Respond to the situation.
How well are you able to respond? How response-able are you? How good are you at responding to situations?
Not as good as you’d like to be, I’m sure. I know I’m not as good at responding to situations as I’d like to be.
And there’s a simple reason for this. Instead of responding, I start reacting. Instead of treating each situation as an individual incident, I treat it as an episode in an ongoing series.
Human beings are made this way. That’s how we learn things, how we distinguish patterns, how we form habits.
But if I want to enjoy a fulfilling relationship with my child, it would be worth it for me not to be a slave to my brain. I am more than my brain and habits, just as you are more than your brain and habits.
If I, as an adult, cannot respond instead of reacting, I have no right to expect my child to respond. I should be happy when she reacts – after all, that’s what I’m doing! So we both just keep reacting – to history, ancient history and patterns, till we are totally out of sync with the present, with reality. And we’ve thoroughly ruined our relationship.
Why? Because I’m not ‘grown up’ enough, adult enough, to respond instead of reacting!
I see my child come home with her lunch not eaten, and instead of enquiring why, I burst out: “Again! You haven’t had your lunch again! You should starve for a few days. Then you’ll know…”
If she’s in a good mood, she shuffles her feet and waits till the storm passes. “A few boys from my class broke some school property, so the entire class was hauled up during break. We were being scolded so we didn’t get a chance to eat. And I didn’t eat in the bus coming back because I’d rather eat fresh hot food at home than the food that’s been lying in my lunch bag all day.”
Sheepish silence from me. What can I say? I should have asked calmly why she hadn’t eaten. Then I’d have known the reason, and I could have responded (with a resounding: “Great! 🙂 I too, would much rather that you had hot fresh food at home than the food that’s been lying in your lunch bag all day!”) instead of reacting as I did.
“I’m sorry,” I mumble, “I didn’t know…”
If she’s in a bad mood, she stomps off, and then we’re both mad at each other. I feel I am the injured party, and she feels she has the right to be in a foul mood (“I’m starving because I couldn’t eat, and now my mom’s freaking out without knowing what she’s talking about!”).
What we agree upon is: “She just doesn’t understand…” 🙂
Forget about whether or not I’m setting a good example for my daughter. Every time I react rather than respond, I create a barrier between us.
Every time you react instead of respond, you create a barrier between yourself and your child.
Your child feels:
1. Untrustworthy (“You don’t trust me enough to handle the situation well…”)
2. Misunderstood (“There’s a good reason this happened, if only you’ll give me a chance to explain…”)
3. Hurt (“Why is your first reaction the most unflattering one, as if I can’t be expected to do anything right?”)
4. Irritated (“Can’t I even make a mistake?”)
5. Judged (“One right or wrong response is not the final word on the kind of person I am…”)
6. Stifled (“Why am I always expected to come up with the right answer? It’s not the end of the world if I’m not ‘perfect’…”)
7. Burdened (“You expect too much from me all the time…”)
8. Distanced (“You’re not on my side; you don’t cut me any slack. If you say I’m a child, then you must make allowances for the fact that I don’t know as much as you do, so I won’t respond the same way you would have under the same circumstances.”)
9. Invalidated – (“You don’t care about me as a person – my interests, my feelings, what I want. All you want is a carbon copy of yourself, or a ‘perfect’ child so you can look like the best parent in the world.”)
It’s hard to respond. We’re all in a hurry. We simply don’t have the time and mindspace to consider each incident in detail. Also, we’ve learnt to make assumptions about things and people. And we act (react, actually) based on those assumptions. And we end up pushing our children away from us.
It’s time to pause, take a deep breath, give your child the benefit of the doubt, and ask gently, “Why did you…?”
This leaves room for your child to answer your question, for conversation, for explanations (from your child! 🙂 ). And you continue to be connected, and to communicate with your child.
Over the past few days, I’ve shared with you what I believe are the 5 cornerstones of parenting today:
1. Ask – ask questions.
2. Be – be who you are.
3. Do – do things with your child.
4. Explain – explain what is going on.
5. Respond – respond to the situation.
I’m sure applying these basics will put the excitement and connection back in your relationship with your child. I’d love to hear the ideas you came up with and how they helped you get out of a rut you might have been stuck in. Do share! 🙂
Next: How to have Happier Children – in 7 Days or Less! 🙂 🙂
Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂
Explain what is going on.
Explain why you said or did what you said or did. Don’t hold it up as an example for your child to emulate. That is a different thing altogether; and one which will take you farther away from your child instead of allowing you to grow closer.
A friend always offered water to anyone visiting his home. He was training his children to do the same. One Saturday evening, his son opened the door to a couple armed with flowers and a huge gift bag. The college friends his parents had been awaiting had finally arrived.
As the child greeted them and ushered them in, his parents came out of their room, and there were effusive greetings on both sides. The boy disappeared into the kitchen. As he brought 2 glasses of water on a tray, his father entered the kitchen and said, “No water for them.” The boy was taken aback. For months now, his dad had been training him and his sister to seat guests, and offer them water. And he was now saying, “No water.”!
His parents got tea underway and he helped put out and serve the snacks. He sat for a while making polite conversation and then made himself scarce. The doorbell signaled the arrival of his sister from her tennis class. She walked into their room and he said, “Dad said not to give them any water.”
“Huh?” she asked, planning what to change into after her shower. “I’m sure there’s a reason.”
The evening wore on. The children ate dinner and went to bed while the guests were still around. At the breakfast table the next morning, the dad said, “You must’ve wondered when I asked you not to serve them water. You see, they live in the UK, and they have just arrived. They need a few days to adjust to the drinking water in India. Till they do so, drinking even filtered water might make them sick. That’s why I asked you not to offer them water.”
The boy was at peace. He understood what was going on.
There are so many times when we tell our children to behave a certain way. And then, we seem to behave in the opposite way ourselves! There is always a reason for it. Share that reason with your child. Let her see that there is a method to your madness, a specific cause for your saying or doing something a particular way.
When you explain what is going on, you are helping your child in numerous ways:
1. Growing up – In childhood, all the world is in black and white. “This is good; that is bad.” “Do this; don’t do that.” “Be this way; don’t be that way.” But as your child grows, he realizes that these rules don’t apply beyond a point.
Telling a 3-year old not to talk to strangers is fine. Saying the same thing to your 10-year old before sending her off to camp is weird. You don’t want your 10-year old to talk to strangers either. But the definition of the word ‘stranger’ has changed enormously in the 7 years between the ages of 3 and 10. These changes are gradual and ongoing, and your child will be able to learn and deal with them only if you keep explaining the exceptions to her; if you keep adding the shades of grey.
This introduces her to the real world, and prepares her for a real life, where most things are uncertain and unknown, though we like to pretend that we have great control over things. (“If you are ‘good’, then ‘good’ things will happen to you.” Yeah, right! 🙂 )
Real life consists of hundreds of thousands of exceptions. Explain each one to your child as you come across them together.
2. Increasing his capacity to think – It is only when he learns that he needs to keep in mind many things that your child will be able to come up with appropriate responses; only then will he become response-able. Earlier, the rule was simple: guest, seat, offer water. Now, he needs to think about where this guest is from. That creates an acceptable variation in behavior: guest, seat, don’t offer water (if he knows they’ve just come to India from a foreign country).
Slowly, as more variables get added, he will learn to think of all the ifs-and-buts on his own. Is this someone who only drinks boiled water? Is this person recovering from a water-borne disease? Is it the dead of winter and the person is cold and sick, in which case, they’d prefer being offered a hot drink rather than water?…
But your child will think of other options, other factors, other responses only if you explain things to him.
3. Clear confusion – When you say one thing and seem to do another, your child is confused. This confusion will prevent her from following even the rules she ‘knows’. At every stage, if you can explain your reaction and behavior to her, she will be clear. She will appreciate that you are a person of integrity who follows your beliefs, even if they seem confusing to others at times. She will learn to be a thinking, considerate person, based on the example you set for her.
I have always been particular about speaking my mind to people. I won’t let them walk away with an ‘incorrect’ impression of me.
One day, I’d taken my daughter along with me to work. As we sat down to lunch, the client’s father, a gentleman in his 70s, joined us. He asked after my family, and when he learnt that I had only the one child, he told me, “That is why you women put on so much weight. (! 🙂 ) Women are made for child-bearing. Unless you have at least 4 children, there is no hope for you. Stop working. Go back home. Have a few more children…”
At 6, my daughter understood what he was saying. I’m blessed to have a tactful child, who barely paused in the act of eating as the old man spouted all this. Lunch got over and I got busy with the rest of my work.
I’d barely turned the key in the ignition to go back home when my daughter burst out, “That man was so rude! He was crazy – imagine saying things like that to you! Why didn’t you say anything back to him? Why were you quiet?”
She’s right. In most instances, I’d have taken issue with what he’d said, so it was inexplicable to her how I ‘took it’ lying down – all the junk the gentleman was pushing at me.
“He’s really old, and that is the way he’s been brought up. He’s never going to change the way he thinks. There would be no point in my saying anything. He would merely have felt hurt and insulted that I ‘talked back’ to him, so I let him say his piece. At no point did I nod or indicate any kind of agreement. He realized that I didn’t agree, but I’m sure he appreciated that I was courteous enough to hear him out.”
I continued: “The funniest thing is that his daughter-in-law (my client’s wife) has only 2 children, and he knows that, and knows that I know it too! It would have been the easiest thing in the world for me to raise the fact saying he hadn’t even been able to influence his own daughter-in-law so why was he trying to give me his take on women’s health, but his age and lack of education shielded him from any such reaction on my part.”
She wasn’t happy that I had let it pass, but she understood my point. Sometimes, we let things go out of consideration for others. In my book, such consideration doesn’t make me less honest. In someone else’s book, it might do so. Each person has to decide for himself and herself, given the specific situation.
4. Avoid misunderstandings – If you explain things to your child, you minimize the possibility of misunderstandings. This keeps your relationship strong. It keeps you talking to each other through all the storms, troubles and alarms. It keeps you communicating through the hormonal rushes, the hot flushes and the mid-life crises. Not a bad thing, eh? 🙂
So simple! Explain what is going on.
Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂
But parenting isn’t really all that difficult – you’ve been doing it for a bit now, and for all that you think you are doing some things ‘wrong’ and need help, you must acknowledge that there are many, many things that you’re doing ‘right’! 🙂 It’s just that you tend to devalue the things you do ‘right’ while focusing on the things you need to work upon. This gives you a falsely prejudiced view of yourself as a parent.
So maybe one of the goals or resolutions you need to add to your list for the year 2012 is that you will have a greater appreciation of yourself as a parent. You will admit to yourself the numerous times you’ve done a great job: whether it was handling your child’s misbehavior, answering a difficult question, helping him resolve a dilemma, supporting her through the heartache of broken friendships… :-).
As you triumph over adversity and tackle problems, you wonder if there is some way to focus on just a few things and still manage to get the most from parenting your child. I am convinced that this is not only possible but also desirable. When you focus on many things, there is a greater chance that you will either lose focus or get confused or just tire of the enormous effort it takes to keep track of them.
So I decided to inaugurate 2012 with a series on what I believe are the basics of parenting. I’ve tried to distill the basics into 5 Do’s.
1. Ask – ask questions.
2. Be – be who you are.
3. Do – do things with your child.
4. Explain – explain what is going on.
5. Respond – respond to the situation.
Over the next 5 days, I will share with you the details of how you can use these 5 basic actions over and over again, in multiple situations, to make a real difference to your parenting experience and your relationship with your child, no matter what his or her age might be.
Of course, there are hundreds of other things besides these 5 that you need to do as a parent. But I feel that these 5 easy-to-do things will go a long way to make parenting a fun experience for yourself, and your child.
Ensure you get to know more about these parenting basics by clicking on the “Sign me up!” button on the top right of the webpage – it’s free! 🙂
I look forward to hearing from you – your concerns, your stories, your experiences – whatever you’d like to share.
Happy 2012! I wish you a year of carefree parenting! 🙂
Responsible, according to the dictionary, means: answerable or accountable; having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable; capable of rational thought or action.
Here’s a different take on the word. Responsibility = response + ability; the ability to respond (appropriately).
You want to raise a responsible child, so you tell her what to do in every situation. You feel you know the appropriate response, and she will be well taken care of if only she follows your instructions to the letter. But you cannot predict every situation.
I was to pick my daughter up from school after a performance that got over late in the evening. I went to the room from which I was to pick her up. She wasn’t there. I went to the office. Not there. I went to the rehearsal room. Not there. I went to the auditorium. Not there.
By now, I was getting frantic. The school had begun to empty, with most parents and children having left, and only a handful of teachers still there. I was going from room to room asking teachers if they’d seen my daughter.
The teacher who dismissed them from the rehearsal room after the performance said, “They were to get their make-up off and then go to the rooms from which you were to collect them.”
I went back to the room from which I had to collect her. “She hasn’t come in. Her stuff is not here,” the teacher told me. She gestured for me to take a look at the few bags that were still on the tables – my daughter’s bag wasn’t there.
I didn’t know what to do, and was beginning to panic. The school grounds are large, most of the lights had been extinguished, and she was nowhere to be found. A few children who’d seen me rushing hither and yon were kind enough to say, “We saw her some time ago, but we don’t know where she is now.”
I went back in a real tizzy to the room from which I was to collect her, to find her standing calmly next to the teacher. I sagged onto a chair in relief. “Where were you?”
“Mom, my friend took ill. When we went to take our make-up off, she began vomiting. I stayed with her, and then handed her over to her parents. Then I came here, and I’ve been waiting for you ever since. You’re late.” (This last in true parental-displeasure style. 🙂 ) I made my explanations, and we declared peace. I collected her (officially 🙂 ), and we did the rounds, visiting all the rooms and teachers I’d been to, to tell them that I’d found her.
For the umpteenth time, I was grateful to have a responsible child.
Unforeseen situations arise all the time. If you want your child to develop the ability to respond appropriately (responsibility), you need to follow only one rule.
Let him respond.
Don’t keep making rules for every situation: “If this happens, you should do that.” You will make hundreds, if not thousands of rules, which will only confuse your child.
Instead, give him a few general, standing instructions. You might say, “Try and get to a phone and call me or another responsible adult (your partner, parent, a family member), don’t go with strangers, don’t ride with anyone unless you have my (or your partner’s) express permission to do so, don’t take food/drink offered by people you don’t know, don’t try to help someone who seems in distress (so many of these are scams, and your child may get into trouble from trying to help)…”
You cannot dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’. Let your child respond. Let him know that you have confidence in his ability to handle a situation. Obviously, he will not do what you would have done in his place. But you have 20 or more years on him! You’d probably have done much worse than him if you were confronted with the same situation when you were his age.
If his response doesn’t yield the desired result or creates a problem, talk about it. Instead of scolding him for his ‘wrong’ (not as effective as you/he would have liked it to be, actually) response, talk about what why his response was less than ideal. Remember, he may still think his response was perfect, while you might be the one thinking it could have been improved! 🙂
If he too, feels less than satisfied with his response, discuss it. He will learn to consider more things while making a response. He will learn to come up with more possible responses. He will learn to evaluate those responses better. He will get the opportunity to practice making appropriate responses.
All of this will enormously increase his ability to respond to a situation.
And you will be raising a responsible child. 🙂
When a loved one dies, you are prepared for your child to feel grief. Depending on how you deal with grief, you will help your child deal with it too.
At various times, and depending on your child’s personal preferences, you can employ different solutions to help your child cope with grief. These might be (but aren’t limited to):
1. Holding your child – Unfortunately, this is used too little once children grow beyond 5 – 7 years of age. Your teenage son may not feel comfortable if you give him a full-frontal embrace as you did when he was a child, but you can definitely put your arm around him, or hold his arm, or use touch effectively to convey your understanding of and sympathy with his feelings of loss.
2. Talking – Your child may want to talk, or not. It’s easier if she wants to talk, because you will be able to understand some of the emotions she is grappling with. But if she isn’t, you can still draw her out. Share a story where a child is dealing with loss. This could be a true story of how you or anyone else your child connects with, had to experience loss as a child, and how you (or the person) dealt with it. If there is no true story, share a fictional story. Stories are a great way to obliquely approach issues either you or your child is not comfortable talking about openly.
3. Dedicating a project – Consider dedicating a project to the departed person. Every time your child is taken over by searing grief, he could write about what is troubling him at that time. An example:
If your child can’t handle walking into a house where the dog that welcomed him home is no more, let him write about it in a diary, or draw a picture of it. Or locate a photo of the pet jumping up at him in welcome. These little remembrances can then be collected in some form which would act as a remembrance to the pet.
Slowly, as your child begins to deal with the memories, the reality of life with the one who is gone emerges. Instead of being only the ‘beloved’ dog, he also becomes the ‘naughty’ dog who always chewed your child’s toys, the ‘greedy’ one who stole sausages and cookies out of plates when no one was looking (and sometimes even when they were! 🙂 ), the ‘irritating’ one who had to be taken out twice to do his business late at night in the winters… Balance begins to be restored.
You can formalize the remembrance in the form of a photo album which is sent to close friends and family, or you may even consider enrolling them into the project. In this way, you may all help each other find healing, peace, and acceptance.
4. Creating rituals – You may find it helpful to create rituals – anything that gives a sense of order to your child. “Granny loved roses, and every Sunday she cooked you a special meal, so we’ll buy a rose every Sunday to remember her.” It could be much simpler. ““Granny loved roses, and every Sunday she cooked you a special meal, so every Sunday you could learn the name of one variety of rose (or draw her a card with a rose on it).” “He loved reading books, so we’ll buy you a book every month in memory of his love for books.”
You need to be careful when creating rituals – create and execute with a light touch; you don’t want your child getting obsessed with the performance of these rituals.
When a loved one dies, you are prepared for your child to feel grief. But your child may be feeling many other emotions which might take you by surprise. You might need to work hard to get your child even to acknowledge them, but most children do feel these emotions in small or large measure when a loved one dies.
These are the emotions you need to address if you want your child to be equipped with the means to handle loss, especially loss due to death:
1. Confusion – “What will happen now?” No matter how young your child may be, explain to her in a way she understands, what comes next. What will happen to the body? What happens to the dead person’s effects – clothes, toiletries, papers, car – all the detritus of life? What are the rituals your family will follow? What is their significance? How might these rituals be different from those your child is familiar with through movies, TV, story books etc? What happens to the person’s room / house?
Answering these questions will help her feel more settled about all the chaos that attends a death. It will help her to feel like she’s part of what’s going on. Depending upon the circumstances, you may even want her to share in some of these tasks / rituals, such as choosing a favorite photo, or deciding which memento she’d like for herself, or whom to give some of the effects to.
2. Fear – “I once did / thought / said something bad to / about the person who has died. If they are angry with me, will they come back to haunt me? Will they send me ‘bad luck’? Will they make me or someone else die?” Draw out your child to speak about these emotions. Again, stories are great for this. Then help him deal with the fear.
3. Anger – “Why did … have to die?” The subtext being: “Why now? Why this way? Why not someone else?” Explain that everyone has to die sometime, and the time and manner of our death is not of our own choosing. (This won’t work if the person has committed suicide, in which case you need to deal with far greater feelings of fear, confusion, and guilt.)
I once read a story that might help you answer the question “Why did it have to be …?”
Someone lost his mother, and he raved, “Why my mother? Why my mother? Why not someone else?”
His father, who was equally broken-hearted, replied: “Okay. Let’s say it shouldn’t have been your mother. Whose mother should it have been? Pick a friend – name one – whose mother should have died instead of yours.”
The child could give no answer, but the silence was the beginning of his acceptance of the fact of his mother’s death. Death has to happen. To everyone. The only thing you can do – for yourself, for your loved ones, and for the one who is no more, is to accept it, and move on.
4. Guilt – “I didn’t do enough for … when they were alive, and now I can’t ever do what I meant to do.” “I was mean, and I didn’t get a chance to say I’m sorry.” All of us suffer from guilt – it is part of the human condition, and the best we can hope for is to make our peace with it. Explain to your child that no matter how much love he had shown for the dead person, he would always reproach himself; he would always feel that there was more he could have done. Tell him this feeling is natural. Let him know that the departed person would hate for him to feel so burdened. He (the child) was much loved by the dead person, who would hate to see him so sad and feeling guilty about non-issues. Essentially, you’re telling your child: “Be happy for …’s sake.”
5. Responsibility – “… died because I did / did not do something.” Does this sound ridiculous? Maybe, but it isn’t. Children have a tremendously inflated sense of their own importance. They feel that the sun rises and sets by their wish. So it is natural that they understand every event as a natural result of something that they did or did not do. Death is an event too. And you need to help them realize that powerful as they are, they do not control death.
Maybe your child’s toy tripped up the grandparent, who fell and injured herself so seriously that she died. Your child will feel responsible, because it was her job to put her toys away, and she had been reminded to do this even on the fateful day, but had postponed doing it. And then – her grandmother tripped on the toy…
You could try explaining in many ways: “Gran had to go some way – it happened to be this way. It was just chance.” “So many people trip over toys (and other things), but they don’t always hurt themselves enough to die from it.” “The toys lay around the floor every day for weeks and months and years, without anybody being harmed by them.” “Gran never tripped over anything usually, even the toys in her way. Maybe she lost her balance only on that day. Maybe she was dizzy from being unwell or from some medication she was taking”…
Helping your child cope with the death of a loved one involves much more than just dealing with feelings of loss and grief. And you need to be ready to help him deal with it all. It won’t be easy. It will take time. It will seem like you are moving two steps back for every step you take forward. But it will happen; you and your child will cope – well.
I wish you healing and peace.
You want the best possible life for your child. At every age and stage of her life, you want to see her happy, healthy, successful, fulfilled, enjoying great relationships, living a sane and balanced life. This is your dream for her.
From day one of your being a parent, you commit yourself to doing everything in your power to make this dream come true. You care for her, groom her, show her, tell her, teach her, prepare her, you supervise her every activity. You also try to shield her from both the worthless and the harmful in life – be it thoughts, activities, information, or people.
You are dedicated to help her create and live the best possible life she can.
It is your best effort, but it is a fairly lopsided effort, and doomed to failure almost from the start. There’s a reason I’m saying this: if you’re preparing her to have a happy, healthy, successful… life, then you need to introduce her to all of life, not to selected bits and pieces of life. But you don’t!
I know this, and so do you, because if you’d been talking to her about all of life, she’d know about puberty and sex and stuff like that from the time she was a toddler. Instead, all she learns from you is that there is stuff ‘that she should not ask / talk about’, or ‘that she is too young to understand’: basically, she gets the clear impression that you are uncomfortable and/or unwilling to face and deal with some questions / issues.
Tell me something: Say your 2-year old asks you why leaves are green, and why everyone says you should plant trees. He’s way too young to understand photosynthesis and soil erosion and ‘stuff like that’, but you still try your best to get as close to the real explanation, don’t you, when you try and answer his questions?
Then why do you clam up about sex?
Of course you need to deliver the answers in a form he can understand! That goes without saying, no matter what the message, or what the age of your child.
Why, then, do you perpetuate the “the-stork-brought-you-home-type” of stories? (Then he watches movies about teenage sex, and wonders: ‘What is going on? My parents can’t be such dorks they don’t know this stuff, so it looks like they don’t want to talk to me about it.’ So it becomes forbidden. Before he ever learns sex is as normal as sleeping or eating, he learns it is ‘bad’, ‘taboo’, something to be uncomfortable about.) And you think you’re so smart fobbing him off with some made up stories! While he’s learning not to trust you… Sad, sad situation – of your own making.
If there is a Mom living in the house, she presumably has periods. Why isn’t it talked about? It’s not a big deal – it can be as normal as why people have fevers, or why Granddad has arthritis, or the importance of going to the dentist, or how fire cooks food, or why it is important to keep the house clean, or why the sun rises and sets…
Children are not too young to deal with it. Children are the most accepting, matter-of-fact people you can find. It is WE parents who are too scared, under-confident, and conflicted in our OWN attitudes to these issues; it is we who are unable to deal with them. And we end up passing on these conflicted attitudes to our children.
That is the only reason why we make such a mess of ‘THE TALK’.
And it is a mess – the timing of it, the way we broach the topic, the way we either avoid making eye contact or stare the child down, the awkward “one long lecture should fix it once and for all and then I don’t need to worry about it” thinking behind it, the searching for ‘technical’ words which they won’t hear at all in the real world, the avoidance of slang which is all they hear around them, the ‘good’ attitude to it (she must behave like sex doesn’t exist for her at a personal level!), the ‘bad’ attitude to it (she can’t think: I am curious, I want to know more, I want to ask someone who won’t think less of me or condemn me for asking, I want to ask someone who will tell me things as they really are, not someone who will try to manipulate my thinking with their answers, I feel things I don’t understand – how do I make sense of them?, is it wrong of me to feel this way?, is it wrong of me to think this way?,…)
If you, as a Mom, are not yet comfortable with your body and your menstrual cycle, if you haven’t accepted it, if you can’t talk to your partner about it, how do you expect to speak with your child about it? Whether your child is a boy or a girl is entirely beside the point.
If you as a Dad are unable to deal with how your body acts and reacts in various situations, if you don’t acknowledge that you have fought for control over your body (and might still be doing so! 🙂 ), how do you think you will be able to explain anything to your child? Whether your child is a boy or a girl is entirely beside the point.
One of my parenting mantras is never to lie to a child – any child. Never.
I will try my best to tell them the truth in whatever form they can get it. If they absolutely can’t get it, I might say, “I’m not sure how to explain so you can understand, but I’m trying to come up with a way to do so. I need some time.” And then I give them an example. Maybe something like: “Sometimes, you feel something, but you don’t know how to express what you feel. Or you may not even know yourself what you feel, just that you feel something. So you need to spend some time to understand what it is you’re feeling. I need time in the same way…”
You see, I know the answer to what they’re asking! So it is my responsibility as the parent (or the adult) to find a way to explain it to the child. If I can’t explain, it is only because I am unwilling to do so. There is no other reason. After all, I’m happy to talk to the child forever about everything else under the sun! Just not this ‘sex stuff’…!
I have spoken to at least a dozen children of various ages over the years, telling them about what adults euphemistically call “growing up”, and I’ve never had any problems telling them, and they’ve never had any problems accepting what I said.
Obviously, these are all children who are very close to me, with whom I have had a real relationship, though I am not necessarily related to all of them. And these conversations have played out over years, growing in complexity as the issues became more real and immediate to the children, with one or the other of us coming back to it at different points. With each child, it was an interrupted, but ongoing conversation, one both the child and I were comfortable with.
I have seen these children make conscious choices in life, and that has been a wonderful experience – seeing them make a choice from a position of love, affirmation of oneself; empowered with information. They haven’t avoided the mental and emotional pains of growing up, but I believe they have had it much easier than many other children who are left to make sense of the whole ‘sex stuff’ on their own – sucked under by the collective quagmire of social ignorance, labeling, peer pressure, and their parents’ cluelessness. The oldest of these ‘children’ is now married (happily married! 🙂 ), and has not yet shown signs of being negatively affected by getting the ‘sex talk’ from the time he first broached the topic – when he was less than 4 years old!
It’s do-able. Give it a shot.
One of the reasons we face so many problems with growing children is that they are growing at a natural and normal pace, but we’re holding them back.
You won’t talk to them about their bodies, about the body in general, about puberty, about the opposite sex, about how babies are made; but you will talk them into the year 2015 about taking on more responsibility, doing chores, performing well at school, taking care of their parents / grandparents, taking care of the environment – things YOU consider grown up.
And you’re trying to tell me your kids are not growing lopsided! I don’t believe you.
If they’re growing up, they’re growing up in every way – you can’t tailor their growing up to your convenience, though you’d like to do so! 🙂
Over and over again, you have seen it: the more you suppress or ignore something, the greater the force with which it will hit you in the face when you least expect it. (I’m sure there’s one of Newton’s Laws here – action and reaction?) It’s like a Jack-in-the-box. The more you try to influence your child to have one kind of attitude, the more extreme will be his reaction in exploring the opposite attitude. That too, at a time you’d rather he be guided by you! (Be honest: wouldn’t you rather that he be guided by you always and forever? 🙂 )
Okay, you’re willing to consider the idea that the earlier you start talking to your child about ‘stuff like that’, the better off you both will be.
So: when should you talk to your child about puberty, sex and stuff like that? Every time he asks you.
At the heart of parenting is the idea that you are the best parent in the world when you are yourself. Sometimes, unfortunately, when the parents of a child are themselves, the combination is explosive. They clash too hard or too frequently or both. This leaves the child feeling lost, insecure, responsible, and guilty – the last two because she is convinced that it is she who is in some way responsible for her parents not getting on.
You ache – for yourself, for your child, for what could have been with your partner – if only he or she would… but there’s no point going down that road.
Say you want to have another child, and your partner doesn’t. You both have ‘valid reasons’ for the way you feel. (The inverted commas are because everything everyone feels is valid, though most of us forget this! 🙂 ) It has gotten beyond discussion and reasoning. Each of you is unwilling to give in, and no half-way compromise is possible.
As the tension slowly ratchets up, you see the fun, the laughter, the joy, the togetherness – all of it, dissolve under the weight of this conflict. And you see your once happy family of 3 breaking up under the strain.
Your son is perplexed. All he can see is Mom and Dad being nasty to each other. If they are not openly warring, they are making snide comments to each other or about each other, or giving each other the silent treatment.
And he’s trying to figure out how to fix what is wrong between you two.
Can you do anything to make it easier on your child? I’m convinced that you can. You can lessen his pain, make it easier on him.
Only you can do this.
You can do this by acknowledging that there is conflict between you and your partner. Tell your child that the two of you disagree about something, and that is what is causing all the fights. Let him know that the conflict is not related to him.
The best course of action is if both of you agree on what to say and sit together with your child to reassure him that the conflict is not his responsibility. But this is not always possible. Sometimes there is so much bitterness that you may not be able to do even this together.
In which case, tell your partner that you would like to reassure your child about the tension in the household. Tell your partner what you intend to tell your child. Give him or her the choice of being present as you tell your child.
If communication between you two has broken down to the extent that even this conversation is not possible, just go ahead and speak with the child yourself.
There are two things you must do if you decide to speak to your child about your conflict with your partner.
The first is to put it in context. Depending upon your child’s age and temperament, you must tailor the message so that he can understand what you are saying. You cannot tell a 2 year old you are fighting about whether to give him a sibling or not.
You might say, “When you fight with your friend about whose turn it is on the swing, you are angry with your friend, but not with Mom and me. Just like that, Mom and I are angry with each other about something, but it has nothing to do with you. We will keep being angry for some time, but we are trying to stop being angry and be friends again.”
You might tell your 5 year old, “Dad and I are angry with each other because he wants something and I don’t want it. Suppose I want to bring a dog home. I love dogs, but you are scared of them, so you and I will fight about whether or not we should adopt a dog for a pet. There is no ‘right’ answer, and we both feel strongly about it. Dad is out of this picture. Just like that, Dad and I want different things, and we’re fighting. Not pleasant, but that’s how it is. You are out of the picture – the fight has nothing to do with you. What you need to know is that we both still love you and always will. It is silly for us to be fighting when we tell you not to fight with your friends, but grown-ups are silly sometimes.”
You might tell your 8 year old, “Mom wants us to have another baby – a sibling for you – and I don’t want another baby. That is what we are fighting about. Let me explain: you always want to go to the beach on vacation, and Mom and I love going to the mountains. So sometimes we go to the beach, and at other times, we go to the mountains. But when it comes to a baby, we cannot sometimes have a baby and sometimes not. We either have one or we don’t. Do you see? And we can’t come to a decision, so we’re arguing and shouting at each other. We’re upset because we each believe what we want is right for the family. But what you need to know is that both Mom and I love you, and whether or not we have another child, we will always love you.”
It’s a good idea not to tell your child why you feel the way you do. If you tell her the pros and cons of the issue, you will be actively involving her – the very thing you’re trying NOT to do!
Also, depending upon her one-on-one relationship with you and with her other parent, she will be more inclined towards one view or the other – again, she will be involved, and will feel responsible about the conflict and its outcome.
The other thing that you must do is NOT to vilify your partner. This is a much tougher thing to achieve.
You are hurting, you are bitter and you are angry. It is very likely that these emotions will spill over into your explanation to your child. You don’t need to actively say, “She’s bad” or “He’s wrong”. The tone of your voice, your body language, the way you put your point of view across – all of it can communicate to your child that you feel your partner is cruel and unfeeling not to give in to your point of view.
But remember, you and your partner are the first relationships your child has. If he gets the impression that “Men are unfeeling” or “Women are wicked” or whatever, these ideas will influence all his relationships throughout his life – at school, at work, romantic and social. These ideas will become his worldview. It is a very high price for him to pay. Just because you could not hold back your angst.
When you say negative things about your partner to your child, you are forcing him to choose between you, and he gets caught in the middle – not fair!
Not fair to him (why should he choose between two parents?)
Not fair to your partner (feeling differently from the way you do does not make him / her a ‘bad’ person; it does not disqualify him/ her from being a loving parent)
Not fair to yourself (your child will always remember that you made him think badly of the other parent. At some time or other, I am positive, your child will resent, maybe even hate you, for doing this.)
In your own interest and that of your child, avoid saying negative things about your partner to your child.
But what if your partner is saying negative things about you to the child? It becomes even more important that you desist. Show your child an alternate way of being, of loving, of living. If the child confronts you “… says you’re really mean because you don’t understand the problems (the other parent) is having”, you can say, “Yes, … feels this way. It doesn’t make me mean. … just feels I’m being mean.” And stop right there. Don’t defend yourself, and don’t accuse your partner. Leave it there. Your child will not question you further on this.
Your conflict is your choice. Your child is caught up in it through no fault of his – he has no choice in the matter.
The best you can do is to assure and reassure him as often as it takes, that he is not to blame for what’s going on between you and your partner. It is difficult, but it needs to be done.
And you can do it! If you let your love for your child be your guide.