If Children Led the World

Photography: Courtney Holmes

This is the first in a series of posts by Jessica Rios, and is re-blogged with permission from her website Leaning Into Light

For many people, the thought of children leading the world is a crazy one. What are we talking about here, a world with trampolines on every street corner, magic flying carpets instead of cars, and children making all the rules? No, not necessarily.

Yet I do assert that the appropriate design for a world that honors life, first and foremost, is one where children lead with the biggies. Let me break this down and tell you why.

Living for an Economy, Not for Life

In our world today, especially in the USA where I’m from, most people treat work as if it’s the most important thing in their life. Of all our waking hours every week, the majority is spent performing jobs that pay for shelter, groceries, gas, health insurance, clothing, the things of life. We invest most of our time at work, and we use the time that remains to the best of our ability, in order to tend to our homes if we’re fortunate enough to have them, to run errands, and to enjoy life with friends, with family, and in the quiet of our own solitude.

On average, we don’t love our jobs, but we do them because we need the money they provide. I get it; it’s basic.

Yet since so much time is spent doing things that don’t strike our deepest chord, at jobs that don’t make us feel more vibrant, valued or inspired, somewhere inside of us there is a significant sense imbalance, a discord, and even unattended grief.

So we go on vacation to escape the obligation and heaviness of normal life. We visit the spa, get massages and pedicures. We take retreats to soak in hot springs, read books on poolside lounge chairs and journal alone in bed with hot tea for a few days. (Oh my God that sounds great right now.) Then sometimes when we’re really weighed down by the big challenges and questions in life, we listen to talks by spiritual leaders who remind us that we are precious, that each moment of our life is precious. They invite us to ask what we’re doing with our life. All this deliciousness fills us back up.

Really, it’s all good stuff. Yummy, delicious self-care, reveling, regeneration and basking. And yet, there is something right under our noses every single day, all over the world and most certainly in America, with enough spiritual insight to fill countless gaps and heal old wounds.

Children, the Original Gurus

As a mentor once said, “Babies don’t speak English; they speak energy.” Children sense energy masterfully, in a way that most adults have long forgotten. I repeat: Children sense energy masterfully. Adults, if we’ve got the courage and self-worth, aim to live in alignment with our truth. Children, at least as babies and into their toddler years, don’t know how to be dishonest – unless somehow they’ve been taught through fear or violence that they’re safer when they are. It is natural for humans to be honest, and when children feel safe and loved, they express truth without compromise. They feel emotions in their raw, unfiltered state – something adults often seek expensive therapy or retreats to remember how to do.

Children are brilliant little Buddhas and we’re generally too blind or busy to see it. New little humans, yet boundless in wisdom, presence and delight.

They forgive easily, trust readily, tend to every moment as if nothing else existed, erupt in joy without hesitation. While adults are trying to be more free spirited and less concerned about what other people think, children – again, particularly in the earliest years before they’ve been trained out of it – are masters of free spiritedness and not being concerned with what other people think. And we think we should be the leaders? Teaching them to follow all the rules created by a society that values the economy over life? When the prominent voice they hear within can teach us about being, about Love itself – the most powerful force in the universe.

All this, and what children teach doesn’t cost anything! We don’t need to travel for it, we don’t need even to ask for it. They offer it readily as a natural expression of their unfiltered divinity.

A Co-Leading Dance

A world that values life more than an economy takes the leadership of children seriously.

If we want more playfulness, color, freedom, joy, authenticity and adherence to natural rhythms over mechanized structure, we can humble ourselves enough to acknowledge the piercing presence of children, and consider that the vision they seem to hold – one of a world that’s more fun, fair and free, playful, delightful and wild – calls for our willingness to follow their leadership.

Am I suggesting we just sit back and let them make all the calls? No, and I don’t pretend to have the answer for exactly how this looks for everyone or anyone. I simply know and feel the spirit of it, because it’s been burning in my bones for many years.

I’ve seen how we stomp on children’s needs so they’ll fit in.

I’ve seen how we suppress their big emotions because we don’t know how to be with them.

I’ve seen how we die inside, longing for our inner child, yet crush the inner child of our children.

It isn’t working. This doesn’t create the kind of world we’re yearning for.

What I know is that the dance of leadership, when it’s based in Love, is a co-leading dance, and one that belongs in a shared place between children and adults. And that the “biggies” are best led by children, who’ve almost universally mastered them.

Where Children Lead: the Biggies

The biggies are in the realm of Spirit. Not in a religious sense, though Spirit extends itself through anyone with an openness to receive its gifts. Spirit is the place of Love within us that’s difficult to measure yet deeply felt. The place where all the good things take center stage.

Presence, honesty, joy and forgiveness. Adventure, curiosity, fun and Love. These are the places where children can lead. I know it because my daughter has been leading our family in these places since the day I began listening to her in my womb. Something humble enough in me, and in my husband, sees so piercingly the breathtaking presence of our child, that we let her lead in these areas.

Through her we hear desires for more adventure and wonder, and we follow her lead by playing our adult leadership role to make them happen.

Through her we witness curiosity about so many things. Not usually with the question, “Why?” but with the places her attention goes. Sure, we’ve seen 1,000 ladybugs before, and although we might prefer to do a Point A to Point B walk downtown rather than stopping for ladybug observation, we challenge ourselves to follow her lead here at least as much as we follow our own.

Through her we see an unrivaled truthfulness that we aspire to embody ourselves.

We allow ourselves to look goofy and act silly because her capacity for fun, delight and joy are so much more delicious than the closedness of restraint. We want her to see us blissed out, too. We want to accept her invitation and leadership to feel the weightlessness of joy in life; why would we refuse this?

Above all, we let the Love we feel for her raise the bar for everything else in our lives. If this most powerful feeling and force of Love between us, that we feel so profoundly with our daughter, is possible… What else is possible? What are we tolerating that simply isn’t a match for us – since, if our daughter is as eternally worthy and lovable as we know her to be, aren’t we both that worthy and lovable too?

Where Adults Lead: the Container

Clearly when our daughter wants to stay at the Bay Area Discovery Museum and it’s almost bedtime, we don’t tend to stay. We know from experience that being overtired doesn’t serve her physical, emotional or mental development and we trust ourselves to set a limit and decide we’re going home.

Adults’ role in the co-leading dance is with the container: Honoring the structures and agreements that we have created and/or accepted, and being responsible for safety without teaching fear.

Cross the street at the crosswalk, when the light is green.

Wait your turn in line at the grocery store.

Get plenty of rest, drink plenty of water.

Use your words instead of pushing your friend.

Brush and floss your teeth so they stay healthy and strong.

Put your toys away.

Adults lead with the things of the world that we’ve learned with age and experience.

And wherever we’ve cultivated a capacity for joy, curiosity and playfulness, we lead with that too. Just because children are masters at this doesn’t mean we should darken our own wells of light until our kids flip the On switch.

Can we cook dinner with joy? Can we cross the street playfully? Can we forgive ourselves and others, swiftly, as a default, so that we can move on with our birthright – a natural sense of freedom to explore, show love, and delight in this life?

Adult leadership in the parenting dance also involves applying our emotional intelligence (EQ) muscles to witness, empower and champion young humans in their most formative years. Their exquisite sensitivity and newness relies on supportive role models who’ll really see them, and cheer them on without abandon: “You’re such an incredible piano player!” … “Oh my goodness,  I saw you give that toy back to him after you took it away, and he didn’t even have to ask you! You are such a good friend.” … “Wow, look how high up you are in that tree! You are so strong, and you’re really paying attention!”

That last one, that paying attention part, is one I’ve adopted as a way to honor the times when I feel afraid my child will get hurt. Teaching fear doesn’t serve children, so how can we communicate in a way that honors our parental instincts without training our children not to trust themselves?

“Be careful” is one of my pet peeves in parenting, as it is almost always said with fear. So with my own daughter and other kids, I’ve chosen “pay attention” spoken with a trusting and attentive tone of empowerment. It acknowledges that I am actually impressed by her fearlessness, and I also respect my own capacity to guide and empower her to less painful, more satisfying outcomes.

Vision for a Child-Led World

For many years I’ve felt a piercing sense of passion about the brilliance of children. I’ve longed for a world that honors The Child more, both in young humans and in adults – the inner child. And I’m pretty sure that, whereas many people have allowed their inner child to “grow up” and be buried within them, I have stomped my little-girl-foot on the ground insisting she will never be abandoned.

Disappointingly, as I looked around, I didn’t see much proof of child-honoring. Scattered here and there, a little, but our society mostly puts adults above children in a hierarchy of leadership. We lose so much in this design. We lose The Biggies.

Then, three months pregnant, I flew to Sweden with my husband to tell his family we were pregnant. I saw baby stroller ramps built up staircases in front of old libraries. I saw children in restaurants, allowed to be children. I felt respect, I felt reverence, in the air about The Child. It was thick, and it quenched the thirst of my long-felt longing.

So eventually, when our little girl emerged and was able to walk, and we would eat dinner at restaurants here in California, and I’d feel nervous that our daughter was going to disrupt the dining atmosphere, I surrendered my own fear and followed my husband’s lead instead. Let her out of the highchair when she’s done eating and wants to move. She is a toddler; she learns by moving. Her needs are as important as anyone else’s in this restaurant. And if it’s not a place where her needs are seen as such, we won’t be dining here.

A child-led world places the needs of children front and center.

A child-led world chooses to forgive rather than to resent.

A child-led world takes care of this planet, Mother Earth, our physical life support system.

A child-led world honors natural rhythms over alarms. Joy, delight and freedom of expression over denial, shame and hiding. Empowerment and faith over perfectionism and judgment. Inclusion, awe and resilience over secrecy, pretentiousness and destruction. Transparency over suppression and deceit.

A child-led world knows no war.

That’s the kind of world I want. That’s how high the bar is that my daughter set for me. That’s the kind of world my mothering is devoted to creating. That’s the kind of world I want for my grandchildren, and for this generous planet we call home. Only when we serve the needs of our freshest and most vulnerable, do we create a world that, first and foremost, honors life.


Child Honouring: How to Turn this World Around,  Raffi Cavoukian & Sharna Olfman, Editors

Raffi’s Centre for Child Honouring: http://www.childhonouring.org/

Child-Led Play: http://www.nature-play.co.uk/child-led-play.html

Jessica Rios is the fortunate mother of healthy 3.5-year-old daughter Helena Beam. She gave birth in her bedroom, breastfed with a low milk supply receiving donations from generous mamas with an oversupply. She is a leadership coach, writer, greeting card maker and big fan of Sesame Street. Her lifelong art is personal written correspondence, and Love is her religion. Jessica is the Founder of Leaning into Light, a hub for human fulfillment. She lives in Sonoma County, California. You can find her blog at www.leaningintolight.com and at her Facebook page.

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