On why I try to practice respectful parenting.
I remember growing up and being in awe of certain “cool kids.” People who were just absolutely comfortable in their skins. They didn’t need to project a certain image or be “pleasers.” I’m not talking about popular kids who were slightly cliquey and meaner and with whom you could only dream of being friends. I mean the kids who were fuss-free, no drama and just open with who they truly were. I think we are all this way with the people we are most comfortable with like our best friends who know us at our best and worst and love us anyway. But these kids acted like they were comfortable being who they were in front of anyone–teachers, parents, friends, strangers. They were not teacher’s pets like I was but that wasn’t something they aspired to. The kids I have in mind often aspired to be great at their chosen niche, sometimes academics but usually a sport or some sort of sport or art. I’m sure nobody grows up without conflict and difficulty in one area or another but I always admired the kids who seemed in some sense, above it all. They had a certain air of wild abandon but also calm collectedness that I was in awe of.
These kids could talk to their parents about anything. Their crushes, their first kiss, their worst grades, their experimentation with sex and alcohol. Things I would actively try to hide from my parents. I would have been mortified for my mum to think I liked a boy or know if I got into trouble with a teacher. In front of her, I acted like I was the kid I thought she wanted me to be. I smiled politely at all her friends, I dressed conservatively, got good enough grades, I babysat for my younger siblings, I went to church with my grandparents and even sang in the church choir. But I was compartmentalised. I had sides of myself that I thought I needed to hide from my family. I was ashamed that I liked boys and had crushes and boyfriends, and even when my mum told me it was ok, I didn’t believe her because I had been playing this double-game for too long. I didn’t even know my true self anymore by the time I reached my late teens. It took me until well into my twenties to be comfortable in my skin in front of my parents.
After having a daughter of my own I wanted to have a different relationship with her. I decided I would be ok with her personality no matter what and banish shame from my parenting arsenal. Did I have expectations of what having a daughter would be like? Sure! I thought I would have this tiny, delicate, sweet-tempered child who loved pink and fairies. Instead, I got a super-stubborn, chunky, wild little thing coming into this world feet first and making her mind known from day one. She made it pretty clear she would do things her way and that was that. I was floored…but I admired her spunk and ferocity and decided to nurture it rather than fight it.
She’s grown up tough as nails, sleeping only on her schedule as a baby, eating only what she pleases as a pre-schooler and kicking all things she didn’t embrace to the curb. Forget pink, or anything “girly,” bring on the black (much to her grandparents’ despair) and blue, no long hair (too much in the way and takes too long to comb), forget accessories (too fussy)!
I’ve had to learn to stick to my boundaries no matter how much she rails at them. With help from RIE parenting resources, I decided to let her express her displeasure. Has it always been fun? No! I’ve broken down in tears from our battles with food, her kicking, hitting and yelling in anger when she encounters what she sees as an injustice. But I’ve learned how to stay strong even though I don’t always succeed and I’m still learning every day. She needs strong clear guidelines but once those are established she will stick to them. She craves them even.
On the other hand, she loves fiercely. She defends her inner circle and makes mostly good choices. She experiments with manipulation in ways that are appropriate for her age but I can count on her to stick to her word when it’s important and to follow complex instructions. She displays a maturity well above what she should for a 7-year-old. She is a model student in school and respects and listens to her teachers and is caring toward her classmates. She’s got a solid moral compass even when she knows she’s bending it to get what she wants (ice-cream! toys!). She’s extremely responsible for herself and her belongings. She’s passionate about animals and the environment and conservation and recycling. She reads 4-5 chapter books per week.
Do I sometimes wish I had an “easier” child? Yes! On those occasions when she won’t just go the-fudge-to-sleep or take that damn shower or just quickly pack her school bag before bedtime I do wish she was a tad less wilful. But then I remember she will never take shit from anyone, speak up for herself and others if they are bullied (as she had done many times), never flounder over making decisions like I do and I breathe a sigh of relief. Things I need to look out for are whether she is being tolerant and kind enough, working on patience and forgiveness (of herself and others) and maintaining focus on the task at hand. I still work on these things for myself so why would I expect her to be able to do them perfectly at her age? I think we will get there eventually.
Most importantly, she knows that I love her and appreciate her just the way she is and she doesn’t have to hide her feelings no matter how ugly they are. Hopefully this will allow her to grow into a person who can truly be herself with wild abandon.
In my next posts, I will talk about some of the basic rules I try to follow in my parenting adventures and misadventures.