An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

Pity the Fool, Not the Child by Medina Tenour Whiteman

In Healing, Marriage, parenting on February 25, 2012 at 8:49 pm
There was a time, not so long ago, when I thought about my children and cried.
I remembered the harmonious idyllic world I had longed to create for them, in which they would while away their days in nature, playing with homemade toys and pine cones and things collected on one of our many sun-dappled forest walks, a rock-like stability underpinning their miniature cosmos, illuminated by a loving, calm, creative mother, protected by a strong, capable, dependable dad…
That was before I became a single mother of two kids, one and three years old, with a small farm (partly still a building site) to look after, and the trauma of a divorce to haul myself through. The routine I’d heard countless matronly bores harp on about as being the bedrock of a child’s sense of security became more of a zimmerframe on which I leant as I inched forward, so weighed down with guilt that I’d scarred my kids for life I could barely see how well they were, in fact, coping.
So when I went for a recent interview with my son’s teacher at his Steiner school, from which I left so depressed at her sad prognosis of his spiritual state that I found myself weeping again with guilt for robbing my kids of their pristine childhood innocence, I suddenly recalled something my mother had told me: ‘Never pity your children’.
Why not? Because whatever feeling you project onto another, you suffer it yourself – first, and perhaps also worst. It is the same elemental principle as that of du’a’: when you wish for someone good, you (however it may happen) stimulate goodness in the world – beginning with yourself. And when the feeling projected is negative, you do twice the harm.
Many Africologists talk of a kind of incidental witchcraft, when one merely thinks ills of a person, idly wishing something bad would happen to them – not unlike the ‘Ayn. On the other hand, asking for peace and blessings upon the prophets – or indeed anyone – carries as its rather marvellous side-effect the feeling of peace and blessings within oneself.
And so to pity, that peculiar sensation of viewing a person as though in an advert for Save the Children. It is not the same as compassion; originally related to ‘piety’, pity has come to mean quite the opposite, looking down on a person for being weak, ignoring their strength and adaptability, instead pigeonholing them as a passive sufferer. The pitier must, I believe, be working on the principle of ‘it takes one to know one’; pity must be overflowing in them from a well of self-pity that drowns out all confidence in their own abilities, let alone anyone else’s.
When we look at our children with this slough of despond in our eyes, what image are we helping them to create for themselves? How do we enable them to pick themselves up and move on from their setbacks? Are we merely projecting our own sense of being wronged and victimised, feeling validated when they too share our suffering?
In my short experience thus far on the bumper cars of motherhood, I have noticed that children absorb our impressions of them all too easily. I am still getting over that tendency to take on other people’s opinions and critiques myself, aiming more for duck’s back rather than bath sponge. Imagine what it must be like for a young child, who has not yet developed the ability to view himself from another perspective and rationalise what is true and false about himself.
To burden a child with our own perceived suffering is to double the weight of the world. To pity a child is to stifle her natural buoyancy, that zest for life that brushes aside defeat and comes out smiling. After all is said and done, though, pitying a child is really just a sign that we the parents are nursing a few playground bruises of our own. If we ditch the pity, perhaps we’ll find our kids can even help us come through the darkness and out into the sunlight – playing.
By Medina Tenour Whiteman
  1. Really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing. I was wondering if you could give me a further clarification on the difference between pity and compassion. I guess I could look it up in a dictionary, but I would rather hear it from you! 😉 Also, as a side note, I’ve had not so much the experience of pitying my children. I have however experienced the opposite – jealously! I would get a little jealous when I would take them to their trampolining classes or swimming classes. Watching them have fun and enjoy themselves made me whish I could do the same. So then, I decided that’s precisely what I would do. I now take African dance classes and go trampolining and get the ‘fun’ time that I was seeking. I know it sound horrible to be jealous of your own kids and actually it took me a while to actually admit that I was.

  2. Very interesting article. Reminds me why parenting is a journey for us parents as much as it is for our children. In my own experience, when I have seen ‘Save the Children’ sort of ads or children with special education needs, or disabilities it reminds me to be grateful for whatever little I have or the condition my child is in.

    I didn’t feel pity but i did tell somebody recently I felt sorry for them. It was for somebody who didn’t have the patience, compassion or humanity to just listen in a conversation. I didn’t internalise it, I told it to them. Then, I remembered Farah’s words about prayer. Now I just tend to pray for them. May be I need to also pray for myself too:

    The Peace Prayer of Saint Francis

    “O Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace!
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
    Where there is injury, pardon.
    Where there is discord, harmony.
    Where there is doubt, faith.
    Where there is despair, hope.
    Where there is darkness, light.
    Where there is sorrow, joy.

    Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not
    so much seek to be consoled as to console;
    to be understood as to understand;
    to be loved as to love;
    for it is in giving that we receive;
    it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
    and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.”

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