(Noted with pleasure:) A monster in the dark

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One stormy night during supper there was a crash of thunder and the house was plunged into total blackness.  When the lights came on a few seconds later, the children seemed frightened.  I thought the best way to handle it was to make light of their fears.  I nearly tossed off, “There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” but my husband Ted spoke first.  He said, “Hey, that was pretty scary.”  The children stared at him.

It sounded nice, his saying that.  I caught his spirit.  “It’s funny,” I said, “when a light is on in a room, everything feels so friendly and familiar.  But take that same room with the same things inn it and put it in darkness and suddenly it becomes scary.  I don’t know why.  It just does.”

Six eyes looked up at me with such relief, such gratitude, that I was overwhelmed.  I had made a very simple statement about a very ordinary event, and yet it seemed to mean so much to them.  They began to talk, all at once, fighting each other for a turn.

DAVID: Sometimes I think a robber is going to come and kidnap me.

ANDY: My rocking chair looks like a monster in the dark.

JILL: What scares me like anything is when the tree branches scrape against the window.

The words spilled out, each child saying aloud the fearful thoughts he had had when alone in his dark room.  We both listened and nodded.  They talked and talked.  Finally, they were done.

In the silence that followed we all felt so loved and loving that I knew we must have touched the heart of a very powerful process.  It was no small matter, this business of validating a child’s feelings.  Did other people know about it?

I began to eavesdrop on conversations between parents and children.  At the zoo I heard:

CHILD: (Crying.)  My finger!  My finger hurts!

FATHER:  It couldn’t hurt.  It’s only a little scratch.

At the supermarket I heard:

CHILD:  I’m hot.

MOTHER: How can you feel hot?  It’s cool in here.

In the toy store I heard:

CHILD: Mommy, look at this little duck.  Isn’t he cute?

MOTHER: Oh, that’s for a little baby.  You’re not interested in baby toys any more.

It was astonishing.  These parents seemed unable to hear their children’s simplest emotions.  Certainly they mean no harm by their responses.  Yet in reality what they were telling their children, over and over, was:

You don’t mean what you say.

You don’t know what you know.

You don’t know what you feel.

~ From Liberated parents, liberated children: Your guide to a happier family by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish (New York: Avon Books, 1990).

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2 responses to “(Noted with pleasure:) A monster in the dark

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