Nothing is worth more than this day
– Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Kids are little philosophers practicing the theories of the great philosopher of all times in real life. They live in the simplest stage show that is their life, without much sophistication and with no budget. This is ability smart, knowledgeable and experienced grownups need to learn from their children.
Kids do not have tomorrows. The younger they are, the more limited their understanding of time and the harder it is to explain to them what they will gain tomorrow if they just try a bit harder or wait a little bit longer today. One of parents’ biggest frustrations is their inability to explain why to try harder today for some imaginary tomorrow. Kids, on the other hand, do not understand why they should try harder, because from their point of view, fun is the best way to navigate through life and “hard” and “fun” do not go together.
Fun as a Compass
Kids’ attitude to fun as a compass is perceived by grownups as a limitation, a lack of perspective and experience. I wonder sometimes who is missing perspective. Kids, the artists of living in the now, whose present is full of fun, or their parents, the champions of living in the future, whose present is an endless cycle of anxiety?
Children invest all their energy in what they will achieve in the short term. Adults, convinced they need to delay their gratifications, exaggerate this and without meaning to, they have invented the opposite of enjoinment and fun and have turned their life into a dress rehearsal for the “real thing”.
The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things
– Henry Ward Beecher
If you are a parent doing everything you can to better tomorrows, if you are a parent telling your kids off for behaviors today that you are afraid they will keep doing tomorrow, if you believe that whatever happens today is a sign for what will happen in the future, if you think that pain today justifies potential gain tomorrow – you have just passed the most important audition of your life and have been accepted into The Big Dress Rehearsal, where you might spend the rest of your life.
Many parents fall in the trap of separating life into living in the show of life and rehearsing for it, as if they need to prepare all their lives for an imaginary future, when they will have everything they want, but they never take center stage and actually play in the show. The problem with living in a dress rehearsal is that you become very good at rehearsing and not at performing. Many parents invest in preparing their kids and become very good at preparing and not at implementing these preparations. In extreme cases, this imaginary future makes parents so anxious they torture their kids today and justify it by claiming they will be happy for it someday.
If you have ever had a conflict with your child that was very critical for you and you were worried they would take this to their future, while your child thought you were making a big thing out of nothing, you have been in the conflict between life as a rehearsal and life as a show.
A classic example of the life as a rehearsal and life as a show conflict is school. In my parenting workshops, when I ask parents about big conflicts with their kids, they say that most of their parenting energy is spent around school, homework, managing time, grades and teachers. Every argument over school starts with our belief as parents that the imaginary rewards of our kids’ schooling in the future will justify their pain in the present. Not many parents ask themselves whether school today is really preparing their children for the show of life they will have to perform in their future.
Our kids do not go to school because they want to. We keep them there with our belief that their future will be better for it. In the cheapest format of schooling, we invest 13 years and tens of thousands of dollars on this school rehearsal and we do not stop to ask if we know for sure what will be the format of the show they will have to perform in the future and if it justifies the long preparation. What we can say for sure is that we have become so good at preparing that we have no clue on what kind of a stage our kids will have to perform in 15 years.
Parents differ from their kids in courage. Kids are not afraid of a show that is not perfect, a bit clumsy, without any status or experience, because what directs them is having fun right now. Their primitive compass, called “fun”, has stood strong in the auditions of all times, in shows of all generations and on stages of all successes and challenging experiences. By following this primitive compass, many authors have written thousands of books kids have never read, producers have made movies kids have never seen and philosophers have described theories kids have never heard of.
Enjoy the journey, enjoy every moment and quit worrying about winning and losing
– Matt Biondi
Many parents, on the other hand, prefer the illusion of “the future”. They prefer putting off the fun of now and invest lots in preparing for life, in hope that fun will come, later. Parents go to work and dedicate hours of being away from their partner and kids in order to make money and have fun with their partner and kids on a short yearly vacation that they end up spending on renovating the shower, “because it cannot be postponed any longer”. They get into an endless cycle, where they do not know what started first, the chicken or the egg.
Kids live without too many conditions. As long as they have fun, with a little bit of company, not seeking a big crowd and not dedicating hours for rehearsing or putting on makeup, they will perform on a small stage or in a solo performance, holding a balloon and celebrating their total ignorance of the future. Parents, on the other hand, have endless conditions on the location of the show, who will be the stage manager, what the content will be, who the other players will be, the director, the salary, who will be invited and how hard they will need to clap. But so many conditions and fun do not go hand in hand.
We can learn from kids how to have the courage not to treat life as a dress rehearsal or an imaginary show that we constantly need to prepare for, but to live in a simple, magical, natural show that happens every day in every second of our imperfect, clumsy, fun life.
We should learn from kids about “performing” and having fun today, because there is a real danger that if we keep preparing, when the time of our show comes, if ever, when we are finally thin, rich, happy, pretty, successful, with a high social status and lots of the latest gadgets, it may be too late.
If we argue and worry about a show that never happens, we can only imagine a sad show, in which our kids will be just like their parents and stop believing that more importantly than being thin and skinny, we need to love our body, more importantly than making money, we need to be content to put it to good use or give it away, more importantly than striving for happiness, we need to be happy along the way, more importantly than being pretty in other people’s eyes, we need to feel pretty, more than wanting to be successful, we need to celebrate our existing successes, however small, more importantly than social status, we need to enjoy our friends and family and more importantly than buying gadgets, we need to enjoy them.
For kids, every experience is a show. It is natural and without conditions. They cry a little, laugh for no reason, sometimes they fail and they always get up. They do not have to have an audience and if they do, they do not try to please everyone. When they do not get any cheers and claps, they applaud themselves for participating.
We can learn philosophy from our own children, small, inexperienced and lacking perspective. We can learn from kids that life is a show that starts when we give up on endless rehearsals, when we stop trying to come up with the best show ever and we just participate and have fun. We can learn from kids that fun is an enormous force.
May the force be with you!