Discipline. Love. Respect. Boundaries. Flexibility. Discipline. Relationship. Authority. Attachment. There are so many different words to describe the way we relate to our children.
I feel strongly that it is important for E. to grow up understanding how to relate to other people in appropriate ways. For that to happen, she needs to know now that I am the parent and she is the child. This first experience with authority will shape the way she reacts when she is in school, the work force, friendships…it will color the way she views the world. Experiencing consistent, loving and reasonable authority early on could give her some tools to form healthy relationships for her whole life. The way we think and feel about God is also informed by the way our parents relate to us. The way I was parented led me to think of God as patient, loving and gentle. Not because my parents said that God was those things (they probably did at some point but I don’t remember that), but because in those formative years they modeled those traits for me. If there is a God who created me, he is in some sense a Father and it made sense to me that he would be like my dad who was so kind or my mom who was so thoughtful. I want that for my children.
We have been adjusting to a new level of communicativeness with E. It is especially hard for J. who was on ‘Daddy duty’ most of the weekend while I finished up a painting project (okay, I primed the upstairs trim almost 2 years ago and finally decided to put the color on).
When someone is a baby, they need everything done for them. They also don’t argue so much about being put somewhere else. As that person gets more and more aware, however, they start to have opinions about things. It has become our pattern to tell her what needs to happen and then ask her if she wants to do it, or if we should do it for her. This is working well for shoes, getting into the carseat, going inside, etc. etc. Hmm….correction…was working.
E. seems to have hit a new cognitive stage. She is pushing back in ways that she never has before. It is easiest to just start with the ultimatum. “Are you going to put your shoes on, or am I going to do it?” “Can you hold my hand to cross the street, or should I carry you?” But that leaves very little room for exploration,or for internal moral motivation. I want her to be able to arrive at the right decision because she knows it is the right thing, not just because “Mommy said so.” Some things are more innate than others. I don’t have to tell her to eat lunch. She gets hungry, so she eats. But some things do require some intentionality to set up and eventually become second nature. Without even thinking about it, when we go to cross a street her little hand reaches out for mine and she holds on tight. “I be safe!”
The tension that we sometimes deal with right now is between when to give her space to explore her world and when to put our foot down. It’s true that we should not have to tell her 16 times to please come back to the back yard because we are not able to watch her in the front at a given moment. Maybe instead we could abandon our back-yard project for 2 minutes to smell the lavender, or maybe not. We have to make each decision in the moment and we do it imperfectly. I think in the end it comes down to being as flexible as possible, and not giving a direct order unless we are prepared to insist that it be followed.