I had a divine lunch with my dear friend Kathryn last week. Kathryn is a writing professor and I’ve known her since she was in community college so to see her teaching college after I used to help her edit her college essays is so wonderful. I keep calling her professor because it’s so awesome.
Anyway, we talk parenting. We were talking about an article in the New Yorker several months ago that stated (I’m paraphrasing) we’ve moved from being a culture where kids pleased their parents, to one in which parents please their children. I’ve seen the effects on kids whose parents cater to their kids’ every whim and it isn’t pretty, people.
I’m pretty middle of the road. I’m soft on some stuff, and a hard ass on others. But that hard stuff is hard. The other day, Arch brought home an entertainment book to sell. Never mind that those things are crap and do nothing for local economy and are all about junk food and corporations, I’m not going to have my seven year old out there shilling for Jack in the Box. So I said, no we aren’t going to do that. We’ll take it back to school.
Arch was bummed because he would get a reward depending on the number he sold. So we turned it back in and the woman said to him, “Thanks for trying!” and Arch turned away quietly and walked slowly back to his classroom. No tantrum. No words. Just a quiet disappointment. As a parent, seeing your kid disappointed and likely humiliated because of something you refused to do is awful. I spent a second calculating how many we could sell if I just ran back and grabbed it and took care of it. And then I remembered that I’d said no and that was that.
This weekend, we set aside time for Arch to write his thank you notes for his birthday presents. If you’ve ever sat with a 7 year old boy while he’s writing, you know this can be a hilariously frustrating experience. Like being tickled. I was dreading it and stuck between just saying never mind, writing them for him and having several glasses of wine before starting. I did none of that. Arch just sat down and cranked them out. No complaining. Minimal distraction. And they were done. All of my stress about wanting the task completed quickly was totally wrong. And Arch was just fine to do them on his own. When he was finished he said, “I’ll check that off my bucket list.” I’m going to add thank you cards to my bucket list — gotta set the bar lower.
Despite the urge to make things easy for A, and for myself in the short term, I need to remember these thank you cards. I need to remember that Arch is capable of making his own experiences in this world. Sometimes there will be disappointment. Sometimes there will be joy and ease. Without the disappointment, the joy will be that much harder to appreciate.