Friday, May 11, 2012

It's my job to be mean.

I'm a mean mom. This is what I am told anyway, by the ones who count...my kids. This week I have had a few of those moments where I felt like the meanest mother on the planet. I think I wrote about one such moment earlier this week, when I left my Jamie standing bawling on someone's driveway while I drove off to my doctor's appointment. Sure, he was in good hands, and yes, he was safe. I use the word "driveway" loosely, as this was way out in the country and he was nowhere near a road, so he was not left in a dangerous place. (Plus my sister-in-law and her kids were there.) But that's all beside the point. It made me second guess myself. Should I have taken him with me, as he requested? Well, I could have. But I really didn't want to. He would have been bored. He would have been whiny. He would have made the whole experience very stressful, and he wouldn't have enjoyed it anyway. In the end, I had to do the tough thing and leave him there, miserable and vulnerable, crying for his mother as she drove away in a cloud of dust. Nice.

Yesterday I had another such moment. Actually, it is now a weekly occurrence, as Cody has swimming lessons through his school every Thursday afternoon. He hates them. Cody has always been afraid of swimming, though I thought we were breaking through all that after our holiday last summer. No matter. He has decided it is scary once again, so every week he begs and begs me to let him quit and to give him "a day off from swimming lessons". I already paid for these lessons. Besides that, he needs to learn how to swim. Maybe not everybody feels this way, but in my opinion, everyone should know how to swim. And seeing his school got us a discounted rate on lessons and they are the ones driving him to and from the city, I think I'd be foolish to not take advantage of the opportunity. Cody felt differently. So I forced my child into swimming lessons. Then, I had to force him to get ready so I could drop him off at the school. All the while, he begged and pleaded and then flat out said he refused to go. I tried the compassionate route. I reasoned with him and reminded him how fun it is to swim. I explained the importance of learning how to swim. And none of it worked. So then I had to get tough and tell him to stop it, and that he was going, whether he liked it or not. After I dropped him off at the school, I remembered moments like that from my own childhood. You know, those moments when the world feels so big and you feel scared and vulnerable, and there is nobody there to bail you out or make you feel safe. I pictured my little boy riding that school bus all the way to the city, scared and perhaps feeling betrayed by his mother that whole time.

What is the parenting solution? Do we rush in and rescue them whenever they are scared? Or do we not give them any choice when they don't want to do something? Do we coddle them and let their emotions guide their decisions? (And ours.) Or do we take an emotionless approach and just lay out the facts, leaving no room for expression of fear, doubt or even just the desire to say no?

I believe there is a balance. Do I know what that balance is? Not really. Maybe it depends on the mom. (Or dad.) Maybe it depends on the kid. Maybe it depends on both. I think it's healthy to allow a child to express their worries and their displeasure, and even their opinions, but I guess somehow as parents we have to teach them that sometimes decisions have to be made for other reasons that may conflict with our emotions. Did I make the right choice sending Cody to swimming lessons? I believe I did, even though it is hard on my emotions every week, because he does this every week. I always feel mean and heartless. But the funny thing is, when Cody got off the bus yesterday after swimming, he sounded excited. "Guess what I did at swimming lessons, mom?? I went in the deep end with a life jacket!" He actually had fun. Wow. So maybe I was not as mean as I thought, or as he thought. Maybe sometimes as parents we see the bigger picture, and we know that if they could only push past their feelings, they would enjoy themselves, even while learning a valuable skill. Sadly, I am quite certain he will still do the same thing next week, and for the five weeks after that, but I guess it's my job to continue being mean so that he can be safe, and he can learn how to enjoy the water without so much fear. But, to misquote a popular muppet, it's not easy being mean. I don't like it. But I will do what it takes to help my kids, even when they perceive it as mean.

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