Thoughts & Reflections
It’s a big responsibility, raising a human.
We fall into rituals and routines, we make overt and unconscious decisions, based on how we were raised, a reaction against something we didn’t like about our childhood or how it serves us as adults, based on research and best practices and unsolicited advice.
And then, there is a real child with her own opinions and thoughts and responses. She is human, so she is by nature unpredictable. I say Y, she hears Z. I pave the way for success, she creates her own path.
This is when we start to wrestle with, the Principle of it, versus what are our principles?
Someone shared a story with me. Their child, who is ten, simply didn’t do what she was asked. Ever. She was expected to brush her teeth, she would pretend, or make up a story, or do just a little bit of brushing and say she was done.
Same with cleaning her bedroom. It was like pulling teeth! Why won’t she just clean her room?!
I had the gift of knowing both parent and child personally, and the gift of both love and distance, as well as a bit of training in the nature of childhood. We could talk honestly and openly, both about aspects common to all children she might be brushing up against, and about aspects unique to this child.
What was happening? This wasn’t a genuine question, this was the end-of-the-rope rhetorical question generations of parents have asked. To which the answer emerges, what’s really important here? When we figure out what we’re trying to achieve, we can figure out how to address it.
“This wasn’t a genuine question, this was the end-of-the-rope rhetorical question generations of parents have asked.”
With brushing teeth, the purpose is hygiene. Not just temporary, having pleasant breath so others can stand to be around you, but bigger than that. Instilling a sense of taking care of your body so it takes care of you and you can do all the amazing and wonderful things you want to do for the next 80 years. A conversation about keeping teeth clean is similar to a conversation about nutritious food, or a conversation about engaging in activities that make you feel strong and capable, and treating your body with respect.
“It’s just the principle of it!” Perhaps parenting is about having strong principles, but of letting go of the “principle of it,” the indignation that comes when you’ve done everything all the books and elders and blogs and outsiders suggest and things still go sideways.
There’s a beautiful quote by Kittie Frantz, “You are not managing an inconvenience, you are raising a human being.” She’s going to have her own thoughts and opinions. You’re going to say, that dress looks great! And she’s going to hear, that dress looks okay, or that dress looks like something I would wear, or you’re wearing that?! There will be miscommunications and love expressed differently than it is felt. We might make each other feel unimportant; we might intentionally do and say things to make another feel as poorly as we feel.
This is the testing of a family relationship. This is the same as that baby or toddler pushing buttons, wondering if you’re still going to be there, still going to be consistent, are the rules today the same as the rules yesterday? Okay good just checking!
We were able to talk through a few options. When you get to the crux of what’s going on, you can start to unpack what might be setting you off, why you might be having such an emotional reaction to a child. This is a Child. You’re the grown-up here. Yes, today, you still have to be the grown-up.
What have you tried? This is always what’s required, this isn’t a new expectation, you are asked to brush your teeth every day, and every day we check them. Could it be that when you say, you didn’t brush your teeth well enough, a child is hearing, you’re not good enough?
What if you extended a bit of trust here? Ten is old enough to have a conversation about the reasons brushing teeth is important, and old enough to respect being trusted. Yes, at first there might be some slacking, but if you model and trust and continue the conversation, you’re setting a child up for a successful life. At some point, a child figures out, no one is going to make me do this. No one checks a child’s teeth in college. We have to figure out when we’re going to trust a child, no more training wheels, and trust in ourselves — that we have set them up for success the best we know how, and that, fly or fall, we’ll be here to help with what comes next.
“What if you extended a bit of trust here?”
What if you brushed your teeth together? Ten is young enough that a model and support might still be required. If you’re brushing teeth together, you might remember how long two minutes is when you’re the one brushing, though it doesn’t seem quite so long when you’re asking your child to do it.
What if you make a family agreement? You agree to brush your teeth and really do the job well, and I won’t second-guess you. I’ll respect you by not undermining you, and you’ll respect me by not abusing my trust.
Once we’re back thinking rationally, not hysterical with “what am I doing wrong?!” we can begin to think about alternatives, alternatives that really honor the principle of what you’re trying to instill.
Do you want to each be responsible for 15 minutes of tidying at the end of each day, and that much dedicated tidying will be sufficient? Or at the end of 15 minutes everything that’s not put away is donated (this one certainly worked with me)? Or at the end of 15 minutes I’ll help you but that means less together play time?
The point is, only you know this child. Only you know what is right. Only you know which demands are imperative for your family, and which simply are a carry-over “should” from your own upbringing, or from a list you read on a blog, or rules from someone else’s household that worked well for them but obviously aren’t working for you.
You are raising a human being. This child will grow into an adult who will make a contribution to her community and to the world. She can be kind and respectful, she can take good care of herself and of those around her. How do you want to send her off, ready to join the world? Those are the Principles. Everything else, that’s just the principle of it, and it’s okay to let those go.
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Written by:Charlotte Wood