Sometimes our kids will say something that stops us, shakes us. Sometimes they have true insight in those developing brains of theirs, and all we have to do is pay attention.
Let me back up.
Before my son rocked my world with a single sentence, I should say that sometimes I feel like I’m fumbling around, clumsily making my way through this new stage of parenting. Do you feel that way too? I felt pretty solid in the baby stage — nurturing and loving and smothering is my thing. When I heard that it’s impossible to spoil an infant with too much love, I was like SKY’S THE LIMIT. Bring it on! But as soon as the disciplining and actual “parenting” came into the mix, I started questioning myself. How can I teach a kid emotional awareness when I’m only starting to understand it myself? How do I not let my life-long co-dependent tendencies — my difficulty in saying “no” to people, my boundary issues — not turn me into a permissive parent?
I was determined to not be a permissive parent (which, I admit, might be my default setting). But perhaps I swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction.
I don’t think anyone would classify me as a “controlling” parent. Not the woman who writes essays about wanting her son to fail, and the struggle in watching her son grow up without jumping in and intervening. I allow and encourage him to express and understand the emotions surging through his body. I try, I really do.
So maybe I wasn’t “controlling,” but “bossy” is a close cousin, and perhaps a more accurate representation. My 5-year-old boy calmly confirmed this when these heavy words spilled out of his tiny mouth:
“Your job is to teach me, not to boss me around.”
You know how sometimes someone will say something, and it’s like everything comes into focus? Suddenly I saw how my son’s bossy tendencies with friends and life so accurately mirrored my own mannerisms. (Say all you want about the “Ban Bossy” campaign, but my son is living proof that boys can certainly be bossy; and if you ask me, “bossy” isn’t a great leadership quality. Bossy is not the same as BOSS.) He’s already had a couple of friends point out his bossiness in frustration, and holy guacamole, that’s a reflection of me. I suddenly saw my domineering tone, my commands and demands. I saw that my little boy was right; my job is to teach him, not to boss him around.
And so I agreed with him. I told him that I’d work on the way I talked to him. I apologized for being bossy because no person — no matter the size — likes to be bossed around.
What I didn’t tell him is that, while it’s certainly my job to teach him, sometimes our kids have something to teach as well. Maybe some kids respond best to a harsh tone and the Laying Down of Laws, but my son repeatedly communicated that this was not the way that worked for him. He said it through his reactions, through his behavior, and finally through his words.
All I had to do was listen.
So much of parenting, of life, is finding a shaky balance: To be in control without being controlling, to be the boss without being bossy, to be loving and empathetic without being permissive.
It’s not easy.
But sometimes our kids can guide the way — perhaps in a more subtle way than my son did, but I’m grateful for the reminder, for the mantra, that pops into my head on a daily basis:
My job is to teach him, not to boss him around.
And in order to teach him, I have to understand how he learns best. I need to listen and make conscious choices about my tone and words.
I can’t be too proud to learn a thing or two from him, as well.