Today my sister sent me a message. I well thought out, sincerely written, message. A concern she had over something our oldest son told his cousin (her daughter) this weekend. This message was difficult for me to read for two reasons, but neither of which were her immediate concerns in sending it.
My sister, like me, is learning how to navigate all the challenges of parenthood. It is not an easy journey. Not anything like we imagined. At times it is far more difficult than we imagined, but it is always far more rewarding than we anticipated. So, in an attempt not to hurt my feelings, my sister waited several days to talk to me about the situation my son created.
Her message to me simply explained my son had made a statement about how we, he, was better than her daughter because we, he, had a newer truck and newer camp trailer than she had. He not only hurt my niece’s feelings, but also repeated the same thing to my sister at a completely different time, likely hurting her feelings as well.
Receiving this message I instantly called my sister. She was concerned I would think she was attacking my parenting, which was not her intention. I immediately apologized (though still in shock), and let her know I would never see it that way. I encouraged her to tell me right away next time a situation arises where any of my children say something inappropriate and hurtful.
So why was this situation difficult for me?
First, I never want to come off as a parent who cannot receive feedback. And I never want to make anyone feel hesitant or uncomfortable in offering feedback. I know my children aren’t perfect. They are growing, developing humans that have faults, and will continue to have faults. And I know my husband and I are not perfect parents. After all, nobody is ever perfect, right?
I want my family and my friends to say something if my child is not kind. And I want them to say something to me if I am not kind. In our home, our most important thing is to be kind to everyone. We want to show kindness and love, because everyone is deserving and we are not better than anyone.
Second, I was presented with a new challenge in parenting. How would my husband and I get our point across that this behavior was not okay, and still manage our emotions when discussing this with our son?
I was partially relieved to find out my husband had already overheard our son making his statements to his aunt, and immediately set him in timeout and had a conversation with him. For our children, addressing the problem at the time it occurs, seems to be the best and most effective approach.
To be clear, we have a newer truck and a newer camp trailer, but we make payments every month, and therefor we are both working parents without an option to stay at home. Having nice things does not make us better, it simply ties us to our obligations even when we would prefer other options. My sister has always been savvy when it comes to money management, and has done a fantastic job at choosing a debt free lifestyle so they have more freedom. I envy her ability to make this happen, and I am proud of her for her well thought out decisions.
This afternoon I have had to make sure I do not get angry. Our son is only six, and has taken a strong interest in all transportation options, including cars, trains, planes, and camping trailers. He is aware of the differences in age, and somehow this has translated to value in his mind. I cannot be angry with him if I want him to understand he was not nice.
Talking with him I explained we are not better than anyone, emphasis on not better, and followed with how we are all the same and need to treat everyone equally. I was then straight forward and explained we have the cars we have because we make payments and that is why Mom and Dad have to work all the time. I finished with the important piece that he hurt his cousin’s feelings, and that is never okay.
I also have been managing my emotions in the sense of sadness. With our constant teaching of being kind, I feel sad we had a situation like this, intentional or not. Six-year-olds are learning so much, and it is inevitable that they will say something we perceive as unacceptable. And, likely, every time it will hurt, and tears will either fall or be fought back.
My message today: Parenting is tough! Things are always changing, and our children are always evolving. Evolve with them. Make sure you are kind and teach kindness. And be open to feedback from others, because it is hard for them to say something just like it is hard for you to hear it.