I Would Love You if You Were a Garbage Man: Seven Principles to help your child find his hero within

By Deanne Brown

As a mother of three, two of them spirited teenagers, it is not every day that I am alone in my car and get a chance to listen to something other than Rage Against the Machine or Queens of the Stone Age.   But on this particular day, when I had full control of my radio, I landed on “All Things Considered”, a sometimes offbeat, sometimes profound, always eye opening news program on National Public Radio.  Brad Meltzer was the featured guest.  He was discussing his new book, “Heroes for my Son”, a collection of remarkable people that chased after their dreams and overcame unbelievable obstacles.

Brad shared his own personal story.  He was faced with a difficult time in his life when his book writing career hit a snag.  He was at a crossroads.  What would he do if he could not write books for a living?  At the time, his mother was dying of cancer.  She told him, “I would love you if you were a garbage man.”  Please garbage men of the world do not take offense to this; it was simply his mother’s way of expressing her unconditional love for him. 

It would be a very different world if every parent, like Brad’s mother, transmitted their love for their child in this manner.  Love with no conditions and no boundaries.  Love just because.  As Paulo Coelho explains, “One is loved because one is loved.  No reason is needed for loving.” 

When children feel this love, amazing things can happen.  It gives them the ability to love themselves.  It gives them permission to live fully.  They are not afraid to try new things.  If something doesn’t work, they will try again.  They can make their own decisions even if it goes against the crowd.  They can overcome difficult obstacles.  They follow their dreams and become who they are meant to be, not what someone else wants them to be.  They are heroes in the making.

Here are seven simple (but not necessarily easy) principles that you as a parent can live by to learn to love unconditionally and transmit this love to your children so they can find their hero within.

Principle 1:  Give Unconditional Affirmation

Unconditional affirmation is the greatest gift one can give.  To love your children unconditionally and to affirm that love gives them the ability to love themselves.  If we place conditions on our love, the foundation they build their lives on cracks and their true self-potential is buried as a false self begins to develop.  To avoid this from happening, our children must know that they are precious to us no matter what.  We need to support them, accept them for who they are and encourage them to always stay true to themselves.   They need to know without a doubt we will not judge them especially in times when they fall or fail.  This requires respect, treating them like individuals, and not expecting them to please us.   

Principle 2:  Let Go of Expectations

It is imperative that we let go of our expectations.  Our children’s lives are their lives, not ours.  We must be able to abandon “should” or “ought to” or “must”.  By letting go of expectations, we let go of control.  Placing controls on a child only teaches them to comply.  It is imperative they learn to think for themselves.  Do not expect your child to be like you, live a certain way, get the right job, or marry the right person.  This is a heavy burden to place on them.  They either become ridden with a feeling of failure or guilt because they did not live up to your expectation or they create a false-self attempting to live up to your expectation.  Either way, it is a no-win situation.

Principle 3:  Don’t be Driven by Fear

Do not be a road block to your children because of fear.  It is amazing how many people automatically say “no” to the world and choose comfort and security over taking risks or trying something new.  Like Albert Einstein said, “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”  Yes, life can be scary, but a life driven by fear is no life.  Allow your children to live the life they are meant to, even if it is uncomfortable at times.  It takes a bold person to let go of fear and say “yes” to the world, but the risk is well worth it.    

Principle 4:  Accept Ambiguity

Life is full of uncertainties and we must learn to accept this ambiguity.  There is nothing more uncertain than knowing the outcome of raising our children.  The human being takes longer to develop and mature than any other mammal on earth.  Children need time to grow and growth occurs when they have the opportunity to play, explore, dream, imagine, follow their interests and passions and of course, make mistakes.  This all requires time and patience.  Accept this natural process and hang in there.  There is no point in trying to rush or control their development, or we will interfere with their journey to find themselves.

Principle 5:  Live by Principles not Rules

Abraham Lincoln so beautifully expressed, “I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.”  Many of our lives, especially children’s lives are full of rules.  Rules, many of them arbitrary, result in compliance which solidifies a false self.  It is time to drop the authoritarian approach to parenting and take Red Button’s advice, “Never raise your hand to your kids.  It leaves your groin unprotected.”  Instead, live by principles.  Trust your children and treat them with respect.  Give them room to make their own decisions.  Teach them basic fundamental beliefs and values that are good and desirable which in turn will result in good and desirable actions. 

Principle 6:  Be a Good Role Model

It may sound cliché to be a good role model for your child, but this is a vital principle.  Like it or not, our children are watching.  Long gone is the old adage “do as I say, not as I do.” It simply doesn’t work.  Our role as a parent is to live our life fully.  This is not selfish, quite the contrary, it is selfish not to.  As American author, Joyce Maynard so wonderfully states, “It’s not only children who grow.  Parents do too.  As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours.  I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun.  All I can do is reach for it myself.”  When the parent is enthusiastic about life and reaches for the sun it is very contagious, like chicken pox.  Enthusiasm for life is one thing you should not worry about your children catching.   

Principle 7:  Do What You Love

Encourage your children to do what they love.  If your child wants to be a drummer instead of a lawyer, so be it.  You may not agree with your child’s choice.  You may worry that they can’t make a living.  But you must let it go.  When work becomes pleasure, it is not work at all.  Doing what you love brings joy and a sense of deep purpose and meaning to one’s life.  Wayne Dyer says, “Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life.”  If your child loves playing drums, it is your job to encourage them.  If you can’t, then the least you can do is stay out of their way.  Don’t let your child find themselves at mid-life behind a desk when they were meant to be behind a drum kit.

When we live by these 7 principles, we give our children a firm foundation to build their lives on.  When they feel loved, they love themselves.  When we trust them, let go of fear and give them room to make their own mistakes they learn to weather any storm that comes their way (and all of us will be faced with hard times at some point in our lives).  When we let go of “you should” and “you ought to”, they embrace “I can” and “I want to”.   When we set a good example and pursue our own passions, we give our kids permission to go after their own dreams.  When we accept our children for whom they are, whether a garbage man, writer, plumber or musician, they accept themselves.  When we live by these 7 principles, we empower our children to find their hero within.