My son and I shuffle off to our library to enjoy story time and some learning opportunities every week. Our son has enjoyed the throne of only child for an entire three years, so we look for ways to teach him as he interacts with other children. Toddlers with siblings have this training field at home, so learning to share, not hit their friends, and talk kindly to others are everyday opportunities. Because that is not our situation, we head to the library and purposefully look for these teachable moments.
The last two weeks my son has pulled his usual “hoard the toys” maneuver. These times provide great conversation starters on what selfishness looks like. My husband and I have been talking about the subject for a long time with him, so this is a familiar concept. When I saw my son stop playing with the trains and instead throw them in a heap and stand guard, waiting for one of the other kids to dare to touch one of “his” trains, I was ready.
Me: Hey bud, are you being selfish?
Son: (Eye contact, nodding)
Me: So, what should you do instead of being selfish?
Son: (Picks up a train and begins to hand it to another child)
Other Mom: Oh, that’s ok, you’re fine. There are plenty of trains. You can keep that one.
Son: (Confused look, redacts the offer to share, resumes the “on guard” stance)
His confusion was understandable because he knows that the antidote to our natural selfishness is to share. Instead of amassing the trains to keep others from enjoying them, our son needed to combat his selfish heart with the opposite attitude—generosity.
The following week the same scene played out, frame-for-frame, with the same mom excusing my son’s wrong behavior. As I have processed these episodes it has occurred to me that we all need to allow a little more space for the ways different families handle raising their children. The next time you want to speak against the words of another parent, please consider these keys:
1. We may parent differently and that’s ok
There are a plethora of parenting styles for us to choose from today: attachment, free range, helicopter, positive, grace-based, and more. While we may have differences in these areas, can we just give each other the benefit of the doubt that we have put thought into the type of parents we want to be? A difference in philosophy in no way reflects a lack of concern in another parent. Every kid is different, so one parent’s adapting to her child’s needs may look different than yours does—but we can still both be great parents.
2. I know what my kid is capable of better than anyone else
Kids develop at different speeds and in different ways. My son has a friend who is three weeks older than he is. This friend is the third in a family with four kids. He developed motor skills far faster than my son—presumably to keep up with his siblings! My son, however, worked on his verbal skills first. When his friend was running at age two, my son had over five times the number of words in his vocabulary than he developmentally should have—while he slowly walked around the house chatting. Our boys have developed differently despite their close ages and similar parenting scenarios. I know what conversations my son is capable of having because I am his mother. While another three-year-old may not have any idea what selfishness is, mine is capable of recognizing it in himself. You know better what your child is capable of doing or not doing than I do. We have to stop assuming that we know all kids and their capabilities at first glance.
3. Giving my child contradictory directions creates confusion
Interjecting a new direction while my son is beginning to obey me creates another problem: who does he listen to? This confusion makes obedience even harder on our kids! If you feel the need to say something, compliment my son when he obeys. “Good job listening to your mom, buddy!” This is far more beneficial to a toddler who is deciding between obedience or returning to his crime than offering a way around it.
4. If you want to talk to me about my parenting decisions, do it after I’m done instructing my child
If, after these considerations, you still feel I have parented in error, I would be more than happy to discuss the situation with you. One thing I want to model for my son is a willingness to listen and to admit when I have messed up. When my husband and I make mistakes in front of our child (which happens all the time), we are not afraid to apologize to him and admit our mistake.
The other day we were in the car and my son called out “MOOOOOOOOOOOM” for the twelve millionth time that day.
I angrily retorted “WHAT?”
To my shame, his sweet little voice calmly said, “I want to give you a hug when we get home.” Ouch. I then apologized for responding angrily to him and being impatient. If you think that I acted out of line, please come talk to me about it in a private setting.
So the next time you see a stranger make a parenting move you disagree with, stop and think twice before offering your input. You have no idea what is going on in that child’s life or what character qualities mom and dad are working to instill in her. You can handle it differently with your kids, but let me parent in line with my convictions—and I promise to return the favor to you.