Last week, my five year old asked me to help him fix a broken, dead papyrus stalk with tape. Trying to build communication between father and son, I sent him in that direction. “That won’t work, forget it,” was the brick-wall response he received. I took my son to the garage to get the tape, knowing that the task was fruitless. Or was it? My husband thought I was interfering as usual, but I explained later that I was validating a five year old’s confidence in trying his own ideas. We taped the papyrus laboriously, and soon the five year old returned with, “It’s not going to work mummy, never mind, I’ll throw it away”. It was more productive that he was afforded the opportunity to try, decide himself that it didn’t work, and move on. Having the confidence to attempt and fail should be encouraged by parents and educators. The child who is encouraged to try out his or her ideas is surely going to grow in the right direction.
Creative or Destructive?
I have struggled for four years with my son’s "creativity," which has caused me huge amounts of work and unnecessary arguments with my husband. It all started with my son climbing on the kitchen counter, and my mother-in-law being horrified. “Why do you let him?” she asked. I told her he wanted to get something and that’s his way of reaching it. I could list many funny "projects" my son has carried out around the house. One time he got an entire ball of yarn and turned the whole upstairs into a giant spider’s web, tying double knots at only three.
What his father deems as destructive I see as highly creative. Ironically, it’s dad who’s the artist in the family. I squirm at the thought that my highly creative husband was brought up by a loving mother who controlled every move, insisted he looked perfect, and certainly didn’t allow the kind of shenanigans my son gets up to. My husband never felt understood or accepted by his parents, and his insecure personality causes him many problems. Knowing this, however, has not made it easier for him to recognize his son’s similar traits.
Stop, Look and Listen
Our behavior around our children, the knowledge we impart to them, and the learning process which we facilitate is more significant than is possible for most of us to recognize at the time. My very busy mother of five sent me to ballet three times a week, but rarely had the time to watch my shows. If she knew that 25 years later it still irked me that she didn’t come to see the musicals I produced, choreographed and performed in at college, maybe she would have thought twice about her decisions not to come. As a small child, I would badger my mother at 5pm when she sat down at her dressing table to get ready for my father’s return. These were her precious quiet moments which I gladly stole, rather than follow her around the house trying to get her to stop and listen. Consequently, I try very hard to ‘stop, look and listen,’ especially when I’m busy. We use this phrase to teach the kids in school to pay attention, but can we say we really do that for our kids? When they are quietly making something, take the time to ask, ‘Hey, you, what ya doing?’ I don’t mean heaps of empty praise but showing a sincere interest in their ideas and opinions
My parents encouraged and supported us immensely, but their expertise was more in sitting us down for a "chat" than in approaching us in those precious moments of opportunity. This meant that when my mother sat me down and asked if I was sure about the person I’d just agreed to marry, I gave her the short answer. Little did she know that I was bursting to admit that I really wasn’t sure, but the comfort level wasn’t there. I am blessed with a sixteen year old son who tells me everything, but it only serves to highlight the lack of close conversation I had with my parents. They were great teachers, but all at a distance.
Are You Really Better?
My mother drummed into us that we were better than others, which meant I was thrown out into the world expecting it to fall at my feet. It’s taken 25 years to realize it’s not going to. There is no merit in telling a child they are great unless you treat them in a way that lets them know it for themselves. I think our generation of parents didn’t really do that, and consequently, I think our generation is full of insecure adults sporting a facade of confidence. To know your own truth and to have courage in your convictions are crucial for a successful adult life.