These days a gigantic contrast stares me down, every single day.
On one hand there’s my 3.5-year-old daughter who, almost entirely unexposed to violence and other unpleasant aspects of the world, still simmers with innocence and purity. This summer when she saw a pinata being hit with a bat, she shuddered. (Whacking a creature with a bat!?) She expects utmost respect and kindness. She leads our daily gratitude ritual at dinnertime. She talks about how her heart is full of love. She sings about her two grandmothers, and how much she likes them both. Every week as I head out the door for acupuncture, she runs to me squealing, “Another kiss Mama! Another kiss!”
On the other hand is the pain of the world. Several states east of us in North Dakota there’s a militarized squad of armed men in black standing on the sacred soil of Native American ancestral burial grounds, spraying tear gas at non-violent people trying to protect the water. Signing the paychecks for the squad of violent men are corporations "too big to fail" like Marathon Petroleum, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. And our own government — in this case not “by the people and for the people” — is supporting this violence.
Welcome to the human experience, Mama Jess. In the words of our friend Nina in Sweden, the world is “sad and beautiful.”
Yet as a mother, this is big stuff. What does this mean for my daughter? How do I help her to face all this? It’s bewildering.
And there’s no escaping it, because there’s as much pain inside the human soul as there is in the world that appears to be outside of us. As her mother I must show her how to be with what shows up, not how to avoid it, deny it, pretend it’s not there.
Contrast. What a teacher.
So where did I turn? To women.
Women. The most natural place for me to turn to. Women’s wisdom — from intuition, from instinct, from the heart — is ancient, instantly accessible and generously offered.
I asked some of my dearest girlfriends to write a letter to their inner-6-year-old. Looking back, what would they tell themselves at six years old, knowing what they know now? What do they see? What wants to be said or seen or soothed?
They dove in, and here’s what came through. Some used their real names, some not. Some signed it as themselves, one as Auntie.
What they wrote is already helpful to me, and will continue being helpful for the sometimes-dreaded, inevitable, bubble-busting moments ahead in my mothering path.
A few of them said this exercise was deeply therapeutic, healing, they really enjoyed it. My hope is that other women and mothers living on this beautiful Planet Earth might write their own letters to their inner-6-year-old girl. As we unwind the wounds of our own past, weaving in the wisdom of ourselves in our 30s and 40s and beyond, we create a brighter and more gentle future for all.
Dear Six-Year-Old Shirley Marie,
I look back and see how alone and afraid you were.
You needed a wise, grounded, sober adult to take care of you. You needed someone to NOTICE what was happening, and essentially rescue you. A mentor. A bold and strong auntie. Your sister. You needed someone to sit down, to look into your eyes, to smile a full and sincere smile, to hold you and rub your back and say: “Your experience matters."
You were given no guidance, no example. You needed safety.
With all of my love,
Dearest sweet Pamela:
You are smart, intuitive and kind. This kind of intelligence requires you to stay wildly connected to your body, my sweet, so dance, play, sing… my darling.
Pamela, mother of four
You get one life. Live hard. Fear is a bitch.
You are so loved by your friends and family. Love yourself at your worst and best. Always.
I have grown up knowing there is more. Don't regret what you missed or never had.
Nature never disappoints. Fresh air solves most of the noise in your head.
Your biggest strength will be your ability to find good in all people .
Childhood ends at one point but being spontaneous, fun, active, silly, courageous, proud, and optimistic doesn't ever have to end.
You, Sylvie, are a bad ass.
Me at 40
Listen and trust the voice in your heart to make it through the ups and downs of life. There is a light in there that will help you see the way. There is a light in there that will remind you that you are never alone.
Every ounce of you is meant to be here. Enjoy every ounce of you.
Never stop playing...
Auntie, 33 years old
Dear 6-Year-Old Irene,
I want to tell you that… you are good and loved.
I see that you are confused and insecure and this has caused you to suppress who you are, and I want to share something with you… Even though your life circumstances have put you into “flight" mode and caused you to feel you cannot fully trust the world around you, these circumstances that you have lived through in this life, and all others, are leading you down the path that you will walk this lifetime. If you can release the fear and doubt, you will realize that God is everywhere and is offering you guidance in every moment. You don't have to know everything, you don't have to have things figured out. You just need to build trust and depend on God.
I wish for you to believe in yourself and in life and believe in the amazing possibilities that God has in store...
As I've grown older I've seen how quickly things can change and how fast time goes by. This is something many people will tell you, and that you will not understand until you have reached a certain age. But please don't delay in putting everything you are on the line for what you believe in, for what you know to be true. Jump now, and you will see that you can fly!
Dearest little wild one,
I see you. Always climbing to the top of your lemon tree, then squeezing through the hole which leads to a quiet view from your roof top. I see you in your blue Mickey Mouse tee shirt stained from a pomegranate snatched from the neighbor's tree. Adventurous, excitable you.
Even though your mother loved you so deeply, you always wondered what love was meant for. It was meant for you. You deserve all the love which pours forth to you.
I repeat. You are worthy. This is your journey. I'm here, as the 45 year old woman that struggles to believe... to whisper to your soul: Sweet love, you are worthy.
In admiration of you,
Reflections on Little Jenny, from Jenny in her 30s, Mother of Two Boys
Throughout my childhood people asked me what I “wanted to be when I grew up.” I always felt like there was going to be a point where I “was,” or where I had “arrived" and this distant future of “being" was going to stop be in the future.
I wanted to feel important and to feel valued so I set my sights high. I wanted to go to Stanford. I wanted to run a company that made the world a better place. Then, I would be lovable and I would finally “be.”
So, I did. I accomplished big things. And yet, this feeling of “being" never arrived. There was always something more to accomplish. I always thought, Strive more then you will “be," then you will “arrive.”
I wish I could say I came to my senses early. But, it wasn't until I had children of my own and I looked into their eyes and hearts and I saw that they were complete as they were. They didn't need to become anything, because they already were! And, this great burden of accomplishing fell off my shoulders and I realized that I, also, was complete as I was. I didn't need to become anything.
So, to the children out there. When someone asks you what you want to “be" when you grow up. How about you respond with, “I want to be me." Because THAT is enough. You will do so many things in your life. And, I hope you feel fulfilled and joyful. But, don't confuse “doing" with “being.”
Ode to you, beloved ladies...
I invite anyone else who wants to share wisdom, insight or other words for your inner child, to post them in the Comments section here, or email them to us. It’s an act of self love, a nod of self worth, an expression of self-care. It’s good for you. And what’s good for you is good for the world.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a lifelong letter writer, a mother, freelance consultant and eternal fan of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. This deeply personal blog and our recorded talks and workshops are devoted to one of her great passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.