For some childless adults like me, the thought of spending a Saturday afternoon with friends with young children can be horrifying.
Not only do our options of meeting places become limited to a handful of child friendly venues, but there’s also the (almost certain) prospect of noisiness, outbursts of mild misbehaviour and maybe even outright tantrums. Cringe!
However, despite these possible inconveniences, I’ve been increasingly coming away from spending time with young children feeling refreshed, joyful and inspired.
I’ve found this through abandoning my adult perspective and allowing myself to fully engage with the children on a peer-to-peer level.
Here are some valuable lessons I learnt at my most recent outing for lunch with friends and their five-year-old daughter:
Ask for what you want—even if it’s not initially offered to you.
The kids’ menu at the restaurant we went to offered chicken and sausages and mash, amongst other things. However, none of the dishes on this menu appealed to my young friend, who requested to have prawns instead. Prawns—an adult dish according to the menu. I admired her courage in demanding something that had not been offered to her—she didn’t ask if she could have prawns, but stated outright that this was what she wanted.
Perhaps she just got lucky this time, but I could not help but wonder whether it’s less about striking lucky and more about creating our luck by boldly asking for what we really want, rather than allowing our choices to be pre-filtered for us by others?
What if we outright requested that promotion we feel we deserve this year rather than waiting for it to be offered to us when it’s suitable for the company, or if we asked to lead the new project currently under development at the charity we volunteer at rather than assuming the position is not available to volunteers?
Stretch yourself (while arming yourself with a support network).
After placing our orders, our drinks arrived but not my young friend’s apple juice. She patiently waited a little longer then decided she’d ask the waiter for it. She let us know that she’d like to engage with the waiter directly/that she didn’t need our help to call him over to the table. She timidly said, “Excuse me,” to get his attention, and when that didn’t work, we encouraged her to raise her voice slightly until she was acknowledged.
Not only was that a great insight for me into daring to go beyond our comfort zones, but also into persevering if our first attempt doesn’t bear fruit. What seemed to help her, following the initial setback, was our cheerleading. There is definitely value in having a support network around us as we embark on stretching our current comfort levels.
Dare to challenge current boundaries.
Not yet fully constricted by societal norms or what would people think fears, my young friend eventually tired of sitting normally on her sofa seat next to me, and tried to climb up to sit on the ledge on top of it. When naturally she was reprimanded by her parents and told to sit properly, this did not stop her from trying a few more times until she lost interest herself after finding it uncomfortable.
We often talk ourselves out of doing things we’d like to do to be proper or to maintain the status quo. Yet we will usually wonder how things could have turned out if we’d only given them a shot. In fact, most contemporary research suggests that people towards the end of life regret what they did not do, rather than what they did do.
What if we allowed ourselves to replace our fear of repercussions with the satisfaction of having bravely gone for it regardless of the outcome? Of course I’m not talking about breaking any laws, but what if we just asked out that guy or girl that we met through work instead of worrying what our colleagues may think, or what if we just took that course that’s totally unrelated to our profession that some think is a waste of our time and money?
Boldly take the lead.
Having finished her meal, my young friend decided to entertain herself by asking us to play a game with her. She confidently instructed each one of us that after calling out our name, we were to reply to her stating what we do as a job, where we work and what we’d really like to do.
She was not at all daunted by the fact that she was leading adults over seven times her age, and beautifully managed the exchanges between us so that each of us had several turns to express the information she sought.
How often do we back out of opportunities to lead in various areas of our lives because we let our fear of not being qualified enough get in the way? What if we let go of all preconceived ideas of our suitability and just threw ourselves in fully with all our hearts?
Let go and be authentic.
I felt huge freedom whilst responding to my young friend’s questions about myself. I blurted my answers out without thinking too much about them as I had no need for any kind of agenda. Neither did I try to impress her or tone down for fear of showing off as we sometimes do when we’re asked to talk about ourselves. I was fully myself and didn’t try to edit t in any way.
Perhaps this was because she listened graciously to all that we said, without judgement. How different our interactions with people would be if we feared no judgement on their part and, likewise, if they feared none from us.
Be curious—play along.
After being on the receiving end of my young friend’s questions for a little while, I actually became curious about what her own replies to the same questions would be, so I decided to ask her. She was not offended that I’d interrupted her game, and happily embraced the sudden change in game plan. She played along with my spontaneous turn of events and responded with ease. I played along too, digging deeper as I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know more about this wonderfully interesting and inspiring child.
Her still untainted spirit, freshness for life and natural happiness left me with a renewed sense of energy and lightness in my soul.
So next time you are tempted to shy away from an outing with young children, I urge you to think again.
You may just miss out on the most fulfilling interaction you could have had in some time.
Author: Caroline Emile
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Image: Bruce Tuten/ Flickr