One of my sons recently taught me an important lesson. This is the same son who took many years to tell me that he loves me. During his bedtime routine, he was running around an office chair as he flossed his teeth. I noticed a book on the floor in his path, so I pointed it out to him and asked that he move it so he wouldn’t step on it. To my surprise, his face suddenly soured, and he started huffing at me in anger. That’s his usual precursor to a big tantrum. Sure enough, he soon lashed out, throwing the book across the room in fury and crying loudly with the occasional scream of rage. I had no idea what had set him off. I had simply asked him in a neutral tone to move a book.
I left the room to help another of my children with something before returning to him, still crying as hard as before. I sat down next to him, gave him a hug, and said, “Do you want to know something I love about you?” He was taken aback by my question because he first said no, but quickly changed his mind and said yes. I told him I loved how he’s quite an acrobat. When he runs into our game room, he loves to flip upside down and do a handstand on a couch. Instantly, his mood brightened. He had fun demonstrating exactly what I had described, and it helped him get some energy out. Pretty soon he was back to his normal, happy self.
For his bedtime story, I read him a bunch of nursery rhymes, and one of them was “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.” My son was reminded of The Secret Garden, and he noted that in that book Mary’s parents didn’t love her, and I agreed. He asked why, and I said, “They wanted to go on adventures, not raise their daughter. Luckily, you have parents who love you.” He gave me a hug and then said that he had noticed the book from earlier before I pointed it out to him, and he was going to move it. When I told him to do what he was already planning to do, it made him angry because it made him feel like I didn’t trust him.
I looked at what I had done in a whole new light. It wasn’t my tone of voice that was the problem. I have a habit of looking beyond the mark and trying to guess the consequences of actions instead of looking at the intent behind them. I usually think of myself as a poor father because I’m a worrier, not a warrior. I don’t command respect so much as I just try to command. I told my son that in that moment I felt like Marlin from Finding Nemo, specifically in the scene where he unfairly yells at his son right after Nemo was trying his best to do what his father would want him to do.
Marlin’s intervention propels Nemo to say he hates his father and then to do exactly what Marlin didn’t want him to do in the first place, purely for the sake of spiting him.
I don’t want to push my children away or drive them to make poor choices because they want to rebel and get out from under my thumb. I’d like to take a page out of Marlin’s book later in the film and give my kids the freedom to experience the ups and downs of life, and trust that the wisdom I share with them will help them find their way to happiness. It’s hard to figure out how best to guide children, but as a wise fish once said, sometimes you just have to let go and hope for the best.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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