I’m always amazed at the creativity of children … which happens, frequently, in spite of my best efforts. Let me explain.
Sometimes I’m just too helpful for everyone’s own good. On those occasions when we have small day-to-day hurdles, my first inclination is to make everything better. Over the years, however, I’ve learned that the best solutions to these little life strifes is to let the kids work things out for themselves, with as much guidance as is needed, but only as much.
Like everyone else, I work to maintain family harmony. But when we have these little obstacles–and yes, we do have them (shocker!)–I try to remember that these opportunities allow my children’s stunning ingenuity to shine through. They remind me that if I just close my mouth and listen to what my children have to say, they’ll frequently astound me with their creativity.
Their ideas are fresh and honest and not shackled by memories of failures and expectations of future success. I find that I, by contrast, am hampered by constraints in my adult thinking, and if I simply let them brainstorm–and get the heck out of their way–the results are frequently startling and spectacular.
Case in point …
Here in Texas we have a tax-free shopping weekend just before public school starts. I try to save up my shopping for the year and do it all in this weekend to take advantage of the sales that go along with it. Like many other people this year, we’ve been watching our pennies and stretching them as far as they’ll go without snapping.
This year’s shopping trip was pretty slim, since I was buying only essentials. Unfortunately, the hand-me-downs my 11-year-old daughter has thrived on in the past have run out, and she’s been inconsiderate enough to grow quickly, so she needed just about every item of clothing possible. We ended up buying just enough to get by, expecting that she’ll soon have outgrown these clothes too. Every choice she and I made was chosen with care and an eye to function and cost.
So imagine my dismay when, after spending a full day battling the shopping mobs (not something I do with gusto on the best day) and watching our bank account whittle down to token numbers, I found crumpled, discarded, and wadded up items of brand-new clothing scattered across the house.
(As an aside, I totally “get” that. I have fond memories of coming home after a similar shopping trip at a similar age and trying on every single item we’d purchased and leaving them strewn across my bed and floor – and of course, my mom getting mad. Sigh.)
You might think my first reaction was to talk calmly with my daughter about the importance of taking care of her new things, after which she immediately thanked me for my insight and proceeded to hang up her clothing with loving care and a skip in her step.
Instead, I started to fly off the handle–after all, we’d had this conversation a million times before, but it hadn’t stuck yet–and she began to get angry and dig in her heels. Well, I’d been down the Low Road of arguing before, and I didn’t much relish yet another journey. I stepped back, breathed, and asked her if she’d be willing to brainstorm with me. She was willing but a bit wary, since I have to fight my natural inclination to “solve” problems and make things cheery. She’s known me long enough to know that once in a great while I lose that battle and I force everybody to kiss and make up. (Hey, I’m not perfect.)
I laid out the reasons why I was angry–that I felt like my time and our money weren’t valued and thus, by default, that her dad and I weren’t being respected–and asked her if those reasons made sense to her. Then I shut up. Really hard for me. Excruciating. I had all sorts of witty quips and clever solutions that I wanted to pronounce, proclaiming my mom-ish mastery of handling all things problematic.
But I shut up. She went away, ostensibly to think about it. Bad Mom figured she was simply avoiding the issue. I grumbled to myself and inwardly fumed, and Good Mom won out and vowed to give her some space. I was Keeping My Cool. Harrumph.
A bit later–not too much later–she came back. “Mom, I was thinking about it, and I have an idea of what I can do about the clothes.”
Well, my mind went wild. I gleefully ran through all the ideas that I’d come up with, wondering which one of my clever solutions she’d arrived at on her own. Would it be to earn money in the future to pay for any new clothes herself? Would it be to simply offer a heartfelt apology, with the promise that she’d take better care in the future, and offer to do something for me in return? Could she … no she couldn’t possibly … suggest that I return the clothes–though that option had entered my mind too, as in “That’ll teach you!”
No, she was more clever than I.
“I think that what I’d like to do is buy the clothes back from you out of my allowance. That way I’ll appreciate them more.”
Uh. Wow. Okay.
“Wow, honey. That sounds like a good idea,” I said, pushing my lower jaw up with my hand, silently tallying up the amount she had in her allowance and realizing that she didn’t have anywhere near enough to cover it.
“Maybe I can earn extra money to pay for them over time.”
My thoughts whirled while my tongue twisted. Before she gave me her idea, I had envisioned all the finagling and compromising that would happen for us to come up with some sort of solution that would be agreeable to both of us. I remembered all the times that I’d proposed remarkably excellent strategies for working through problems, which often … um … shall we say … fell flat with a resounding thud.
Then I remembered all the varied solutions that did work with my kids. Invariably, those solutions were ones that the kids came up with themselves. The reason they worked was, for the most part, because the kids were invested in the solution. They weren’t being encouraged (read forced) to go along with something that someone else had instigated.
I’ve learned over the years that this seems to be the case in just about every aspect of our lives. If we have a problem–whether it’s two kids arguing over a book they want to listen to in the car or the whole family deciding if we want to go to visit grandparents over the weekend–the solutions that work the best are the ones that everyone feels that they’ve contributed to. If any of the kids think that they didn’t have a say in the decision, they’re much less inclined to be invested in the success of that decision.
How, you might ask, does this relate to attachment parenting? Think of the underlying theme behind each of the 8 Principles. What is it? Respect. Respect for our children as individuals–people whose opinions matter as much as ours, whose ideas are as clever as ours, and who want to be heard and respected just as much as we do.
When we were kids we didn’t like it when a parent, teacher, or other adult made global decisions that affected us without our input. Heck, we still don’t like it! But when we were young and small it was even harder, because the world around us told us in so many ways that we had no power. By giving our kids power over their environment, letting them come up with their solutions to their problems, seeing if those solutions actually work in the long term, and treating our children as individuals who deserve respect just as much as we do, we not only can alleviate some of the problems that arise but also help them to prepare to be thinking adults that are in charge of their lives.
So on my Good Mom days, I remember my own advice and sit back and zip my lips. As much as possible, I let my kids come up with their own ideas, which are frequently great, and we all reap the rewards.
As I’ve said before, some of my best parenting moments are when I’ve shut my mouth and listened. Not sure what that says about me, but who cares? It works!
So the clothes sit in my drawer waiting to be purchased, and my daughter visits them occasionally. Two of them have been retrieved, and the others are waiting patiently their turn. It’ll happen, and it’ll be without coercion, bribery, or threats. And that’s awfully nice.
Camille is a mom of three older kids who blogs about homeschooling and parenting at TheEclecticMom.blogspot.com.