A few weeks ago I had a positive phone call with my oldest son’s teacher. He had decided not to try out for his school’s math team and I had reached out to his teacher to discuss this. His heart didn’t seem into it and I wanted her perspective. At this age (11), how much do I push him to do something he shows some natural ability in, and how much do I let him make those decisions on his own? In an ideal world I would let him make all his decisions but he’s not quite there. I imagine if left to his own devices, his life would be full of TV, video games, chocolate bars and a lot of reading never to see the outside world or the sunshine. I know enough to balance this, but how much exactly?
His teacher gave me some great feedback. She said that since he had pushed himself in other academic areas this year, if he wasn’t feeling math team, that was okay. At times it is good to give a little nudge towards something, but in this case, especially since he had a lot of classmates that were passionate about making the team, it was fine to let him off the hook. This made me feel much more at peace about it and I thanked her. She then went on to compliment me effusively about what a great job I was doing as a parent and what a great kid my son is. I was a little overwhelmed by all of her kind words, but felt so good when I hung up the phone. Wow, I’m really doing a great job! I patted myself heartily on the back and proceeded to feel awesome for a grand total of about thirty-seconds. Isn’t it amazing how our kids can crash us back down to earth in an instant?
Still feeling awesome I heard a racket outside. When I looked out, my oldest was in the throes of a giant meltdown. Yes, even at 11 years of age, a meltdown was happening, He was kicking soccer balls into our retention pond, yelling and then swinging a bat at the screens of our lanai. He was in a full-on rage.
I quickly put down my imaginary ‘Parent of the Year’ trophy and intervened. Turns out he was angry that I was making him play outside and he was frustrated his brother wasn’t game for what he wanted to do (these two often butt heads over such things). I tried to be calm, but my blood was in a slow-boil. Watching him act out made me want to act out. It was a very rough afternoon/evening for all of us.
The tension escalated because at first he wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. I made the mistake of insisting he tell me. This only compounded our frustration with each other. From his point of view it should be clear that he was mad. THAT is what was wrong. In my own discomfort with the situation, I thought if I probed and probed for the reason WHY he was mad, I could fix it. Turns out, I needed to let it be. Of course I could intervene on his behavior which I did. I was calm and said, “I’m done with watching this nonsense, you can’t keep kicking stuff in the pond or swinging the bat around. You need to go to your room to cool off.” I should have left it at that. But no, I had to keep asking and pestering.
Here’s an excerpt from a Dr. Shefali Tsabary blog post that shed some light on how I mishandled the situation:
“Remember this, every human just wants to be seen and heard. We want to be accepted for who we are and for whatever state we are in. We don’t want to have to rationalize and justify our feelings to anyone. We want to feel. Pure and simple. This is especially true with kids. The biggest gift parents can give their children is to allow them a space to express their feelings without putting words, thought, explanations or justifications onto it. In this way children learn to be non-threatened by big feelings and simply roll with them as they arise in their beings. Feelings in and feelings out. Allowing kids to be vessels of their own feelings and not force them to deny, shut-down or explain them away is one of the most valuable gifts we can give them.”
You can read Dr. Shefali’s full post by clicking here:
The next day, when everyone was more reasonable, I was able to have a rational conversation with my son about why he was so upset. I told him in the future, when he is mad, I would let him be mad. I have to learn to sit in my own discomfort with him being mad. That is not on him, that’s my stuff. He shared that it makes it worse when I keep asking and asking him about his feelings. To him, it’s obvious he’s mad so back off. Sometimes he needs time to figure things out and sometimes he just needs to be mad. That’s life. I promised that next time I would back off. However, I won’t allow him to destroy property or physically hurt his brother. I can learn to live with anger if that is his authentic feeling, but I won’t allow him to act out in a harmful way. He seemed okay with this.
It never ceases to amaze me how parenting continues to teach me about myself if I open my eyes and heart to its lessons. I am grateful to my boys who continue to love, inspire and challenge me each day. Even on the cranky days. Make that especially on the cranky days.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent