The Children Lead


Yesterday I turned down a half-time psychiatrist job in the city of my dreams that could have supported us there. I was tempted. I’ve wanted to live there for many years. I’ve even joked that this is the place where God lives.

Perhaps if I didn’t have my children watching me live my life, I’d be moving there next week and giving that impossible job a try. I learned from this opportunity just how important my children are in my life. They are my strength.

If my children weren’t watching me maybe I would have agreed to rent out my prescription pad and pen. Soon, I’d have been prescribing drugs on a too-fast assembly line to the helpless and impoverished, those imprisoned both inside and outside of government-sponsored concrete holding cells.

The fact that I felt tempted tells me that even my soul has a price. Of course. Darkness and light are conjoined twins.

Because of my children, who are here watching and listening and waiting to hear what I would choose, I learned something very important about myself. I learned that, even as a person who looks daily toward the light for guidance, I still carry the seeds of darkness in my purse. I hope to maintain the presence of mind not to water those seeds and to keep them out of the sunlight so they won’t sprout.

I learned this week that my children are a source of strength to me. Because my children’s eyes and ears and thoughts are on me every day, they are key players in my ongoing efforts to live a right life.

Children pay attention to the truth in ways that an adult may not. Children, especially the young, view the world from behind fewer veils than we adults wear in front of our eyes. I value the opinion of a child as more genuine than one from an adult. The older we get, the more conflicts of interest we have built into our thoughts and decisions. We adults are in charge of our livelihoods and pantries. This can and must impact our choices.

My children’s thoughts and feelings and reactions make an important compass for my life. While I have been shepherding them, they have in turn shepherded me. I am surprised by the amount of gratitude I feel for their guidance in many aspects of my life.

Perhaps if I didn’t have my children watching me live my life, I’d swear more. Maybe if they weren’t listening to what I say and watching what I do it would be easier to let stinking language pop out of me like mouth farts.

Maybe I’d smoke pot. So many people do this openly now. “It’s ubiquitous,” a friendly woman in the grocery checkout line told me last week. We were strangers making chit-chat on Christmas Eve. She told me about her favorite place to get high on chocolate saturated with marijuana.

It could it be that I’d pour a second or a third or fourth glass of wine in the evening before dinner, pick up a grease-scented sack from a drive-through and trance out in front of sit-coms, if my children weren’t here to be taught how to live.

Would I walk to the produce market or read poetry if they’d never been born? Would I get up in the pre-morning dark to write if they weren’t here, demanding my attention and talking to me during the day? Would I simmer pots of vegetable soup or knead bread dough or fry potatoes with onions and garlic without them here to sit at the table and eat with me?

Perhaps if I’d sent my children to school, they would have been trained to watch the teacher at the front of the class rather than me. They would have been socialized away from family and thrown into the arms of their peers. I would feel less compelled by their scrutiny. Their scrutiny would likely have been long gone by now.

Maybe if I’d left the television turned on, given them electronic games and phones of their own and set them free to roam the internet, I would be free of their eyes and ears and thoughts. I could have lost them to drugs and guns, cars and the unending-material-wants.

If they’d grown unhappy or restless with these, I could have drugged them into compliance. Then I would be free of them, free to make my own choices. Alone.

A Jesuit once said “Give me a child till he’s six years old and I’ll have him the rest of his life.”

But this Jesuit didn’t have to go head-to-head with a lifetime of unceasing pressure toward greed, personal isolation and mindless violence. He didn’t compete with hand-held first-person shooter “games” or the spirit-killing trap of endless years of classroom indoctrination.

This Jesuit wasn’t up against the unstoppable pounding Gatling guns of marketing. The constant hurricane of advertising kindles and fans our monster desires, kills free will and deafens our intellect.

This Jesuit had no idea of the strength and tenacity of these effects on the human soul. Only deep in the forest, far out to sea, under the cover of night or hugged tight inside a close-knit family are there corners that can be made free of this overwhelming and insidious brain-washing.

How is it that any parent can be made willing to hand over an infant to strangers from the age of six weeks until the age of mandatory public education, for these Jesuit-critical first six years? Where does the pressure come from for us to engage our babies’ developing minds and hearts with electronic media and characters devised by Wall Street? How is it that we allow the agendas of others to occupy our childrens’ minds? Is it possible that a stranger can know our child better than we do? Is there anything a baby needs to learn that can’t be taught by being held in a parent’s arms?

As I write in the predawn darkness, I have tears of gratitude in my eyes when I realize how much I depend upon my childrens’ presence with me. I count on their eyes and ears and thoughts to shore me up during times of temptation. They always lead me home.


Thanks for reading, thinking and writing.

Alice Keys MD



  1. Dear Alice, I agree with most of what you are saying and yet, and yet I have some misgivings: your children will have to live one day in the real world and they will have to be strong to resist all the temptations they will come into contact with. Although I didn’t always agree with what they were taught at school, I still decided to send mine there so they would get used to the challenges they will have to face when they grow up. I made sure though that I always stayed “friends” with them through thick and thin and that there would always be a safe haven for them wherever I was. There is nothing wrong with going out and earning money as long as one does it in an honest way.

  2. The light isn’t really something you can “see,” it’s too all encompassing. But darkness you can see, only because there’s light. Put a painting with dark shadows in a museum and turn off the light, what do you see? Turn on the lights and you see that the light was in the darkness the whole time; it’s part of the human experience and you have to do is turn on the lights to see it; the light being what made us all; where we came from, and where there’s no darkness. Now that I’ve made a light bulb (probably fluorescent, maybe hopefully the new green kind that saves electricity) out to be God, I’ll continue.

    Children come from a place beyond time, that’s encompassing time but not stuck in it. Their “age” has nothing to do with how much they know.

    That light’s there. Although we all invest in illusion, it’s illusion when you let the light shine on it. If you don’t, you might think it’s who knows what, but it’s illusion when you really see it; and we all get into it, and we all have compassion for each other because of it. But you see, if you see it for what it is, then there’s no need to fear.

    You’ve listed quite a few things that are illusion, but have no fear, they’re illusion. And illusion is an illusion. It’s not real. It’ll never reach up and destroy the source of the light. You might think you have to fight against them, but this only hides the light: that when shined upon illusion takes your worries away. Children know that light. When you don’t fill them with fear of things that they know are illusion: that light shines. And it’s everywhere. In fact it’s even in places where you think there’s nothing there. It’s more real than everything your eyes can see, although it’s still there when you look at what you can see with love, I think.

    For at least a week now I’ve been listening to some music which I believe a child I had in another incarnation wrote (oh… ah couple thousand and then some years later in again “another” incarnation). Which is crazy enough and far removed that everyone is everyone else…. so… But the emotions are still there. The emotions for what a child is. Looking at that miracle one is given. The absolute innocence of curiosity. The amazing profundity of charm in how they relate to the simplest things of life we’d otherwise overlook and fail to see their charm (the child’s and the rest of the world’s)…. and the absolute overwhelming unconditional love that’s there that’s all encompassing, and from whose heart there’s no loss in giving…and the joy… and the freedom…and the amazing enchanting mystery getting us to suspend all judgments and look in wonder at creation..and as Oliver Twist brought up: want some more….and it’ll be there….always….

    And thank you for reminding me that time isn’t linear.

  3. Thanks Alice. As a mother and now grandmother I know where you are coming from. Although my 3 sons went to school I was about the house, didn’t do paid work when they were young so was involved in school activities, on the school ‘board’, ran ‘after-school’ clubs and playschemes in the Scottish village where I lived back then in the 80’s.

    Then they grew up and left home to go into the world, the big city and each one of them went through various struggles, transitionally from youth into adulthood, ending up in the psychiatric system, just like their mother and other family members. And getting through it and out the other side. Maybe going back in again if necessary. For that’s sometimes how it goes, despite the best of upbringings. A rite of passage.

    And now here am I, a psychiatric survivor activist, a writer and campaigner, maybe just for a short while. Maybe longer, who knows? Doing my thing, along with others, to bring about change. To a system that needs it. For there will always be mentally distressed people in the world. It’s a crazy world and getting crazier all the time. In my opinion.

    All the best, Chrys.

  4. This is a wonderful piece of writing and it inspired me as a mother and as human being. I am also grateful for the chance to try to see the world (and myself!) through my children’s eyes.

    Thank you for reminding me again how important is to pay attention to the little voice in my heart…and the bold, clear voices of my kids when they tell me what they need, what they think, what they dream and fear.

    I think that most families have lost something vital in having to structure their lives around work. One thing that isn’t talked about much is the way that the cultures of economy set families up for a disconnect from one another…parents stressed and strained, kids isolated and confused…everyone distracted by television and the latest material must-haves.

    I wonder sometimes what might be possible if families advocated for their right to truly be families…to simply have time and headspace to be together and to really know one another.

    That’d be quite a revolution…

  5. Alice,

    IMHO (I just figured out what that meant and have been waiting to use it! So what if I’m a little behind in on-line terminology!) Anyway, IMHO, this is one of the finest things you’ve written for MIA. So many ideas expressed so well in such beautiful language. You just keep getting better and better.

    I was a high school teacher in Catholic schools for fifteen years. Believe me, school is not the “real world.” It is the construct of whoever is running the school at the time and it’s usually not the teachers running the schools.

    Being Buddhist, your idea about how we hurt ourselves and everyone else when we hurt one individual really jumped out to me. We are all interconnected. It’s something that I’ve been feeling but never put into words until you gave them to me. Funny how you don’t see the obvious when it’s right in front of you. Working in the state hospital I’ve come to feel this overwhelming oppression that’s generated by my understanding that what goes on in the units of the hospital, done in the name of good treatment, is damaging not only the “patients” it’s carried out against, it’s damaging all of us who work as staff there. But very few recognize this. And I dare not whisper this to any but a very select few who work there with me, staff with psychiatric histories that they keep in hiding.

    And it’s always good to be reminded that, no matter how well intentioned I am, I carry some very bothersome seeds along in my pocket that should never see the light of day!

    I have never had children of my own but helped to raise one sister and two brothers. Children are the soothsayers of the Truth, until they’re taken over by all the things you mention here. Children are wonderful. Thank you for a post chock full of wisdom. I have the feeling that you’re well on your way to being a Wise Woman in all senses of the title.

  6. So glad I found this site, and I enjoyed your post. I homeschooled my three children for many of the reasons you discuss, and I would not trade that time spent together for the world. But life is full of surprises, and being a close, loving family does not shield us from pain or illness. My son, at the age of seventeen, developed obsessive-compulsive disorder so severe he could not even eat. Ironically, it was during this time when we floundered and fought our way through a disorienting maze of treatments and programs that I really began to realize how we all are “in this” together, and how important it is to care, and take care, of each other. I have been an advocate for OCD awareness for over two years now and am so thankful my son is doing well. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  7. Alice: It seems to me that the actual difference in your life stems from caring what your children think about you and trying to set a good example for them. Many parents don’t. And most who do care often forget about applying the principle of setting an example on a consistent basis. You seem to do better than most and in the process set a good example for me. Thanks.