The complete nursery rhyme is:
Rain, rain, go away
Come again another day;
Little Johnny wants to play.
“Mom! Dad!” my 6-year old cousin burst into the room screaming.
My uncle and aunt jumped up. “What happened? Are you alright? Why are you yelling? Have you hurt yourself?”
They stopped when they saw his face flushed with excitement. He was grinning so widely he could barely form the words, “I finally know what I want to be when I grow up.”
His parents’ heartbeats came back to normal.
“You shouldn’t yell like that. We thought you’d hurt yourself…”
The boy ignored them. “I know what I want to be when I grow up!”
“Well, what do you want to do when you grow up?”
“I want to drive a garbage truck!” he jumped all over the room.
“What?! You’ve got to be kidding me!” my aunt couldn’t believe her ears.
“No, Mom, listen to me. I’ll drive this really cool truck and empty all the garbage cans into my truck. And most of all, I’ll get to see what people put in their garbage!”
You can imagine that my aunt was neither impressed nor enthused. She sat him down. “Listen to me now. You can do a great many really interesting, worthwhile things. You are so strong – you might want to become a soccer player or a tennis player. You might want to become an astronaut. You might write wonderful story books, or build bridges or manage a business or become a chef. Being the driver of a garbage truck is no big deal – it’s just – well, it’s just rubbish! You can do much, much better than that.”
I hasten to clarify that I have nothing against driving trucks carrying garbage or anything else. But if you look at it from my aunt’s and uncle’s point of view; if you look at it as a parent, it seems fairly obvious that you wouldn’t like your child to set her sights on becoming a garbage truck driver. She might still choose to do so eventually, but it seems like a waste of the enormous potential that every child – especially your child – has to have that as an ambition. 🙂
How did my cousin react to this ‘lecture’ from his mom? “Aw, mom, don’t be a bore. You just don’t get it, do you? It would be so exciting – to know what people put in their garbage cans! The other day my friend’s mom put his purple dinky car in the garbage because it had lost two wheels. What a pity! I wanted that car for so long, but he refused to swap with me, and now that purple car is in somebody’s garbage truck…”
You are the rain.
Your child is full of enthusiasm about some idea and pours it out at you. You listen, and immediately start:
1. Telling him why it is not a ‘good’ idea
2. Telling him why it won’t work
3. Giving him other, ‘better’ options
Stop. Stop raining on your child’s parade. Stop being a wet blanket. Stop ruining her fun.
The simple thing to remember before uttering a single word in response is: Thinking is not doing. Just because your child thinks of something doesn’t she will do it. Just because she thinks of something doesn’t mean it will come to pass. (This seems like the right time to tell you that 25 years down the line, my cousin who wanted to be a garbage truck driver has a thriving practice as a dentist. 🙂 )
Say your 8-year old comes to you saying, “My friends and I have decided we’ll go on a week-long camping trip to a location fifty miles from home – just like the Famous Five (is there any parent anywhere who reads English who is unaware of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series? I doubt it. 🙂 ). We’ve decided we’re going next week. My friends’ parents are sure to give permission. I hope you won’t be the one who spoils it for me by saying ‘No’.”
Your first reaction to hearing this might be anything:
“These stories were set in the good old days when kids cycled all over the place. You try this now and you’ll get killed before you go five miles.”
“Those were safer days. I’m not sending you anyplace unsupervised.”
“You can’t even put your clothes in the laundry or your dishes in the sink and you think you’re going to organize food and sleep and travel on your own? I’d like to see that!”
“No way, Jose! Not on my watch. You do all this when you’re on your own, not as long as you’re living under my roof.”
Or your reaction might be something else.
The one thing I’m pretty sure of is that you are not going to be in favor of the proposed camping trip. Your child simply doesn’t have the skills to deal with it, besides being completely out of sync with the real world situations she would encounter during such a trip – mainly because you are a fairly protective parent.
The point I’m making is: Why voice your first reaction? Why rain on your child’s parade? Why not just hear him out? Remember: planning a camping trip is different from going on one.
Let him tell you everything he’s thinking – in as much detail as he wishes to. He’ll probably throw out lots of disjointed stuff, and you can clearly see how it is all wildly impractical. But hold your horses – indulge him.
Once he’s got it out of his system (by telling you – he hasn’t given up on the idea yet! 🙂 ), talk it over with him.
“Wow! You’ll cook all your meals on a little stove like the Famous Five? You’d better get some recipes together, then. What would you like to eat over the week that you’ll be camping?”
Your child will feel thrilled – you are ‘on his side’. You’re ‘getting’ it! What you are actually doing is ‘playing’ his game.
As you work with him to fine-tune his camping plan by introducing real-life details like meals, packing, carrying loaded backpacks and so on, he and his friends will in all probability reach the obvious, natural conclusion themselves: that they are not ready to undertake the kind of camping trip they’d planned.
But there’s so much joy to be had just from the fantasy of going on that trip! Let your child experience it.
There are enormous rewards you reap as a parent if you can hold back from raining on your child’s parade.
1. She feels encouraged to share her thoughts freely with you. She will communicate with you – as long as you let her do so. Let her! Whatever wildcat schemes she’s hatching, she’ll share with you. And that’s what you want, isn’t it? 🙂
2. He will learn to factor in practical considerations even in the wildest of his fantasies. If you had given in to your first reaction and come down heavily against his idea, he would hold it even closer to his heart than before – more as a measure of defiance against you, as a way of asserting his independence, ‘adulthood’ and ‘maturity’. But if you indulge him, if you truly open your mind to his idea (instead of pretending to do so), he will be open to listening to what you have to say about it. Don’t think you’ll couch your objections as ‘reality checks’. Your child is too smart to buy that. He knows right away when you really mean something and when you’re just posing. So pulling a fast one won’t work – at least, not beyond a couple of times! 🙂
So the next time your child comes to you saying she wants to proselytize people into telling the truth or saving water or donating their organs, give her your best attention. Help her take the next step (in thought) towards making her idea a reality.
One of two things will happen: Either your child will learn that the idea is not practical right now. Or you will learn that this might just be the idea that changes the world! 🙂
Rain, rain, go away.
And if you have to come back, save it up for something really worthwhile. 🙂