Jack was really out of sorts. Picture a small, crazed with fatigue and resultant anger/frustration, eyes a’spinning, preppily dressed, sheriff-badge-wearing, uncoordinated feral animal, and you’ll have a sense of his state. He ate about 40 pounds of food, grudgingly got dressed in his Tae Kwon Do attire, and we schlepped back out to class. Despite my stern commands to listen, do your best, respect your teachers and classmates, he managed to get called out three times for various lapses in attention. Was I steamed? Mais, oui. I know he was tired, but at some point in life, you really do have to learn to power through, even for a bit. I can’t spend the entirety of each and every day rearranging things to maximize the kids’ periods of alertness and avoid their times of tiredness. What in the sam hill will that teach them? That responsibilities are negotiable, pliable, simple suggestions? That is decidedly NOT what I’m going for.
I realized the emergence of something I (and of course all other parents, everyone really) will have to deal with as my kids get older: there are times I’ll be disappointed in them. Up until a certain age -I guess about now; J is almost 6- disappointment isn’t something you really feel much of, as it relates to your kids’ behavior. Egocentric tots get a pass- you expect them to be navel-gazing, selfish little dolls who might embarrass you on occasion. During these years, it’s your responsibility to instill in them manners, ethics and so forth, and naturally they’ll fail during that learning process (and for a long time; hell, learning and failing are part of the entirety of the life cycle in my opinion), but when they’re little, you just sort of expect that. At least I have.
But when you see them moving out of the baby/toddler phase and into an age that is much more cognitively and emotionally able to consider others, make smart decisions and so forth, your expectations of them develop concurrently. You KNOW what your kids are capable of, and you know when they do less than that. Some folks might choose to keep their displeasure inside, worried about deleterious effects on their little one(s) if (s)he hears negative feedback. Others might hit the roof, expressing their frustration in a one-dimensional fashion and thus failing in their duty to make clear that they love the child but not the behavior.
I strive for the middle ground, which is where I attempted to reside on our way home after class today. I was pissed off. And embarrassed. And those two emotions work mightily and negatively on each other. Defenses rise, perspective is blurred, but I made myself look repeatedly in my rearview mirror at my tired, not even 6 year old and took multiple deep breaths. It seemed important to me to express my disappointment but to do so kindly- respecting him, where he was today, acknowledging what a fine young person he truly is but calling him out on the characteristics he has that won’t serve him well, in TKDo but also in life.
I talked, he listened, everyone went to bed early, and tomorrow is a new day. I don’t know if what I did was correct, but it felt consistent, fair and right, and that’s really the best I think I can do. We, none of us, are perfect by any means, know all the answers by any stretch. But if I can succeed in my kids growing up knowing that they were (are) loved fiercely but that there were very real expectations of behavior, respect and so forth placed upon them, I will feel OK.
Parenting today often seems to be considered as a one-way street: I give, you grow. But doesn’t that do both parties a disservice? Might not one end up resentful and the other prodigal? Food for thought.
Originally published on 19 June 2012