A game of chase is under way. 6 year old and 4 year old are running around wildly, darting behind couches and leaping over stairs. They are thrilled with idea that they just might be captured and they just might escape. A rush of adrenaline ensues. Taking turns grabbing and tickling each child I am conscious of playing fair. After I nab 4 year old boy, I nab 6 year old boy. Keeping the playing field even makes the game more enjoyable for everyone. Some competition for my attention is ALWAYS in play. I tell myself it's got something to do with their male-ness. They compete for my affection and my attention all the time. Literally.
Ooops, I got 4 year old twice in a row, a few more times that big son. Maybe tickled 4 year old with a little too much vigor. Big son gets jealous. Because the game is physical it turns to wrestling on the floor. At first they wrestle just me, taking turns plowing me over. Then, a brother wrestling match ensues. Bigger son being, well, bigger, gets a little rough. A little rougher the next time too. Pretty soon, he's too rough. He's jealous and he's too rough and little son cries. And cries. Because crying is little son's way of staying little and getting some attention back his way.
I have to correct big son, it would be wrong not to. I challenge him, "your being way too rough," "you know he's smaller, you know he's younger, don't do that." Big son gets rough again. Way too rough. I come down harshly. "Whoa, not okay, I'm feeling really frustrated at you, you are being way too rough." Big son knows he is. I can see it in his eyes. He knows he's been way too rough, and he's ashamed of himself. He's ashamed of his inner anger and his inner adrenaline that felt so good when it got released on his younger brother. He sulks. He cries. He is so angry.
Big meltdown ensues. Big son is in pieces.
"Whoa, what's this about?"
"Talk to me, tell me what are you feeling?"
"Sit with me, tell me."
"Who are you mad at?" I anticipate his answer will be his brother.
I don't expect this answer. I think. For a while. Then I say, "are you mad at yourself for losing your temper?"
"Ah, I see. That feeling is called Shame. When you are mad at your self for doing something bad that felt good to do, that's called, Shame. And feeling Ashamed doesn't feel good. But being ashamed of yourself, doesn't make YOU bad."
I know WAY too many people who have lived their lives in shame. I know WAY too many people who have guilted themselves and held themselves victim to the experiences in their lives that were shameful for so long that they have literally ruined their entire lives for it. Shame sucks but it's also a normal emotional state that will occur and also, being an emotional state, will pass. If you let it. I want my kids, when they encounter shame, to name it. Then I want them to learn from it. Then I want them to let it go. I don't want them to believe they are bad and need some higher power to cleanse their sins. I don't want them to believe they are ALL that and a bag of chips either. I want them to know they are HUMAN. They have impulses/desires/wills that tell them to do all sorts of things. I want them to know that they are entitled to thinking any thought that pops in their head because everybody has weird thoughts. I want them to choose loving kindness over spite or vindictiveness or meanness or cruelty. I want them to work hard to not act on the impulses that are mean but I do want them to acknowledge that those impulses are within them. Because they are within every human being on Earth.
I just want my kids to work hard to be good humans. I want them to always choose love over hate.
And I want them to feel ashamed when they chose hate and I want them to call it shame, learn from it, and let it go.
So often I feel like religion is a crutch for the experience of shame. Everybody easily talks about Christian hypocracy and that is an annoying aspect of religion but what I really think they mean is why be a Christian only on Sunday? Because it doesn't make sense to the non-religious why Conservative Christians won't allow for, say, homosexual marriage. Because marriage is a choice of love. And I'm always on the side of love and I'm not a Christian. So, why not be on the side of love? If your not on the side of love, really, that means your on the other side. And that does seem pretty hypocritical since Christianity is about Christ's love. Anyway, back to the shame problem. I know a great number of people who have a problem with shame. Shame is a central feature in their lives, their entire existence is built on a foundation of Shame. Feeling ashamed is okay. When you have done a bad thing, by all means, you should feel bad! But, why do so many people hold on to that feeling? I think for some of these people, their religion is a crutch for that experience. Religion holds it up for them. Because they are supposed to be sinners of course, but they are also supposed to ask for forgiveness, from a God. Not from themselves, from God. So, they sin, and they repent, to God. But not to themselves. They are not worthy. They are sinners. They are bad. God has mercy on them. Whew. Thank God for having mercy on them because they show no mercy for themselves. Sure, some people can be religious and not live in containers of Shame, of course they can. Just like a lot of people without religion can live in containers of Shame. This isn't a causal relationship I'm hypothesizing. I'm just hypothesizing that for some people, including my father, religion has been a crutch that has continually allowed them to shame themselves. My father continually looks outside of his self for mercy and grace. Something bigger, his God, will have mercy on him because he sure the hell isn't going to, he's a bad seed, a sinner, a shamed man. Let me tell you, that's never gotten him anywhere but heartache-ville. He is a generally good guy but he's never worked all that hard to be the best person HE could be because he always has looked at God for saving him from himself. And, I think that's pretty sad.
So I will install this simple recipe into my children's minds and hearts. When you do bad, you'll feel bad, and you should. Then step up to the plate, call it what it is, rectify what you can, make retributions if your able, and let this shame go. No one is perfect but if you try really hard, you'll be pretty damn good.