I don’t post about parenting very often because frankly, I doubt myself constantly. With three kids with three very different personalities, I’m barely holding my head above water most days but something happened the other day that holds a very valuable lesson for us parents.
Last week was Picture Day at school. My oldest was adamant about her outfit: a red sparkly Christmas dress she had just been gifted from her grandmother, yellow and purple flower printed tights (with serious wear on the knees) and her black, fuzzy, werewolf ears she wore at Hallowe’en. There was no rhyme or reason to the outfit beyond her simply wanting to wear it. Nothing matched and the werewolf ears were silly in my books. I suggested black tights. She said “No, it won’t match.” I thought, “but the flower tights do, eh?” but said, “okay.” I suggested a different non-Hallowe’en headband for keeping her hair out of her eyes. She said, “but I love this one.” I thought, “this is ridiculous,” but said, “alright then.” I then explained that these are pictures that will forever exist, a moment frozen in time from when she was seven, at this particular school, at this particular time in history. It was probably a little too deep for her to fully comprehend but when I said they’d be pictures that would last forever, her eyes lit up. I asked if she was still sure of her outfit. She nodded enthusiastically. She couldn’t wait to have herself captured in her amazing attire.
I caught her looking in the mirror and I knew she felt amazing. She was turning her head left and right with a beaming smile. She swished the dress with glee. The werewolf ears flopped over her face. She was excited.
A few days later I was talking to my dad and laughingly told him the story. He, being the older, tougher generation of parents said, “but you’re her mother” implying that I should have told her what to wear or stopped her from wearing it. As if being her mother gave me complete power over her, over her autonomy.
He meant well, of course, but I thought about that a lot afterward. Such a simple answer and solution for everything, right? My mother used to say the same thing to me when I’d ask for something and was denied: “Because I’m the mom, that’s why.” I never got actual answers for my inquisitiveness. It’s easy to shut kids down.
As parents, we say “no” or distract them away from their desires hundreds of times a day, in numerous ways:
Don’t touch the pot.
Stay away from your brother if you can’t play nice.
If you want to play a game, play this game.
No, you can’t go to the park.
No, Natalie can’t sleep over tonight.
No, you can’t have chocolate for breakfast.
No, you can’t sleep with us.
Stop shrieking like that!
Stop hurting your sister.
Don’t get water on the floor.
Don’t put your muddy boots there.
Don’t. No. Stop. Repeat.
Kids are constantly denied. We distract them from what they want to do in order to have them to do something else, usually something less messy or time consuming. We tell them no, albeit, for their own safety/wellbeing most of the time but constant no’s is still frustrating. We overuse the words don’t and stop. Or at least I do. I guess I can’t actually speak for other parents.
I’m trying so hard to break the bad habits of my parent’s parenting while instilling new habits I’ve learned. Not to mention sifting through the barrage of information available online hoping I’m doing the right things so I’m not screwing them up too much. Because let’s face it, we are all screwing them up in some unconscious way. My oldest is a yeller. She definitely got that from me and I HATE it. I hear her yell at her brother and think, “this is a learned behaviour. I taught her this because I do this to her.” I’m trying so hard not to yell anymore.
“You’re her mother,” Dad had said. I am her mother. I know how often kids get denied so I do my best to say “yes” whenever I can. As her mother, it’s my job to help her understand the world, to be kind, to show up as a good person for the planet and people. It’s my job to teach her manners, respect and equality, to help her explore and unearth her personality traits, to help her learn and thrive with love and comfort. So unless she’s wanting to wear shorts in -40 weather, I will always say “yes” to her outfits regardless of how ridiculous they make look. It’s one small win I can give her everyday: her autonomy to make her own decisions without ridicule or judgement; to become her own person with her own creative license to dress herself however she feels. My darling girl is a wild one, werewolf ears and all. I will foster that as best as I can. I am, after all, her mother.