|Posted on March 19, 2011 at 5:50 PM|
Raising the perfect child
(July 19, 2008)
I have two teenagers and a prepubescent boy (who would die a million deaths if he knew I just called him that on the worldwide web). Throughout their lives I have tried to teach them right from wrong. I have introduced them to that still, small voice of their conscience for those inevitable times they are faced with a decision between what's right, and what feels right. I have taught them to recognize and accept the natural consequences of those times they make the wrong choice.
Take the time my oldest son was just beginning to wear big-boy pants. It was a hot summer day and he was learning to swim with arm floaties. We cautioned him regularly about not getting into the water without his water wings. He knew the rules.
He also knew Batman had superhuman powers.
We had all just gotten out of the swimming pool, pulled off the water wings and dried off for the day. I left my teenage niece and nephew with my little ones while I ran upstairs to get some drinks.
I wasn't gone three minutes when I heard my nephew shouting for me from the pool area. Just as I got to the stairs of the deck, I saw my niece pulling my son from the bottom of the deep end to the edge of the pool. I bolted down the stairs as she shoved my tiny boy into the hands of my nephew, who was standing on the deck.
I was gripped with terror at the thought of losing one of my precious angels. I dropped to the deck beside him and held his little floatie-less body. Thankfully, he was choking and coughing, wiping the water and tears from his eyes.
"What were you doing?!" I screamed. "Mommy told you never to get in the water without your floaties!"
"But Mommy..." he said, sobbing.
I interrupted, demanding to know what compelled him to go against what he knew was the cardinal water rule. "You know you're not supposed to swim without Mommy or Daddy in the water with you!"
"But Mommy," he tried again, "I was wearing my Batman big-boy pants."
Even though his parents had taught him right from wrong, somehow Batman had convinced him we might not know everything. He caved to peer pressure from the caped crusader.
It would not be the last time.
Well-meaning parents do our best to help our children to discover the internal compass that will direct them to the right paths in life. Even the children of well-meaning parents occasionally stray from the right path. When (not if, when) it happens, we expect them to accept the natural consequences, pick themselves up and put themselves back on the right track.
But what about when they make poor choices while they're at school?
As a parent, I want to know that their teachers and principals have the same beliefs and expectations that I have. While I will protect my children to the death, I also want them to be held accountable for their actions. If they get caught doing something inappropriate at school, they first fear my wrath, then they fear the school's actions. They also know if they were truly wrong, they will endure whatever disciplinary action the school deems appropriate. I will not bail them out.
That being said, if one of my children were ever referred to an alternative school for disciplinary reasons, I hope I would teach them that their predicament is a natural consequence of their poor choice. I would talk to them every day about their experience at the school, what they learned about their choices and how they would choose differently the next time.
My children know they can tell me just about anything without fear I will overreact. They know from experience that I will listen to what they have to say if they present their case calmly, without exaggeration. If they tell me they are being treated poorly or unfairly, I ask them for the specific incidents or words that led them to that conclusion. I ask them to explain the specific circumstances that preceded the unfair or inappropriate incidents. Either I help them to understand the other party's possible point of view, or I ask them if they would like for me to intervene. Most of the time the discussion alone is enough to help them see things more clearly. Other times they decide they know how to take care of it themselves. Rarely, they will allow me to get involved.
Those who know I'm coming to them on my child's behalf better understand I'm not coming for platitudes from some lackey. I want solutions from someone who is qualified to give me solutions. I want to be able to go back to my children and assure them they will face their consequences in a fair and appropriate manner.
My children must be able to trust that I will do whatever I can to help them live up to my expectations of them; whether at home or at school. They also must be able to trust that my expectations are born of my undying faith in their goodness. They trust that while peers may come and go, their parents love and accept them forever.
Batman is perhaps the world's most magnificent superhero with the utmost standards of right and wrong, but my son doesn't trust him anymore.