I was guilty of a certain way of thinking before I had kids: Letting a child have their way, negotiate with you, or talk you out of your decision creates nothing but an asshole.
But I would never let that happen to my kids. I would always be the boss.
I am not embarrassed to admit this. I know most parents had similar thoughts before they had kids.
It is so easy to think this way before you have children of your own. While you are at a romantic dinner, all dressed up, listening to a toddler scream “I don’t like you” at their mother, the only thoughts you are capable of having in that moment are likely unkind. And anyone who has witnessed such behavior before becoming a parent and responded with, “Oh, he is just having a bad day and is trying to express himself,” is much better than me. So much better. Also, they were probably very drunk.
Parents don’t want to raise asshats, and most of us know it is our job to ensure that doesn’t happen. But just because you see a parent discussing options with their child or letting them “scream it out,” it doesn’t mean they think their child is a precious snowflake who should never have to compromise and should always gets their way. It doesn’t mean the child is a spoiled dickweed who will never make it in the real world.
If you judge a parent by watching them for two minutes, you are the dickweed, my friend.
Many of us take different approaches to raising our children. Sometimes we do negotiate with them. There are moments when we do hear them out because they actually have valid points. They are real people with real feelings, and their voices matter too.
There was the time my son asked if he could buy a stack of red plastic shot glasses. I wasn’t worried about other parents judging me if my child had a container explicitly used for taking shots of booze. I was worried about my son scattering the glasses all over our kitchen as his mini experiments dripped out and made not-so-mini messes all over the place. So I said no — until he told me how long he had been wanting them because “they are so cute and will be perfect for drinking milk out of because sometimes I only want a mini cup of milk.” This was me showing him empathy, letting him be heard, and letting him know he is safe to express himself and his emotions.
And he does, in fact, drink mini cups of milk while extending his pinky as he sips because “this is how the fancy, rich people do it.” Okay, kill me now, you can have as many of these shot glasses as you want, kid, and can you be any cuter? This set of glasses is one of his favorite things, and I’m glad he talked me into the purchase. It’s probably the best $5 I’ve ever spent. He still appreciated them, he still said thank you, and he still knows how to behave in a respectful manner even though I changed my mind.
Kids are smart, we all know it, but sometimes our knee-jerk reaction is to overrule them because we just can’t, or we are too tired, or we don’t really know what the fuck they are talking about.
The problem is, our kids are human, not machines. They need room to make mistakes and decisions for themselves. These can start small and get bigger as they grow. I like it when my kids offer a healthy argument, like the time my son was told he shouldn’t wear a necklace because he was boy. The person who said it to him was an adult, and my son’s response was golden, “I like it, and someone I like gave it to me, and I will wear it because I want to.” I can’t help but think that if I’d trained him to be a little robot who never spoke his mind, he wouldn’t have known how to stand his ground.
When we give our kids the opportunity to speak, to explain their thoughts, we are giving them a voice and the confidence to ask for what they want and need. The value of this and its rewards are huge, both in the present moment and later in life.
They have to learn how to stand up for themselves at some point, so why not start early when you can teach them how to do it without being a dickweed? I am not waiting until my kids are 18 to give them permission to have a voice. It is theirs to use now, and I’m going to help them channel it to become thoughtful, articulate, vocal world citizens.
I would much rather have kids who stand up for themselves and others and speak up when they think something is unfair than kids who think they have to go with the flow or accept a punishment for something that was an accident — all because they are meant to be “seen, not heard.” Nope, not my kids.
If helping my kids grow into good people by letting them use their voices in respectful ways or allowing them to have opinions that oppose mine means that they’re “special snowflakes,” then I don’t give a flying fuck. It is 2017, and the way we parent now looks different to those who were raised in previous generations. We let our kids have more choices and different experiences because we want better for them, and I think that is a noble cause. We are constantly being reminded to “know better, do better,” and I’m simply putting that thought into action. And if my kids serve as proof, I’m doing a damn good job.