“How can you be so calm?” is something I have heard from other parents since my eldest started walking, which happened to be on the same day we brought his baby brother home from hospital
I am not a model parent, as evidenced from my “Shut up and dance” method to stop children from saying hurtful things and the firm belief that sometimes the dumpster fire just has to burn itself out. I have absolutely zero hints to calm a toddler tantrum or to get a child to clean his room.
One thing, however, I am very very good at is not freaking out over the seemingly dangerous things my children might get themselves into. As a boy mom, this is both a gift (I will explain more about this in a moment) and a skill.
I have a very dear friend, who, in the midst of a big project, once said, “I just can’t bring myself to worry.” And I suppose that this has become the cornerstone of my parenting philosophy.
Don’t read that as “I don’t care.” I do care. I don’t like putting bandaids on or putting on a headlamp to examine the origin of a trickle of blood from a little mouth anymore than the next human.
I am modestly skilled in the fine art of kissing bruised elbows and am an adept of the New Age snuggles-as-therapy school of thought.
However, when it comes to seeing my four and five year-old boys do stunts on cement skateboard ramps that should make me panic, I don’t.
The first reason is the RIE Method we used with our babies from the beginning. The main idea is that a baby’s motricity will progress at its own pace and according to a natural progression. No need to help him along…he’s got this. It’s written into his DNA.
This meant our babies spent a lot of time lying on their backs on a mat in the middle of the living room rug. It meant that we never encouraged them to walk by holding their hands to steady them. We just let them figure it out on their own, observing them with delight as they went from progress to progress, independent from our intervention.
It took our first scalawag seventeen months to walk, but once he started walking we could not keep up with him (I still can’t catch my breath.) The second scalawag, precocious in all ways, ran at thirteen months. (This child does not ever walk. He will skip when he’s happy, pirouette when he’s tired. Otherwise, he runs.)
This method built into all four of us, that is, two kids and two parents, a confidence that cannot be underestimated. The boys know what their bodies can and cannot do. They have amazing lucidity about their physical capabilities and I have rarely seen them undertake an obstacle too great for them. (Even though I might get a little rush of adrenaline on their behalf!)
Because they know their bodies, they are unafraid to try something and fail. They do not give up when they fall. This was something learned little bit by little bit from the day they were born thanks to RIE.
Our rule at the park and at the skate ramps is: As long as I don’t have to help you, you can try anything you want. I will be on the sidelines, pretending not to watch, just in case.
The Gift part of the equation
But there is another reason, the reason I calmly cited to the nervous parent as we watched my then two year-old climb up to the top of a jungle gym and dangle himself off the way the bigger kids were doing: This kid has a safety net.
In the same way four different people announced to me, when it seemed abundantly impossible for me to have a baby, a prophecy was made about my youngest child when we presented him at our church.
Here it is, word for word:
“‘Parents, you cannot today imagine the number of times I will intervene to protect this child,’ says the Lord. ‘I have deployed angels to guard him every day of his life.’”
Now…I have been this child’s mother for four and a half years. I know how many times I have imagined that God has intervened on his behalf. So those words have a particular meaning for me. Every day, with every new stunt and every new danger, they come into even sharper focus.
And yet I cannot bring myself to worry.
I did not ask for this preassurance regarding the protection of my youngest scalawag. I have, however asked for a similar assurance regarding the bigger one. Whereas I have this blanket safety net in my heart for the little one, I regularly need to renew my trust for the older one.
He is not less capable. He is just as agile and trustworthy. But I must constantly open my hands and let him go. It’s a different kind of trust.
There is a fantastic book by Andy Stanley called Visioneering which articulates a biblical method for project management. It’s a book which I have returned to for fifteen years or so to remind me that what God inspires, he conspires to see succeed.
Having a healthy, virtuous little family may not seem like the same kind of project as starting a ministry in a church or building a wall to protect Jerusalem (as the book’s hero, Nehemiah does), but it is my vision and my all-consuming project.
One of the steps of biblical project management is “casting the vision.” This means sharing the vision with those around you, and with beneficiaries of the project.
In my family, this takes the form of observing my boys, who they are (not who I want them to be) and how they love, and contextualizing it in light of the vision I have for our family.
I want my boys to be honest. So when they tell me the truth, I make sure to remark on it. “Thank you for being honest with me. Being honest is what will help you grow into a man of integrity.” They may not understand what “Integrity” means, but they know it is what I want for them and that it is a good thing to be.
When they take care of their toys by putting them away, I make sure that they know we noticed. “You are a really good steward of your Playmobil Porsche! Look how you put all the accessories back in the box!”
Is it laborious? Sometimes. But it pays dividends.
This starts with knowing what I want for my family, thus the sixty some odd virtues my indulgent husband and I enumerated long before we had babies.
If I want my boys to be trustworthy, I must believe that they are and talk to them and behave towards them as if they are. Has this backfired? Of course it has. They are four and five years old, after all. But when it backfires it gives us an opportunity to re-establish with them what we want for our family.
In my Ideal Life, I am a person who:
- trusts my kids to do the right thing
- has a healthy, open, honest relationship with my progeny
- doesn’t second guess my parenting decisions
- seeks out moments of genuine connection with my boys
- takes responsibility for my errors
- isn’t easily offended by honesty
- speaks my children’s love languages
- is in awe of who my kids become
- doesn’t look to my children to fulfill my needs
- listens carefully to everything they say, no matter how crazy
- knows how to discipline effectively
What is working?: I try really hard to have a fun moment of laughter or connection with each boy everyday. Most recently, my youngest scalawag and I were slow dancing to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince rap about Summertime. He had his little arms super-tight around my neck and we danced. At one point he threw his head back and crooned “Summertime!” I never want to forget what that felt like.
What isn’t working?: This is often impacted by how the boys are sleeping, or the stress they are experiencing at school. As a childless person, I underestimated just how complicated the emotions of a child can be, and how hard it is, even for them, to direct their feelings in healthy ways. Learning to extricate myself from the web of their emotions and not letting it effect me is a gigantic challenge. Some weeks are better than others, and this question gives me a moment to pinpoint the origin of recent problems.
Things to consider: Recently, the idea that biology and genetics have a greater impact on our children than the environment or parenting styles ever will (in spite of my missive about RIE above), has given me enormous peace and hopefulness about who my boys will become. It’s not all up to me and how I manage to regulate my behavior. They already are, in many ways, who they will be. There is a lot of good in who they already are.
Things to do: The single most important thing I must do is to, every single day, seek out a moment of connection with each scalawag. Playing little cars or holding hands while we walk to school. Blowing dandelions or dancing to Summertime. My eldest and I have been discovering new music together lately, notably, Japanese indie rock, music we both agree is awesome. These are rarely the moments I would hope for, but they are always bathed in a kind of nostalgia filter when they happen, like frames of an old home movie.
I am, by far, the last person in the world who should give parenting advice to anyone. What I know is that I know me and I know my children. The better I know me, the better I am able to examine how I react with my children. This doesn’t make life easy, but it does feel authentic.
Learning to articulate what I want for them, yet letting them become, every day more, who they are meant to be is a tightrope act. Me, personally, I always wanted to run away and join the circus. I just never expected be doing it hand in hand with Evil Knievel.
In my Ideal Life, I am in awe of who my kids are becoming.