"Finding Neverland": Finding the child in my parenting style
Originally appeared on spirituality.com
I’m Captain Hook.
I thought this as I watched Finding Neverland, which depicts how Scottish playwright James Barrie (played by Johnny Depp) comes to write the much-loved play Peter Pan. I couldn’t avoid seeing the parallels between Barrie’s inspiration for the villainous Captain Hook and how I act with my own children. I was horrified.
Watching this brilliant film really opened my eyes to something I had let slip away in the past few years: the appreciation of childlike qualities. The movie, based on real events, follows Barrie as he forms a friendship with four young brothers who have just lost their father.
Barrie’s playful nature comes to life with the boys, and he finds release from the confines of expected “grown-up” behavior. The children and their mother share in fabulous scenes of imagination—with pirates, crocodiles and lost boys—that are eventually woven into Barrie’s story, Peter Pan.
But the boys' grandmother thinks indulging in playful fantasy is ridiculous. There should be discipline and order, she believes, and a grown man should not be behaving in such a childish fashion. Grandmother becomes Captain Hook in Barrie’s imagination. And in the darkness of the movie theater, I realized her reprimands and condescension sounded eerily familiar. Oh no—I’m just like her. I’m Hook.
I could hear myself telling my 10-year-old to quit crawling around like a dog or a horse—it was driving me crazy and besides, she might wreck the knees of her pajama bottoms. Was that reprimand snuffing out one little imaginative light?
How could this have happened to me? I taught young children in school for years. I’ve worn fireman hats, pink feather boas and blue tutus while coloring. I can recite Dr. Seuss from memory. But then I had my own children and somewhere along the way I began to feel responsible for creating future adults.
No one wants to stifle creativity. But what worries me the most is that hindering childlike thought puts limits on the same qualities that nurture spirituality. An open, innocent thought is ready to be receptive to God and communicate with Him.
Jesus, whose teachings I strive to follow, was pretty clear on the importance of childlike thought. He said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein” (Mark 10:14 ). As I understand it, Jesus was saying that we need to seek God in humility and innocence—with thought that is unassuming and uncluttered.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote in Science and Health, “Jesus loved little children because of their freedom from wrong and their receptiveness of right. While age is halting between two opinions or battling with false beliefs, youth makes easy and rapid strides towards Truth” (236:28 ).
The receptivity to what is good and the ability to make "rapid strides towards Truth"—another word to describe God—are qualities I want to instill in my children. Spiritually receptive thought may be the most important thing I can encourage. All I hope for them is the ability to listen to divine guidance—to be open and childlike—all their lives. That’s the kind of adult I pray they will be. It’s the kind of adult I strive to be.
Just as Barrie looked through the boundaries of early 1900s respectability and found Neverland, I hope my children and I can lift our thoughts to searching for the spiritual nature of all things. So I’ve decided to start cheering on that kind of seeking for my kids, instead of smothering their creative light with so many rules.
So far, so good. I’m getting better about asking questions about my children’s games instead of fussing about the clean-up. Though my Hook mustache threatens to reappear on occasion, I haven’t stopped my daughter from crawling around once. And I really surprised myself when I handed over the video camera to my daughters so they could create their own feature film.
But most of all, I’m striving to foster the type of open and creative thought that focuses on spiritual answers to life’s questions. And I’m leaving my hook in the garbage.