Last week we ventured out as a family to run errands, visit shops and generally try to escape the heat that had landed over Southern California. After a couple of hours, we found ourselves at a popular home store. There, amongst the kitchen supplies and reusable bags, I saw my youngest dancing the dance all Moms know – the pee pee dance.
At 4 years old, this little girl is adept at using public toilets, with the extreme exception of automatic flush toilets. Those monstrosities are viewed with suspicion and no small amount of fear. The sudden and loud ‘WHOOSH” that springs up whenever she moves even a little bit is enough to frighten the most staunch among us, and scar a 4 year old for life. She simply refuses to use them.
Well, at this particular store the restrooms were equipped with.. you got it… automatic flush toilets. The battle that ensued left me shaken, disturbed and frustrated beyond belief. Yet it’s what it did to my daughter that matters. She lost her mind, screaming – wailing actually – and shouting that she could wait, that she didn’t really need to go. I, of course, knew better, and choosing not to listen to her, I put her on the potty while I covered the censor with my hand. (Tip: I left them at home that day, but mini post-it notes cover those censors well.)
This girl would NOT GO. Period. After a few moments that earned a place in ‘meltdown history’, I caved and pulled her off. Offering hugs and wiping tears did little to soothe her though. We left the store immediately and I helped her into her carseat, all the while imagining a potty accident on the ride home. I tend to try to explain my actions to my girls when they are confused, so I attempted to do that then, as I dutifully buckled her in.
She didn’t look at me or even respond. After the thirst time I asked her if she understood, she sighed deeply. While she still didn’t look at me, there was a look on her face I hadn’t seen before, a type of sadness that edged on wisdom. Finally, she said,
“You should have trusted me.”
She said those words clearly, without emotion or accusation – yet they were a slap in the face I didn’t expect. I stepped back, both physically and mentally, shaken.
I should have trusted her.
I am one of those parents that dances on the knife’s edge of wanting (and trying) to be a gentle parent while still harboring deep authoritarian instincts. I believe my children have a voice, a vote and their own sense of self. I truly believe that they should be respected, no matter how small, and that just because I am their parent, that doesn’t mean I am ABOVE them. Yet that butts up against, and often flies in the face of how I was raised. And that upbringing, my OWN upbringing, takes over sometimes. The parent is always right. Period. You will do as I say because I said it, yadadada… you get the idea.
Now… at the tender age of 4, I do tend to think that my daughter does not fully know her own mind and cannot, in a moral or legal sense, make her own decisions about many, many things. But this? Using the potty? Was that a battle that I should have engaged in? Looking back, I know why I put her on the potty.. she was dancing and I was certain she HAD TO GO! But was that meltdown, and the broken trust, worth it? I am not sure. Especially since she didn’t go, and we made it home dry.
A wake up?
I would like to say that her words changed my life and my way of parenting. But they haven’t – and they won’t. I know myself well enough to admit that. But what they have done is make me think, deeply, about the choices I make and the battles I fight. Trusting her in that moment, despite what I personally felt, would have been wiser. It may have turned out messy, but that too, could have been a lesson, for both of us.
Looking forward I know that I need to trust my girls more. The future looms large before us, with choices and decisions galore. Some will be trivial, while others will be pivotal. Yet it is the choices I make and the trust I give, or do not give, that will set the ground work for years to come – even on into their own journeys through parenthood.
Other parents struggle too
Researching this, I ran across an article Tim Lott penned for The Guardian, “You have to trust your children.” While lacking advice or any scientific references, the post struck me as incredibly human – and like something that would happen in my own house. His daughter had filled up on sweets post dinner even after she had promised she wouldn’t. Yet it was his decision to keep trusting her, even with the disappointment and lies, that led me to include the link here. It felt small, like the potty incident in my own life, yet equally meaningful.
Learning to trust your children is not easy… yet it’s important. And it is something I am going to strive to do more of. Trust them to make their own choices (mostly) and trust them to deal with it when mistakes are made. That’s part of growing up, isn’t it? And it part of growing as a parent.
What’s your experience? How are you learning to trust your children? Does it come naturally? Is it a struggle? Or is it something you feel is important at all? Let me know in the comments, I would love to talk!
Learning to trust your children
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