This is a story about a Mother with many children. The Mother, like mothers who came after, had difficulty getting Her children to behave. Sometimes the children would disobey and get hurt; other times they would hurt each other. Distraught by the pain which they so unnecessarily endured, the Mother decided to make a contract with Her children.
Like all mothers that came after, She began by explaining, “I love you and I don’t want to see you get hurt; besides, we are running out of Band-Aids. You are old enough now to take on some responsibility around the Home, so…” and She outlined the contract. The Mother would protect them against harm, make sure that their needs were met, and provide a special dessert after dinner every Friday. In return, the children would respect one another, treat new kids on the block with kindness, keep themselves clean, and wash their hands before dinner without being reminded.
All the children protested and wanted to know why things must change. But the Mother knew the children were not yet old enough to understand why, and so, like mothers who came after, explained with, “Because I’m your Mother.”
A few of the oldest children, led by Her first-born, accepted the terms of the contract. They had experienced enough of the Mother’s stern lectures that they knew when to stop arguing and do as they were told. Not that this was easy for these children, for to this day one can hear the occasional “But Mo-om!” echoing throughout their Home.
The younger children, however, had a more difficult time with this contract, and the Mother realized that She had not made this contract accessible to all Her children. So, after thinking about it for a while, the Mother came up with an idea. She gathered her younger children around Her and said, “I love you and I don’t want to see you get hurt. I know that the contract I made with my oldest children doesn’t allow for some of your needs and the differences in how you learn. So I am going to ask one of my oldest children to teach you by example.”
The Mother then went to Her oldest children, a few of whom were in the middle of a game of Monopoly. Several of those children were arguing over the payment of a Community Chest card when another knocked the board over and said, “Come on, you guys, this isn’t about money; we’re supposed to be having fun and playing by the rules. Mom wouldn’t like it if she saw us fighting.” Another group of the oldest children were reading books to each other in a corner, looked up briefly at the interchange, and cautioned the outspoken one, “Shhh! You’ll get us in trouble.”
The Mother watched all this with a mixture of concern and amusement. Then She pretended to have just arrived and said, “I need a volunteer to teach the younger children how to behave and what I expect from them.”
The oldest children looked at each other and then back at the Mother. “Can’t we teach them as a group?” some asked. But the Mother knew the younger children would learn best from an individual, and explained as much. “Well, how about him?” the children in the corner said, indicating the outspoken one at the Monopoly game. “He likes talking to us about the rules.”
The Mother looked at the outspoken one, who said, “Okay. I’ll do it.” And so, the Mother explained that there would be a different kind of contract, and She would use the input of this one child to adapt the terms to the needs of the younger children. She also cautioned him to be careful, because his new status could bring about both great praise and great pain from those around him. The outspoken one nodded and said, “Whatever it takes.”
The younger children learned well from him, and the contract was adapted to their specific needs. But the youngest children still had a difficult time, and the Mother realized that their needs had not been met by either contract. And so She thought for a while and came up with another idea. She gathered her youngest children around Her and said, “I love you and I don’t want to see you get hurt. I know that the other two contracts I made don’t allow for all of your needs, and while you have learned some from the the others, I think you need someone else to teach you, to whom you can relate better.”
The Mother then went to one of several of her oldest children who had never accepted the first contract. They were busy playing around the sandbox, building elaborate castles and then enacting a variation of capture the flag. She called one child aside, and said, “I want you to teach my youngest children how to behave and what I expect from them. I have watched you playing with your brothers and sisters, writing your stories, dreaming your dreams. I believe my youngest children will relate best to you. I will teach you anything you don’t already know, particular to my youngest children’s needs.”
And so, the one child taught the youngest children, and they learned well from him.
Are there children who accepted none of the three contracts? Of course. Some insist on being rebellious, some have only recently been born and are too young to be accepting such responsibility, and many others—like the Children who were often seen camping and taking nature walks—have made other contracts. But that is for another story, another day.
Copyright © 1997 by Sheyna Galyan