Image credit: SayingImages.com
“I did something wrong today,” my daughter said to me in the car on the way home from school. “But I learned from it,” she quickly added to lessen the impact.
I stifled a smile at the latter response, knowing it to be a result from my constant, and perhaps sometimes over-emphasis on learning from mistakes.
“Rr—iii—ght?” I said as a question, and waited for her to elaborate.
“The handball went over the fence — it was just there — and no one wanted to get it, so I hoped over and got it,” she explained. “It was still in the school grounds, but just in the middle section where the dip is,” she said, clarifying her position.
Rules, rules, rules.
I’m all for them, but recent situations have caused me to think about finding the balance between using sense, and being a stickler; how to be a person of conviction and keeping between the lines.
Before I continue on with this conversation I had with my second-born daughter, I’ll share another one between my eldest, just a week before this incident. Again, it was in the car after school, where many interesting conversations happen. Two conversations. Two girls. Two different personalities. Two opportunities.
As I drove out of the school driveway, I noticed my twelve-year-old daughter’s hand. She had drawn some sort of green creature over the index finger and thumb, so when pressed together, a mouth would appear. It looked cool!
I indicated to her hand with a slight upward tilt of my head. “That. Are you allowed to do that at school?” I challenged with a hint of humour in my voice.
She looked down at her hand, and then turned back to me with a smile. And shrugged.
It was the way she did it that made me laugh out loud. It wasn’t an I-don’t-care shrug but more a sheepish boarding on cheeky I-don’t-know-but-I-did-it-anyway one.
There are many moments like these ones, where there’s an opportunity to shape, challenge and encourage the small person’s in my care. I don’t do this with every conversation (enough with the life lessons mum!) however, because these two older children of mine are becoming ever more independent, I increasingly seek to bring value in conversations when, and while I can.
There are four main things I consider – and this doesn’t just happen in one conversation, but through snippets here and there as we live life. While it seems quite formal when I write it down like this, in real life it’s more of an intentional but natural awareness rather than a process.
1. Acknowledge personality
2. Consider age
3. Account for situation
4. Bring out value
As for my two daughters in question, Miss 12 sees the world very much in black and white, so I sometimes challenge her to think outside the box, while still staying true to her person. She has a very strong sense of personal identity — she’s quirky, smart and strong — so she doesn’t necessarily like to go with the flow, but she does feel a keen sense of expectation. As I understand her, it’s like she sees the lines around her as fixed, and she accounts for them, then works, very much as her own person, inside the space. (Fig. 1 if I had to draw it).
Miss 10 is opposite to her sister in many ways. She’s often acts first, and thinks later. While I wouldn’t call her a heavy risk taker, she is (very) driven, so if there is something she wants to do, her determination is formidable. She has a strong sense of justice, is sweet tempered, fiercely independent and incessantly creative. Interestingly, she’s more motivated to fit in with the crowd than her sister, and tends to account for the lines around her as a factor rather than a boundary so they appear to move depending on where she is at and what she is passionate about. (Fig. 2 if I had to draw it).
There are great qualities in both these girls, and I absolutely adore (ADORE!) them; such a privilege and honour to be their mother. I can’t help but factor in my observations into how I parent them and it reflects in our conversations.
Back to Miss 12. I laughed out loud at her reaction to my question about her character drawn hand, admiring her sass. I didn’t tell her not to do it at school anymore, I simply said, “Okay. Well, I guess if you’re not allowed, you might get into trouble. Looks cool though.”
She laughed with me and said, “Yup,” and proceeded to hold up her character-drawn fingers, “Meee-yeeee-aaah.”
There really was no need to say anything more at this point. Her nature is not remotely rebellious or disrespectful – so I decided to just let it be; to leave it to her own judgement (and consequence).
With Miss 10, I listened to her explain the situation to me — loving how she shared with me — and I paused for a second before replying.
“Did you get in trouble by a teacher, did you?”
“No,” she replied.
Ok. So she’s processing her decision to go against the rules.
I said something along these lines:
“You know,” I began, “I can totally see how you would have just jumped over to get the ball. And to be honest, I don’t see a huge deal with what you did in that situation. I get it. But, as you know, there are rules at school for a reason, and you may not know every reason behind the rules, yeah?” I glanced over to her. “So you do need to respect them. What could you do next time instead do you think?”
“Probably ask a teacher to help,” she said.
The conversation ended with her nodding — more at ease. I don’t want to enable her to use me (or other people) to make her feel better about the decisions and mistakes she makes – I want her to be able to do that for herself – but I’m honoured to be the one at this stage in her life helping her process the steps.
I don’t even know if I did the right thing here, but my intention was to affirm my daughter as a person – that is, I understand her drive: she wanted to play ball; she didn’t want to wait for a teacher; no-one else was game enough; it was very close; she decided to get it – I get that, I really do. I even admire her for it. However, I can see from a school’s perspective, that even though, it wasn’t a big deal in her eyes, there may be, for example, younger children who saw it and then would follow suit etc.
Rules, rules, rules.
Our modern society is choc-full of them. Everywhere. They are good but sometimes rules should be challenged. Questions should be asked. These two situations with my children are really nothing — easy decisions here. However, this is where it starts: in the small moments; in the little lessons; in minor decisions. In my children, I don’t want to squash judgement or personal expression, and neither do I endorse reckless rebelling or disrespect. It’s a tricky thing to wade through; I know this first hand as I continue to travel along this journey.
In both these daughters of mine, I want to encourage individual thought mixed with common sense and considered respect; for them to be persons of grounded conviction, not simply rule-followers. It takes wisdom and a lot of courage. I’m still learning. I can’t teach something I have not mastered, but I can share the wisdom and perspective I’ve gained, and I can think about my own actions, and live it.