Welcome back – this week is Part Three in my four-part series of letters with Marie Levey-Pabst of Create Balanced Life. We’re having a real honest discussion about some of the shitty things our young kids have been through, and how we can protect our chid. I’m focusing on “Where do we find that balance of mitigating a situation with our child, or letting them go through it on their own?” Read on and enjoy.
I am so grateful to read your response! I’m sure I wasn’t the only one going through this situation, but it’s not exactly the kind of thing I want to blast all over Facebook. You know how everyone has an opinion…
I think you’re exactly right in that the big issue here is “How much do I intervene when my child is growing up, learning about the world, and finding themselves?” I certainly don’t regret that I prevented my son from being bullied with a damn pink butterfly backpack (LINK TO PART ONE) but I also know that I can’t follow him around forever and be his shield. Nor do I really want to.
The question is: Where do we draw the line? How do we know whether to jump in and save the day, or let our child struggle a bit?
There are so many factors to consider, whether we’re talking about the gender issue or any other topic.
And I know we can’t say something objective like “Exactly 73 percent of the time.” Oh wouldn’t that be nice. So here’s what I got to thinking about when I got your response.
First of all, i think that we all know our own kids. And while there are probably some guidelines that would work for most children, each parent or guardian has infinitely more knowledge and intuition about their own kids than a pediatrician or any kind of specialist. I know that my son is extremely intelligent and analytical; he hates the song-and-dance bullshit of prekindergarten; but he can also be very sensitive and compassionate. I hone in on his strengths, weaknesses, and overall personality when choosing how to address a situation.
Second of all, we need to remember that our kids are really future adults. A kid is not a mini adult by any means (unless you’re thinking about a toddler acting like a drunk adult; that comparison I could agree with!); they have milestones and regressions and growth spurts and fears, all kinds of things that seem foreign and silly to grownups. We must keep in mind that these difficult situations are an opportunity to teach and mold our child, not punish them.
After all, the day will come when we parents aren’t around, and our children will suddenly be out in the world we’ve been telling them about.
Thirdly, I think that we need to speak to our child and treat them in a way that keeps them coming back to us in times of trouble. I am a firm believer that “If a child needs help or has questions, they will get them one way or another.” I want my children to run to me when they’ve messed up, or they have a regret, or a weird/private/embarrassing question. Not only is it my job (and my honor, as weird as that is) to guide them through everything from the talk about drugs to the talk about sex and protection, but I also know that if I don’t talk to them about it, someone else will. I don’t want their school, their friends, or the internet to be my kids’ go-to source of information on those types of things. And so I will always treat my son and my daughter in a way that lets them know “Even if I screw up, even if I disobey or make a bad choice, or I have a really personal question or concern, my mom will never forsake me. She respects me enough to be honest with me. She will never turn me away, she will always tell me the truth, and she will always love me. Because I will always be her child, and her love is unconditional.”
Dude. Now I’m crying at my computer.
So I think that we should always continue to have open dialogues with our kids, and encourage an “open door policy”. Maybe as they get older it will even get to the point of “You are granted immunity if you tell me why in the hell you weren’t where you were supposed to be tonight” or “If you text me to come get you, I promise to not ask questions.”
And as my children get older, and start the trek with public school (which is synonymous with “I will have less and less control”), I will be forced to let them struggle sometimes. Simply because I won’t always be there. They’ll have to learn to swim, so to speak, if I can’t always throw them a lifesaver.
And that’s ok.
For now, with a four year old boy and a two year old girl, I’m content to try and mitigate more than I withhold. I don’t feel guilty about that, and it’s worked beautifully so far. And just like your son does, i know that my kids will surprise me with their compassion and their wise observations. Sometimes it’s pretty damn amazing to see what they notice; sometimes they amaze me with their wisdom and analysis.
But, also like you said, there will be an identity back-and-forth for years, I’m sure. My son is sometimes the crazy wild child when he gets together with his playgroup, though usually he is the most reserved, calm one there (particularly if snacks are being served). He is gentle and kind and adored by his little sister, but every once in a while he will physically hurt her in a very uncharacteristic way. He’s learning. I get it.
In the end, I think we have to hope and pray that we’ve developed a healthy relationship with our kids so that they come to us when they need us; we must have open, honest dialogue with our children about anything and everything, even if it hurts our hearts; and we need to model what it’s like to be a strong, confident, compassionate, and selfless adult in a cold world.
Wouldn’t it be beautiful if our children didn’t have to have these fears about the world? How amazing would our society be if our kids were the ones to finally eradicate all the things that our generation couldn’t?
And so I will continue to parent my kids like their generation will be the one to end racism, sexism, abuse, discrimination, and all forms of hate and violence. Because they can. And I will do everything I can to get them there.
The Real Simple Mama