At the beginning of your parenthood, you’ve got your attitudes and your thoughts sorted out. You’re supportive and encouraging, and as your son keeps asking questions, you experience delight in many ways: his wide-ranging curiosity, your ability to answer all his questions, your willingness to repeat each answer many, many times, his pleasure in your answer, the questions your answer gives rise to – all of it gives you joy. Actively so.
As he keeps growing up, the questions change. It’s not quite so easy to answer them. You conduct research. You find out – either on your own, or both of you together, and you’re still happy.
Some more growing up, and your child’s questions change yet again.
By this time, she’s begun to get the point that you are not an extension of her. You are a separate being. You love the fact that she’s understood this. You can finally tell her, “You’re fresh after your nap, but I’m tired from doing chores, so I can’t play ball with you outside right now. Let’s play something less strenuous till I feel rested.” And she will understand and give you the down time. Because she’s finally begun to get it that you are your own person, separate from her.
But the questions! They become uncomfortable, prickly. Instead of asking you information-type questions, she begins asking attitude- and behavior-type questions.
“Why do you and Dad argue every time you both have to go to an office party?”
“Why are you so rude to Grandpa and so gentle with Grandma?”
“Why did you say/do that mean thing?”
She’s asking out of the same curiosity that you once celebrated.
But now that the questions are coming closer to the core of who you are, you become defensive.
The questions she asks you now cannot be answered immediately – if at all they can be answered. (If you are in an abusive relationship, how will you explain that to your 6- or 7-year old? And men can be in abusive relationships as often as women can, so this is not gender-specific.) Nor are they easy to answer.
You might not have observed these things about yourself. Or you might have noticed them, but not considered them. You may have dismissed them as stemming from stress, exhaustion, having an ‘off’ day – whatever.
And now, here’s your child putting you on the spot. Typically, you will hit back – by shutting her out, asking her to back off, giving her some half-baked, untrue explanation.
“We don’t argue every time” or “We’re both tired after a full day at work and now we have to go out again instead of being able to relax”. (But that’s not true. She said you argued only if you had to go to an office party – not otherwise.)
“I’m not rude to Grandpa! Grandma has a heart condition so we have to be careful with her…”
“I shouldn’t have said /done it, but I was really stressed because Mom was unwell / there was so much work / I’d had a bad day / …”
Initially, she’ll accept all your answers. After all, she’s been doing it all her life, and she’s come to no harm. But after a while, she’ll realize you have no clue what you’re talking about.
Your child will find out that you are a sham. You’re giving her answers which don’t ring true; which change, depending upon the situations and people involved.
Suddenly, you stop being the best parent in the world – not from your child’s point of view, but your own. You know things are spiraling out of control, but you don’t know how to get back on top of them.
Consider continuing your term as the best parent in the world.
When he asks you a question that makes you all hot and bothered, consider it. “Do you think we argue every time we go to an office party? I hadn’t noticed that. Let’s see…” Think about it. Maybe the next sentence in this conversation could be, “I’ll have to think about it before I give you an answer. Why don’t we talk about this another time?”
He will accept this as an answer – for the moment. He will learn that there are questions that need time before they can be adequately answered.
Then work on your answer. Yourself, and with your partner, if need be. (There’s a transformation here, waiting in the wings! :-)) And get back to your son, talk to him one-on-one. See where that explanation goes.
Your child is growing up. Well, you need to grow up with him! Even though you’re an adult already. Growing up means learning that black and white are concepts for children. Your child needs to learn that there is no black and white – life is a spectrum of grays. There are no absolutes (well, this is one! :-)).
And who better to teach this than you – the best parent in the world? Which better example to use than your own? Share with your child the choices you are faced with, how you evaluate them, how you need to keep working on yourself as new situations arise, how you are sometimes (or often! :-)) unsure of the choice you make, but you go through with it anyway. Share your vulnerability with him.
You will no longer be his hero. You will no longer be the most powerful being in your child’s world. But you couldn’t have continued in that role in any case! Because as he grows, he will see the contradictions between what he knows to be true (from you) and the way you are living your life. Also, since he’s separated his identity from yours, you are the person most under scrutiny, because you are still the center of his universe.
So share yourself – yes, the right way to read that is your SELF – with him. Magic moments result from such sharing.
He will see that you don’t need to be perfect to be worthwhile. He will learn that wonderful people can have flaws, and it doesn’t make them any less wonderful. He will know that life is about constantly adjusting to change.
You will build and share a relationship you will both treasure forever. After all, you ARE the best parent in the world! 🙂