When I finally had the last straw, I told him that he wasn’t listening or taking his “job” seriously and had to take away the privilege of being a fire tender. Well… let’s just say it was a pretty big temper tantrum. And of course, it happened at the time when silence from the outside of the sweat lodge would have been preferred.
He’s a scorpio, and born in year of the rat. Calling him stubborn is being polite. Sometimes stubborn isn’t a bad thing, but stomping your feet and crying during a ceremony of release, prayer, and reconnecting is ill timed (to say the best). I called him out on his behavior, and after many long agonizing moments and many attempts at calming him down, I let him have his temper tantrums. Instead I focused my attention on the other junior fire tender who was being quiet, respectful, and following directions. Where your focus goes, energy flows. While this was happening, Little Bear kept voicing he wanted to be a fire tender, but I told him that he couldn’t because it was a position where you had to be responsible. And he wasn’t showing responsibility.
That’s when he told me he didn’t love me anymore.
I was quiet for a while, and told him that I loved him anyway. Despite all of the things he did and said. When he finally was able to process and take a step back and breathe, he finally came around and was open to listening and being more mindful about what he was doing. I was grateful he came back to being him, and prayed hard for guidance about how to best guide him in this to help him see the repercussions of his actions.
The biggest blessing is that the people attending/leading the sweat lodge are child friendly and understand the melt downs that occasionally happen when boundary setting doesn’t go well with children. They were polite, courteous, and pretended not to notice, instead focusing on the highlights of what the children helped with as junior fire tenders. The children responded kindly, and from that more confidence was built.
But I had to tackle this problem with him before it snowballed and blew over…
I waited a day or two before touching the topic again. When I did, he indicated how sorry he was. This wasn’t the first time he has done temper tantrums with inappropriate timing (well, it’s not like there is an appropriate time…) and I brought up the fact that he can tell me all he wants that he won’t throw temper tantrums anymore – but I won’t trust it until I see it. It’s not our words that count, but our actions.
And then I brought up his proclamation of him telling me he didn’t love me anymore. He fell silent and immediately stopped fidgeting, busying himself by pretending his hands were very interesting. I had a really great teacher that helped teach me about true love and being a warrior, and he passed along these teachings to Little Bear. I mixed in layers of what I also learned from my Shamanic teacher out in Oregon, and from that, this conversation was born.
“I told you that no matter what your choices are, that I love you no matter what. When you’re over 18 and out of the house, you can do whatever you want to and not have to worry about how your choices affect other people if that is what you choose. But because you’re under my care, you are my child, and you depend on me to live, therefore you have to abide by the rules that I set down. I can’t help you any more then guide you when it comes to your personal decisions, because I don’t want to control you. That’s why I’m letting you make your own choices. It’s your job to learn from your own choices instead of blaming others for how things ended up.”
He finally looked up at me at this point. And I continued, telling that his focus was finally on me fully, “What do you think unconditional love is?”
He shrugged. “I know what love is, but I don’t know what unconditional love is.”
“Well… true love is something that is always there for someone or something to experience. Unconditional love is something that doesn’t change. Can you think of some things that are unconditional?”
He couldn’t come up with an answer, and I could see he was confused by unconditional. “Think about it this way. That no matter what happens, certain things will always be happening and you can count on them. Like the sun rising and setting. Just because it’s raining and you can’t see the sun doesn’t mean it didn’t rise that day. Another example is that in our temperature zone means that winter is cold. Now can you think of something?”
At this point, he gasped and got excited because he thought of one, “Like the moon changes phases! That’s unconditional! No matter what happens the moon has its phases!”
We went over several examples until I felt the concept was stable in his mind. Then I asked the question, “So what do you think conditional means?”
“It means….. it means…. well…. that it doesn’t happen all the time?”
I smiled, “That’s great buddy! That’s right. Another layer to the meaning is that it has to be under the right ‘conditions’ for something to happen.” When he shot me a quizzical look, I continued, “For example, it’s unconditional that a seed has the potential to grow into a plant, right?”
“Well, the seed needs the right ‘conditions’ in order to grow. It’s not always guaranteed that it will grow tall and strong. If you plant an apple seed in the desert is it going to grow into an apple tree?”
“No, it needs the right dirt, water, and sunlight.”
“That’s right, those are conditions. In order for something to happen, things have to be in the right condition.”
I could see this information dawning across him and his beautiful face. Before I continued I made sure to grab his little hands. “True love is not something that needs conditions. It’s like the sun rising and setting. It can’t be taken away. To think otherwise is to be lied to. Something that others will use to control you. Love is not conditional.”
He made a face that made me chuckle. I could see he was already beginning to process this information. He sat still and quiet, squeezing my hand in return and looking up to me.
“Little Bear, when you told me that you didn’t love me, you were hurt. Only people that are hurt want to hurt other people. You wanted to pass the pain along to me and make me feel guilty to give you what you wanted. That’s conditional love, and what you’re exposed to a lot. Many people do that because they don’t know any better. I still loved you no matter how you acted, and I needed to let you swim in your feelings. To you it seemed like I was ignoring you, but I was waiting until you would hear what I had to say. I don’t want to control you or your actions, because that’s conditional love. I wanted you to come to your senses of your own accord. The path of true love requires being a warrior. And it took me a lot of strength to let you work things out on your own, in your own time. I will love you no matter what, but your actions affect how I treat you. And when you chose how to act, I chose how to respond.”
His eyes shifted focus, and I could tell he was about to argue. But then his eyes grew soft and the silence spanned. It had to be repeated a few times, but each time I explained this scenario to him, it peeled away more layers of understanding.
“Honey, this is something that you watch on your tablet through YouTube videos, and what you see all the time happening in school and here at home. For you to be considered ‘good’, you have to do XYZ. When someone name calls, it’s actually trying to control someone else. The thought behind it means that you’re hoping to provoke someone to get them to act how you want them to act. Like calling someone stupid or a brat, it makes a person upset enough to convince you that they are ‘not’. Again, this is conditional love. You are not those things when you ‘do as they say’. Unconditional love is nothing like that. It doesn’t try to control people, and instead there’s this constant support. A lot of people don’t know what that’s like or what it is, so it’s hard to explain it.”
After we talked about other examples of conditional love/manipulation techniques, we covered what would be conditional love. He finally was starting to get it. He laughed about it when I mentioned him saying he didn’t love me on Saturday, and he replied, “But I love you now!” Almost at the same time we pointed out that it was conditional love, and that the love we shared for each other didn’t change.
I brought the circle back around to emphasizing that I loved him unconditionally, but his choices affected how I treated him. I pushed that he had control over his choices, and not to blame me when I choose to focus on productive things instead of him when he’s throwing a tantrum. If he acted like a warrior of true love, he would step into unconditional love, paying attention to himself and how his choices affected other people. If he acted like a toddler and threw a fit, I would treat him like a toddler and put him in time out. He has the ability to control, but it’s at the power of his own choice. My love for him could never be taken away. It will still be there no matter what path he chooses. Even if it was to hurt people. But sometimes if we love someone, the hardest choice is to let them make their own decisions and learn for themselves. No matter how much it hurts us.