Parenting with Presence
Susan Stiffelman : Living with Passion; Fostering Curiosity

Modeling Self-Love and Awareness

Living with Passion; Fostering Curiosity

By Susan Stiffelman, MFT | 5/30/15
a selection from Parenting with Presence

Living with Passion

When I was sixteen, I worked after school at a day-care center. One day, four-year-old Ruby arrived. Her family had recently moved to Kansas City from India, and she knew not a word of English.

I thought it might be helpful if I learned a few Hindi words from her parents so I could ask little Ruby if she was hungry or needed to use the bathroom. From the moment my Hindi lesson began, something inside me started jumping up and down with joy. I loved this language. I practically inhaled our lessons, not wanting our time together to stop. As a sixteen-year-old living in Kansas in the 1970s, I didn’t have a lot of options for learning this “exotic” language beyond imposing on the generosity of Ruby’s parents who tutored me when they could find the time. I was so keen to learn that I began calling around the country, discovering that the University of Pennsylvania had a Hindi department. I ordered their textbook and waited eagerly until it arrived.

As soon as I received the book, I became a devoted student of Hindi. In the absence of having an actual teacher, I assigned myself exercises as homework, checking my answers at the back of the book. I devoured the material, and when I moved to New York at seventeen, I searched used bookstores for dictionaries and writing primers. When I ran out of those I could practice my Hindi with, I started calling people out of the phone book whose last name was Singh, asking them — in Hindi — if they would chat with me!

The best way I can describe this near obsession with learning Hindi was that I loved the way the words tasted in my mouth. An enormous happiness filled me whenever I studied, making it impossible to subdue the urge to learn.

This makes no sense — a teenage girl from Kansas passionately wanting to learn the language of people on the other side of the world. Yet learning Hindi opened doors for me that to this day continue to add something very special to my life. And of course when I have traveled in India, the experiences I’ve had because I speak the language (albeit imperfectly) have been extraordinary.

Consider how your children watch you using your time. If you carve out space for pursuing your passions — reading, painting, watching the stars, gardening — your children will see learning as an important part of life. And if you aren’t sure what brings you joy, pursue the little things that catch your eye: a link on a Twitter feed, an interview on the radio, a headline on a magazine cover. Follow the bread crumbs, and they will carry you to where your heart wants you to go.

Fostering Curiosity

Each child comes with his or her unique built-in, preloaded passions. Some kids are consumed by a desire to dance their hearts out. Others want nothing more than to concoct culinary delights. Some want to tell stories, spend time with animals, or sketch inventions. If we want our children to discover their passion and purpose, we must stay open to what they drift toward rather than pushing them in directions we prefer they follow but that do not call to them.

Doing this requires plenty of unstructured time and exposure to a variety of people and experiences. The endless organized activities we impose on our kids, coupled with pounds of nightly homework and the constant pull of their digital lives, often leaves no time for the quiet in which they might hear the voice leading them to their path of exploration. Had I not had free time in high school, I might never have pursued my desire to learn Hindi. Packing a child’s day from morning to night — and nowadays, weekends and summers — leaves them no time to wander, daydream, or explore the things that bring them alive.

Raising a child to be who he is meant to be also requires a commitment to fostering his fascination with life. I love the line from the contract that Janell Burley Hofmann wrote when she gave her thirteen-year-old son an iPhone: “Wonder without googling.” In today’s world, children rarely puzzle over things; the answer to any question is just seconds away, via whatever device is handy. But one of the greatest skills we can help our children develop is the capacity to solve problems. This requires settling into the not-knowing space generated between curiosity and answers.

Give your kids the opportunity to step outside traditional classroom walls and sniff out the things that interest them. These pursuits may not make sense at the time or even be long-lasting, but what a joy it is to follow the yearnings of the heart, as mysterious as they may be. When we do, all kinds of magic can happen.

By infusing your life with meaning and a passion for learning, and by providing your children with real-life opportunities to do the same, you will help inoculate them against ennui, apathy, and malaise, infusing their spirits with the joy that comes from pursuing the things that stir their souls. •

Next: Happiness is an Inside Job »

Susan StiffelmanSusan Stiffelman, MFT is the bestselling author of Parenting with Presence and Parenting without Power Struggles. More »

Excerpted from the book Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids ©2015 by Susan Stiffelman.  Printed with permission of New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com

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