We had a meeting with Isaac’s kindergarten teacher this week. I’d requested one because there was some miscommunication and I needed clarification. As a mama who is also a teacher, I was approaching the meeting with my professional background combined with my mommy emotion and I can tell you from experience, this mixture dramatically prevents you from going into a discussion without defensiveness. In that moment, it didn’t matter that I believe Isaac’s teacher has been a great fit for him this year, it didn’t matter that I believed we’d get the confusion cleared up, and it didn’t matter that I knew we were all working toward the goal of supporting the same child.
What mattered was that I had concerns my child’s needs weren’t being met and I was going to fix it. It was a moment when he needed his parents to step up for him and doing so was just and right.
But, it’s a fine line, isn’t it? This worrying we do over our kids. There are some battles we ought to take up and there are others we ought never have entered. The degree at which we choose to take arms can vary and, as someone who battles the need for control in her own life, trusting me with that of a small child means I very often pick up a sword when I should have been handing it to my son instead.
We worry over our kids. It is part of how we are created: to keep watch, to keep them safe. To protect feelings and precious bodies. To guard from hardships and struggle. We love our kids and we worry over them- these emotions are interconnected. Our primal urge is to protect at all costs and, despite how our personal opinions may vary as to where we draw lines, we are born with the innate compulsion to protect our own.
Recently, I heard a talk by the filmmakers of the documentary, I’ll Push You. The movie follows a 500 mile trek across Spain though which one friend, Patrick, pushes his buddy, Justin, in his wheelchair. They weren’t presenting about parenting, but their words had a profound effect on the moments in which I need to back up and shut up for the sake of my child.
The transformation Justin and Patrick went through made such an impact on me because I could relate to Patrick’s desire to fix, to fight, to ease difficulty for Justin because he loved him. Eventually though, Patrick realized that the best way he could strengthen Justin was to stop trying to fix his difficulties and start finding ways to support plans Justin was perfectly capable of devising for himself. As a parent, this is a continual struggle for me, this release of responsibility to my little boy; this trusting that- even at 6- he is capable of handling far more than I am often able to admit.
Recently, I was at the Columbus Museum of Art with Isaac. They have the most imaginative, inviting children’s space and one activity presented large cardboard puzzle pieces to create a 3-dimensional tree-like structure. All three trunk tables were in use and my child, the extrovert, went directly up to two children and asked if he could please help them build. The older boy thought for a moment, looked at his sister, and then said no. HE SAID NO!! Instinctively I wanted to go to Isaac, prompt him to ask a different child, tell him I’d play with him somewhere else, but I made myself stand back.
Do you know what my child did after he was denied playtime with that
bratty other little boy? He walked over to the next table and asked a different child the same question and got a yes. THE REJECTION DIDN’T EVEN PHASE HIM. It honestly pained me more than it pained him. Had I stepped in, I would have taken that away from him. I would have taken that tiny moment in time which he will never even remember but which is gradually forming his ability to handle conflict as an adult. He is receiving these lessons now and I am doing more harm than good by trying to constantly smooth the road before him. Not every road needs smoothing.
In these smaller moments, standing still seems nearly impossible. Shutting up is even worse. To be clear, there are certainly appropriate times for standing up for our children, but I’m reluctantly realizing how many times I also need to be quiet, watch from the sidelines, and hope to God I’ve been adequately equipping my child to feel empowered to sleuth answers independently.
Honestly, when it comes down to it, my fear is not even that my child can’t overcome adversity. I have every faith in my tiny powerhouse of a boy that he is capable of feats far beyond what I could ever dream up for him. My fear is that I cannot and should not single handedly fight his battles for him and furthermore, I can’t face the self-centered lie that I would even have the capability to do so.
Yes, my son will experience trials and tribulations. Yes, some will be massive and others trivial. In the end though, Isaac’s battles are not all mine to fight and by trying, I risk victimizing my son in his own story instead of stepping back to give him the space to live into it. I am learning the hardest thing for me to do as a mother is to pray for the wisdom to instill in him strategies to fight, to overcome, and to persevere while I cheer him on from the sidelines. God, GOD, I hate that so much because it makes me feel helpless and out of control, but I also know this to be true: I want to empower him to be the hero in his own story. I want him to be an overcomer and a fighter- for all the right reasons. I want him to be strong and resilient. To feel capable and in control of his future. I am raising a strong man and I want this to be the message he hears loud and clear from me:
You are loved.
You are strong.
You are resilient.
You are capable.
You’ve got this.