A common item on gift registries for expectant parents is a receiving blanket.  The phrase is used to describe blankets fitting a variety of descriptions, but the purpose of a receiving blanket is simple.  It’s to be one of the first blankets wrapped around a newborn.  It’s the blanket in which the baby is received.

The task of receiving is a fairly simple one – it consists mostly of greeting, observation, and compliment.  The first moments after a child’s arrival are usually marked by exclamations and observations like these:  “Hi!” and “We’re so happy to meet you.” and  “Wow.  Look how strong your little legs are.” We give all our energies to this greeting and noticing.

Fairly soon after that, various forces (some of instinct, others of culture) begin to bend us away from receiving, toward shaping.  We watch kids for signs that they’re developing according to norms, we encourage them to explore things we’ve been told are good for young children to explore.  And not long after that, we start keeping track of which things they have and haven’t accomplished, and by when.  We offer or seek help to get them to meet the benchmarks that are important to us.  We look for problems and if we perceive them, we then look for solutions.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of that. We usually mean well with it and often we provide useful support for kids in the course of it.  But I do think that it can distract us from the full measure of what there is to receive in a child.  When all of our attention is on the things we know to look for, we can miss the things that are most extraordinary about the children in front of us.  We can have our vision so trained on how well they do or don’t read books that we miss how well they do or don’t read people.  Or we can be so focused on how much they practice their musical instruments that we don’t notice the technical genius evident in the way they build block towers. Or we work so hard to get them to know their math facts that we miss and neglect a profound talent for entertaining and performing.  And perhaps even more distressing is that we draw conclusions about how kids are and then miss what’s changing about them along the way.  In every moment with a child there’s an opportunity to receive again, an opportunity to see something new and luminous.

If our first job – as adults participating in the shepherding of young children through life – were to keep receiving, over and over and over, watching for strength and specificity and growth, we’d get lots better and more effective at the rest of what we do for kids.

We’d stop wasting time pushing and forcing things that kids aren’t ready or available for. (Which would actually make those things easier for kids to embrace when and if they did become ready or available for them.)

We’d see the full range of what kids are up for and what they can offer and contribute, and then we’d act in support from a place of individual recognition rather than from a generalized, standardized notion of what kids can and should do with their time and with their lives.


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  1. […] love this one, especially since my Word of the Year is RECEIVE. Lovely (thanks, Tania, for sharing […]

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