Spending the day with my kids, I realized several things. Number one: I like them. This is not a new revalation by any means, but it’s always pleasant to be reminded. We took the bus into town today and visited the bustling Peabody Essex Museum (bonus, it’s totally free for Salem residents. I love this town). We played giant sized games of checkers and connect four, made a re-usable hopscotch mat and beanbag, and topped it off with hot chocolate covered in mounds of whipped cream. Fun day with likable kids. Number two: Despite the fact that I like my kids and we were having a pretty good day out, I found myself irritated when they didn’t do things exactly my way. When they were stacking the giant checkers, I wanted to straighten the stack. Or direct them to. I wanted them to roll the ball in a straight line, to feel the turtle shell this way, not that way. I wanted them to walk in the middle of the sidewalk, not the very edge. Couldn’t they stop squirming and just stand still to look at the seashell collection, and why in the hell couldn’t they drink hot chocolate like a normal person, instead of a five year old??
Am I crazy? It’s because (duh): they are five and seven. If you ask me outright, I’ll tell you that of course kids squirm. They need to move and to explore and to create. It’s a parent’s job in some ways to make room for all that and simply not squelch those natural tendencies. That’s part of what I homeschool (and have my daughter at Plumfield Academy): most of the rest of the world crowds in on kids. I want to preserve a space for them to be kids, to be themselves. And yet…I find myself if I am not careful, defaulting to the mind and soul numbing mantra of “do it my way.”
This afternoon I witnessed this “do it my way” mantra enacted by a nearby mother and daughter. It was devastating and went something like this:
Mom: What is this [pointing to the area of the fabric her daughter had drawn on]? How is your foot going to fit there? I told you to draw the squares this big, and you didn’t. You didn’t listen to me at all. Now this is ruined. Flip it over and try to draw on the other side, I guess. Never mind, it’s just all ruined. I tried to tell you and you didn’t listen. Now it’s is yours, your work. You fix it. No. You have five minutes. Stop crying, and stop talking to me. I don’t really want to waste my breath talking to you when you don’t listen to me.
If I am completely honest, I did feel a little bad for the mom. I have been in the situation where I wanted things to be just so with my kids. It’s a super frustrating spot to be in and doesn’t feel good. I am often able to pull myself out of it with a few reminders (such as – hey! who cares if the duct tape is not perfectly level on that homemade beanbag? It’s a beanbag). But sometimes it’s hard to do. The mom did not look happy at all. Of course the problem is not with a young child who won’t listen to a parent (in these types of situations at least), but with a stubborn parent who has unrealistic expectations. Of course it’s a frustrating and unpleasant experience, but guess who the source of it is? Not the child, that’s for sure. When I’m feeling upset that my child won’t do things my way, it’s a sure sign I need to evaluate “my way.”
But the really devastating part was watching the daughter. She was about five years old, I’d guess. She never had a chance to succeed or enjoy herself. She never heard a positive word from her mom, she didn’t understand (or have the ability to follow through) on what to do to make a useful hopscotch mat. She didn’t receive gentle correction, she didn’t receive affirmation about her attempts, she didn’t get any guidance on how to fix a problem (much less acknowledgement that a little square might not be a big problem – for heaven’s sake, it’s a piece of cloth with marker on it! It’s going to be jumped on, with smelly bare feet or dirty grimy shoes!) She didn’t have fun in the process, was crying by the end. I could almost see her little heart closing and walls going up around her. I wonder how many of us carry around wounds like this where an adult minimized our efforts, shunned our attempts, crushed our feeble spirits? How many of us are unknowingly inflicting similar wounds the children in our lives?
I’ve tucked my kids in tonight and spent a little extra time hugging and kissing them. Revisiting the fun day, hearing what their observations are, and hoping that the next time I default into “do it my way” that the image of this sad little girl will be my reminder.