Metaphorical language provides layers of understanding in our children’s world. Here’s an example of a typical scene between a four-year old and her mother:
Mom and child are in the child’s bedroom. Clean clothes are on the bed, directly delivered from the dryer. Mom and daughter are folding and putting away the clean clothes. Mom shows her daughter how to properly fold a tee-shirt and lay it in the drawer so it doesn’t become wrinkled. Daughter attempts to fold the shirt, but doesn’t quite make it to non-wrinkled status. Mom shows her again. And again. Finally Mom smiles and says, “One more time. The sleeves have to go this way.”
“Are you mad at Daddy?”
Fumbling to get from laundry to a husband sleeping on the couch last night, Mom says, “Oh, honey, I won’t be mad at you for not folding your shirt the right way.”
Daughter looks up and watches Mom carefully pat the professional-looking folded tee-shirt.
“I’m not mad at you,” Mom insists.
Her finger creeps into her mouth, her eyes never leaving Mom’s.
Before Mom crouches down to be at her level, she carefully lays the folded tee-shirt on top of the dresser. She turns and cups her heart-shaped face in her hands and says, “I love you. I would never make you sleep on the couch for not folding your shirt correctly.”
She stares soberly into her mother’s eyes, considering what has been said. Mom smiles and regains her feet, glad that she told her how much she loved her. As Mom is about to leave the room, her daughter quietly asks, “Can you make Daddy perfect?”
Children have a way of understanding our actions and words with much greater understanding than we realize. Before ego defense mechanisms cloud our young ability to survey our world, we enjoy a rich tapestry of metaphorical enlightenment. It is only through the aging process that begin to doubt our “second” sense of what really is happening right in front of us.
Be gentle with yourself and your children (and that imperfect spouse).