Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Babies are born honest. They cry anytime they're upset, and they spit out food they don't like. We adults spend many years working to make them less honest, and in many ways that's a good thing. "Be nice." "Don't complain so much." "Say you're sorry." We want our kids to be considerate of others, polite, and unselfish, even if they have to hide their real feelings to achieve it. But it's a difficult thing to teach a child the difference between situations when it's okay for them to express their true feelings and situations when it's not okay to do so. Sometimes, it's even hard for an adult to understand the difference.
My daughter is nine years old now. I figure I have no right to brag about my parenting skills until she's at least 18. I know the really tough years are still ahead of us. She's the feisty kind and is always trying to push the boundaries. A couple of weeks ago, she said to me, "Mom, there are things that I don't feel like I can tell you." I asked why not. "Because you might not like it," she said. "You mean like when you complain too much and I tell you to stop?" I asked.
So, we made a deal. At any time, she can ask for ten minutes where she can tell me anything, and I agree that won't get mad, I won't lecture, advise or punish, I won't tell her not to say things like that. I promise that I will take off the "Mom hat" and just listen.
This time, she has an interesting assortment of things to reveal. She tells me about a minor mistake she's covered up so she won't get in trouble. She tells me about some mean things her friend said to her last year (actually she had told me that at the time too, but she forgets). She tells me that sometimes she feels like she doesn't love me when I get mad at her. She tells me about the boy who kissed her in the hallway when she was in kindergarten and it was so eeeeeewwww! I tell her that I had the same problem in kindergarten, there was a boy who was always trying to kiss me and I hated it. She tells me that one of her online friends from SmallWorlds is 16, and how this friend said she had a boyfriend who was always trying to "feel her all over", so she dumped him. She tells me how annoying it is that the boy her same age, who lives next door, gets upset over some really trivial things, and she describes how they were playing 20 questions, and he got enraged because she and another kid guessed the object he was thinking of right away. At the end, she says, "Mom, I really like it when I can talk to you like this."
I know that as she grows up, I will need to take off the "Mom hat" more often. I will have to learn to trust her judgment, and be willing to listen to her tell the truth about her feelings. I will have to learn to stand by quietly as she makes mistakes and learns from them. It will be a difficult thing for me, I know. We went to an amusement park last week to celebrate the end of her school year, and she insisted on riding every ride she could by herself. "I like to feel independent," she said.