I didn’t have kids yet while my friend was already going through a divorce. In the evening, she would end a bedtime story to her daughter saying:
“And they lived happily ever after. But that’s not the way life goes.“
Growing up, we learn many life lessons the hard way: romantic love cannot solve all your problems. Your perfect half doesn’t exist. Only you can make yourself happy. And you can’t expect people to behave the way you want them to.
To become stable adults, our children need social and emotional learning. There’s more to happiness and success in life than school grades.
Get to know yourself first. Try to accept and overcome your negative feelings. It’s really hard. It is hard to feel sadness, anger, fear, and jealousy; but everyone does. Things change, better things come. Only when you don’t run away from yourself can you understand other people. Only then can you establish good communication and keep positive relationships.
Try to make good decisions every day — from what you wear to who you spend your time with. Life is hard, good moments are precious.
Help your children learn how to take their destiny into their own hands one thing at the time.
This all looks like a good wish list, but many adults haven’t accomplished it. How do we teach our kids to do so then?
Well, how about reading stories? Watching movies? Talking and showing how to?
I grew up on Andersen’s and the Grimm brothers’ fables, which were too grim for me (the pun intended). I also watched Disney’s cartoons and expected to find Prince Philip. He was unavailable.
After a couple of decades, I finally realized — you can’t sleep your way to happiness. And even if you work your butt off, no glass shoe will raise your social status. You may not even get what you think you deserve. Life can be unfair.
When my kids were 3, I bought them a French book about a boy whose bird died. I wanted to bring in a bit of the Danish spirit to our family. Life is a box of chocolates — not because it’s all sweet but because you don’t know what you are going to get. And the negative is inevitable. The unpredictability scares us.
This is why Danes read gloomy stories to their kids:
“Danes often rank as the happiest people on Earth, and it’s a happiness that’s based on realistic expectations. We know that scars are a part of life. We can’t avoid getting hurt, but we can give our children the tools to handle real-life experiences in a healthy way and recognize that these downturns won’t topple them.“
Source — Reading as the Danes do: Why Denmark’s tragic tales are valuable for kids, by Iben Sandahl
With such stories, Danes help their children accept their own negative emotions and strengthen their empathy. When something harsh happens to the character in the book, the child feels bad about it. Still, this happens to someone else (and not to the child), so there is no danger of getting overwhelmed. This way Danish kids go through negative experiences and also feel emotional catharsis by the end of the story — they feel fear and sadness, which decreases their inner tension.
However, for some children, Danish stories are too much to handle because they are highly sensitive.
As my kids are getting older, I know I cannot fully prepare them for the grown-up world. But I can help them find the right direction. So, I thought of sharing these life lessons with them:
- Most of us are average. You are enough the way you are.
We lose years feeling insecure about ourselves. It’s better to be realistic about who you are and how you see others. Even exceptional people are ordinary in some ways. Everybody’s great at something.
- Don’t feel awkward because you are different. Others just may not understand you.
Some of the most accomplished men and women were misunderstood as children, even bullied. If you take your uniqueness to your own advantage, you can become braver and kinder.
- Growing up hurts, it’s normal to have a desire to escape.
But instead of running away (sometimes even into drugs and alcohol), try to be creative or useful to something bigger than you.
- Don’t look for love to make you happy forever. Because it won’t.
Love as an emotion comes and goes. Love as a partnership is something you work on, not a present you receive.
- Learn how to accept your negative feelings. Many adults still don’t know this.
Fear, envy, jealousy, sadness, loneliness… Everybody feels them. The good thing is that they come and go.
- Enjoy being alone and you won’t feel lonely anymore.
Sometimes you feel the loneliest when you are in the company of others. And solitude can heal.
- Fear is always different from what you are afraid of.
Our biggest demons are inside us. And they are the most difficult to conquer.
- Problems teach us valuable lessons; challenges make us grow.
We often learn more from hard experiences than pleasant ones.
- The best things in life are what you make or do. And when you create something, you are your best version then.
So few of us get to be satisfied with our lives. When we fulfil our personal potential, when we reach our mission, then we become the lucky few. And we can help our kids become those with a lot of love and understanding.
- Life is uncomfortable, unpredictable, and rewarding.
When life goes down, this thought can help you keep the faith. When life goes up, be thankful.
As a child, I never read a real but not brutal story. So, I made one for my kids about a little wild bird who cannot fit in the farm life. She feels sad and lonely until something ordinary happens. I’m waiting for them to turn 7 so that we can read it together.
When your kids are toddlers, you are ambitious to protect them from all the pain. As they are getting older, you realize that you can’t. What you can do is brace yourself for their little hardships. And help them when they ask you to. Life isn’t a beach. There’s no reason to hide this from them. One step at a time. One cartoon, one movie, one story. A piece of advice here and there. Some of that parental “brainwashing” eventually gets stuck in their little minds.
Hey, I’m Maria. A translator and a mom who tries her best. I write about real-life parenting. Check out my website https://mariamilojkovic.com/