I’m twelve years and three kids in on this parenting gig. I’m still adding arrows to my quiver when it comes to best practices on how to raise well adjusted, highly functioning human beings.
If I’m being honest, I’d say my style of parenting is a hodgepodge of what I remember my parents doing with me, what I’ve read from assorted books and magazines throughout the years, and what I’ve observed others doing on playgrounds, in the middle of the grocery store, and in the dressing room at the mall while trying to wrangle a child with one hand and button a blouse with the other. Add a little bit of flying by the seat of my pants, and here we are.
Me, adding new parenting hacks into the rotation.
My newsfeed is rife with headlines touting best practices to get your child to bed on time, 10 things your child should know (or do or say or think) by the time they are 10 years old, and how to get your child to eat vegetables without even trying.
Sometimes, I click on them.
Sometimes, I don’t.
Sometimes, I read the article in its entirety.
Sometimes, I just read the bullet points.
More often than not, however, some little gem finds a small corner in my brain in which to burrow itself until I may need it at a future date. I never know when or where that particular parenting gem is going to present itself, but I’m always glad when it does.
Yesterday, I had taken C and V to the library. C worked diligently on her homework, while V pulled and summarily discarded books from the shelves. Small pockets of parents and children came in and out of the children’s area to play with toys and look at books. V spoke to all of them. Before long, she had a little coterie of playmates constructing a fort out of pillows from the book nook. There couldn’t have been more than three or four kindergarten age kiddos fully ensconced in imaginary play, V directing the narrative from her shaky perch of precariously stacked cushions.
Because I always have one ear and one eye perpetually trained on the whereabouts of my children, there was no way I could have missed what happened next. Another child wandered into the area, her father close behind with a pile of books in his arms. She ambled over to V, hand outstretched for whatever toy V was using. Very clearly, and very firmly, V said, “No, thank you.” The child, younger than V, made a noise that drew the attention of her father who said, “What did she say?” The child made the noise again, hand outstretched. V said, “No, thank you.”
Now at this point, in any other situation, I would have said, “V, share [insert name of object], please.” But you know what? I didn’t. Call it parental fatigue. Call it an overwhelming lack of desire to engage in a battle of wills with a five-year old. Call it whatever you like, but guess what?
I didn’t make my kid share.
I know, right?
A few weeks ago, I read an article about a mother who simply opted not to force the issue of sharing with her child. If the child wanted to share with another kid, great. If not, that was okay, too. For the mom in the article, she got her fair share of Judgy McJudgersons staring at her from across the sandbox, but so what. The item in question belonged to her child. He didn’t want to share, and “no”, one of many acceptable responses that could have been given, was the one he chose to use.
Huh. You don’t have to share. Imagine that.
We wouldn’t ask another adult to take a turn on their phone when our runs out of juice because we asked nicely and they have to share? No other adult in the vicinity would force the situation, saying, “C’mon now, you’ve played on your phone long enough.” That’s ridiculous. So is expecting kids to do the same every.single.time they’re asked. I never considered this before and like I said, I’m twelve years and three kids into the game. Trust when I say this article made an impression.
Back to the library. V had one half of a pair of telephone handles that belonged to the library. One of the playmates in her pack of merry maidens had the other. The younger child didn’t ask the owner of the other handle. She repeatedly asked V, who was well within her right to say no.
The gem of the “Not Sharing” article popped up, overpowering the Pavlovian urge to “do the right thing”. Just as I was about to implore V to share, something in my brain shut it down like Dikembe Mutumbo.
Let me say, thank you to the dad who didn’t force the issue by trying to engage with me or with V. When his daughter was told no, he said, “Well, she said ‘No, thank you,’ so what should you do instead?” And they figured something out, together.
For a split second, I wondered how differently this would have been had it been a mom in this situation? Do we really have to wonder though? She probably would have redirected her child, but not without peppering the situation with a few bon mots like, “I guess she never learned to share” or “Not everyone shares nicely” or something along those lines to let those present know her displeasure that her special snowflake was denied something, while calling into question the parenting skills of the adult present.
That imaginary mom (and many real moms, myself included) could take a note from Katherine Wintsch’s post entitled “Three Lessons I’ve Learned from Dad.” Wintsch says,
“They’re not paranoid about what other parents think.
On a recent family vacation, I spent a lot of time observing the different ways moms and dads interacted with their children in the pool. It was almost the exact same story with every couple — Dad had fun throwing the kids around, splashing and laughing and Mom spent most of her time frenetically fussing at her kids, “Charlie, don’t splash that nice woman next to you!” or “Anne, please watch where you’re swimming, there are people around you.” Or “Conner, lower your voice, you’re being entirely too loud!” There was a clear theme to the mother’s refrain: You are a reflection of me, so please don’t embarrass me.”
Was I sitting there thinking that if V got out of line, it was going to make me look bad?
Was the urge to get up and intervene an itch that had to be scratched?
Did I stop scrolling through Instagram to intervene?
And guess what? The world didn’t end. My subconscious kicked in to preserve the five-minute break I was taking. My kids were safe and accounted for. Nobody was causing a ruckus, so I checked out for a few minutes, diving deep into the social media abyss on my phone.
Turns out, doing nothing at all was the right thing to do. And I’m alright with that.
* Featured Image courtesy of www.studenthandouts.com
Also published on Medium.