mom person. The one who marches to their own beat and who seemingly contradicts themselves. I was emailed promptly, after my post Monday, telling me to let “it” go. It, I’m assuming, refers back to my disdain for the m-word and my attempts to educate about dwarfism- but that’s neither here nor there. It was the end of the message (all of 4 “sentences”) that struck me: Your (sic) over protecting her.
It was there that I stopped, not just because it was the end, but because I’m not protecting her, I’m teaching her our family values. An example from my childhood dates back to my youth. Remember dead baby jokes? They’re still a very real thing, and most of my elementary school thought they were funny- albeit they didn’t understand death. But I did. I saw a dead child and that child was my brother and I didn’t think the jokes were funny. When I came home crying about what many parents felt were innocent jokes, my parents didn’t expect me to grow a thicker skin, they taught me to make change. The next time someone made a joke, I asked them to stop, I walked away and I refused further conversation until an apology was made. I was 8. And I was tough. Tough- not because I could take it, but because I wouldn’t. You can bet I expect the same from my girl- and all of my children, should we have more.
So, while we’re on the topic of over-protection, here are ways I have learned to unlearn my worry:
1. We don’t have secrets.
None. Nothing is a secret. Why are there things in life that only one other person should know? *crickets*
Secrets imply something dark and foreboding. Sure, little girls share secrets, but I honestly expect my daughter to share those with me- as I did with my mother. Simply, if you ask a child what the secret was, they will share- I’m not aiming to be forceful. On the other hand, if someone does something bad to someone and then wants it to be kept a secret, that just won’t fly. Which is why secrets are to be told to parents. It’s a rule in this house. Surprises are something magical- but with the idea that they will be revealed. If we get a gift for Dave, it’s a surprise for Daddy to be revealed at a later date. Score a goal during the game? Got into first choice school? Having a regret? Share news. Bottling up happiness is just as stressful as sadness- because there is no one to revel in the emotions with. Basically, there are some things we don’t share with the world, but we do not keep secrets.
Sorry to Addie’s future friends- but I’ll know all about who you kissed at the 6th grade dance.
2. No means no.
If I don’t want to hear no in reference to a question, I don’t ask a yes or no question. It really is that simple.
“Do you want to wear your purple hat or red hat?”
“Put your purple hat on, please.”
Giving children autonomy to make decisions about their everyday life is important to me, but if I ask a question that isn’t truly an option, I am only teaching defiance. I am teaching my daughter to fight me when she feels like I am not respecting her answer. And so I ask if I don’t mind a no. If I say something like, “Please put your coat on so we can leave,” and get a, “no,” I put her jacket on, regardless, and explain that it wasn’t a request but a ruling. Do I like her cries? Not really, but this situation happens very rarely. And, yes, I stick to it. I once asked, in the pouring rain, “Will you please put your jacket on? We are late for swim.”
“NO!” And she turned her head and cocked the coyest of smiles, I said, “O.K.!”
After putting my own raincoat on and stashing her’s in my bag, we ran out the door, into the rain and made it to swim. As we were leaving the pool, I said, “Let’s put your jacket on, please. It’s raining out.”
“Waining. Yeah, mama.” Arms outstretching towards her slicker, we’d made progress.
Oh yeah. And no always means no. That last kiss before bed, the one that helps you sleep at night? Make the request, “Give mama a kiss?”
“O.K., sweet girl. Mama loves you. Sleep tight.” *blow a kiss*.
Seriously mind boggling, heartbreaking and crushing. But it’s acknowledging her desires (and I think this is crucial for boys, too). Grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends- all need to be reminded. Of course being denied a hug or kiss is the worst, but a child who doesn’t get the opportunity to control what’s happening to them is horrific. Ever been at a college party and have to push off a guy or girl who just doesn’t get it? It can be scary. Instead of forcing something, let those times happen organically. The moments Addie takes my face in her hands, and says, “kish mama,” the random hugs around my legs, when she wakes up from a nap and says, “wuv oooh, mama,” and the mornings I wake up with a baby wrapped around my back… those are genuine. Those moments mean more to me than attempting to get a hug or kiss from an unwanting child.
3. It’s a vagina.
And boys? They have a penis.
No really. Say it out loud. Vagina. Now say arm. Leg. Head. Knee. Vagina. Ankle. Elbow. Vagina.
This makes a lot of people uncomfortable, I know. Why not call it a hoo-ha, or va-jay-jay, or vjay, or try johnson, pecker or pee-pee? Why? Because that’s not what it is. Somehow we have chosen to name our genitalia something different because we are embarrassed by them, or they are funny, or whatever the hang up is. But it’s another body part. Acknowledge it. So, it’s a vagina, and it’s no different in conversation.
The other night when Addie was pointing to body parts I said them all: “Head, ears, eyes, chin, nose, cheeks- but please don’t hit yourself- hands, fingers, vagina.”
“Butt!” she said.
“Nope. Your butt is back here,” and I directed her hand behind her. “That’s your vagina.”
“Ji-nah!” she squealed, delighted at the word.
“Yep.” And we moved on, “knees, leg…”
No shame. No giggles. Is what it is.
4. Do it. Just try.
If she says no, she is uncomfortable. If she’s unsure, she holds her little outstretched fingers to me and says help. I encourage climbing in appropriate situations. Jumping and running (or wunning as it’s known-as). Understanding what stop and wait mean have changed our lives. She will wait at the top of our stairs while I run down them with arms full of laundry (dishes, towels, bags, etc.). She will stop on the path before stepping on the driveway. Words are our strongest allies in parenting, and using them in their literal sense. Trying new things, as long as our children are comfortable, is a part of letting them go. I’m not always ready for Addie to get down from the couch, or scale the ottoman to get her book, but if she feels she is ready, I trust her (or course, within reason!). Teaching our kids to trust their gut is such an important factor is learning to be comfortable with their decisions, that I would be doing her a disservice to stop her.
Instead of teaching fear of things, I teach her to be aware. To climb to the top of the mountain, but evaluate your height. Check your balance, remain aware of your feet… and that’s not just the literal, but also the figurative. Know your body and your emotions- check in. Are you where you want to be? Are you doing something you want? Are you feeling safe?
These are life lessons that teach independence, not dependence. Imagine if you knew yourself from your toddler years. If you were so in touch with yourself that you understood social situations better. Men could stop telling each other to “man-up”. Women stopped shaming each other. We stopped pawing and groping each other, because we not only understood our bodies, but the ramifications of unwanted physical contact. Imagine if when you said no there wasn’t someone who “knew” what you “really meant” was yes.
Let’s unlearn our worries, by instilling strength in convictions to our children.