Sunday, July 15, 2007
Children are not broken
I was born to fix things. It is a rewarding and enjoyable preoccupation with houses, boats and anything else I can dismantle and reassemble. My first instinct as a parent was to try to fix problems as they came along, but it proved to be a disastrous approach in many instances. The flaw in this approach is two-fold; first, it assumes a child is broken. It has been my observation that this simply is not true. Second, it presumes I know how to fix whatever is broken. My conscious history provides little support in these matters and it appears my generational background compounds the problem in more ways than I would like to admit. I have found the born-to-fix parenting method focusses on my needs more than those of the family and for this reason I have chosen to abandon it.
One summer evening I returned home from work and as I walked into the kitchen I instantly became aware of the pandemonium in the room. Two children below the age of four at the peak of their energy, full of curiosity and highly receptive to the slightest amusement adds up to high pitch, high volume and high action. One glance at the rouge of my wife’s frustrated cheeks and the Vesuvius-like expression in her eyes, told me the situation was desperate. It was clear from my children that they were not going to be receptive to my opinion on orderly behaviour so I turned around, I proceeded to the bedroom and I changed from my business attire to more comfortable clothes. This allowed me the time to pause. On my return the question that needed to be answered was not; how do I reverse this calamity? Without triggering my born-to-fix habit the critical question became; how can I love them in this moment? I had no preconceived plan, no expectation and no solution at hand.
What transpired next was as much of a surprise to me as it was to my family. I don’t know how or why the following action entered my body or my mind but I started to hop into the kitchen. The children stopped abruptly and their attention turned to their hopping father. A smile appeared on both of their faces and I saw the relief in my wife as her shoulders relaxed and her face cooled. The children ran up to me, formed a line behind me and began to hop laughing and giggling. I realized we had never hopped together.
On another occasion my son would not go to bed on a Christmas evening. Hysterical he rejected all proposals to go back to bed. He was 3+ years old. How can I love him in this moment? I held him in my arms and hugged him as I descended the stairs toward the Christmas tree and I didn’t speak a word. I didn’t try to convince him or console him or distract him. I simply held him close and sat him down beside me in the sofa in front of our lit tree. We sat for a half an hour. While the volume had diminished slightly he was still rather distraught.
My wife finally came down the stairs and gave me a disappointed look. She had expected a resolve of some kind and clearly I had done nothing and spoken nothing to alter my son’s state. She stopped in front of the two of us and asked sternly, “What are you doing?” My response? “I’m counting the green lights”. My son stopped crying and with a slight grin he said, “And I’m counting the red ones.” My wife paused and then asked, “Are you ready to go to bed now?” With tears still fresh on his cheeks my son agreed to be carried to bed.
In retrospect, the question did several things for me; it turned my attention away from my own feeling of frustration toward the needs of the people around me; it focused me on the needs of the moment without the excess baggage of past or future events; and most importantly, it became a matter of love.