What’s with all of the thoughtless conditions that adults put on children?
At Target today Miller picked out a toy guitar that he played with in the cart while I shopped. When the woman at the checkout finished ringing up our purchases, she walked the guitar around to Miller and said, “You can have this, but you’ll have to sit down first.”
There was no reason for him to sit down. He knows how to safely stand in a shopping cart. It’s his preference to stand, actually, unless he’s playing with a toy.
He looked at her wide-eyed and slowly sat.
I bit my tongue as she handed the guitar to him thinking to myself, He can have that toy regardless of whether he sits or stands because I paid for it. It’s going home with us. Something about her statement poked the mama bear within.
Pushing the cart out of the store, Miller started to stand and then stopped himself mid-air, in squat position, as he cast a look of uncertainty toward the cashier. Reading his body language I said, “It’s okay Miller, you can stand if you want to.” “No mommy, she told me to sit.” “She did, but I’m telling you you can stand if you want. You do not always have to do as you’re told. You can think for yourself. You can choose.”
Seems like crazy advice to give a 2.5 year old, cautioned my snarky side. Seriously, this could backfire on you at some point. “So be it,” I thought.
I was raised under the rule-following Do As You’re Told! strictures of the Baby Boomer Generation. Yes, there’s merit to it. Yes, I have wanted to get ugly with kids for mouthing off at adults. I would have never done that as a child! I would have gotten slapped upside the mouth! But, as with most things, there are two sides to that parenting coin. Raising children to strictly do as they’re told stifles their ability to think for themselves.
Sure, there are some rogues out there like my husband who’s always questioned anything that defies logic. But I’m guessing there are a lot of people out there like me who (used to) wait to be told what do next.
As I entered the work force in my twenties, I watched coworkers, some younger than me, propose new ideas and recruiting techniques. How do they come up with these ideas? How do they have the nerve to run it by the boss? How do they know how to implement it? What happens if it fails?! Some of my coworkers took initiative; I took direction. I awaited my next set of orders, because I had taken the “do as you’re told” approach to the extreme. I was so afraid of getting “in trouble” that I typically didn’t act until I was told to do so.
Turning the corner into my thirties, and thanks partly to my husband’s influences, I now dare to question things that don’t feel right to me (I operate more on gut instinct than logic or reason). It is empowering knowing that I have a choice in everything I do, and I’m doing my best to instill that in my son.
For instance, Miller has a plastic shopping cart full of groceries that he delights in emptying by throwing one piece of produce at a time all over the house. I let him. He’s allowed to make messes so long as he helps to clean them up. So, before naptime this past weekend when I asked Miller to help pick up his groceries and he stood there with a hint of defiance in his eye, I kept my cool. “Miller, pick up your groceries. If you don’t help pick up your groceries, you may not watch the iPad for the rest of the day. It’s your choice.” He looked at me assessing his options. “I choose to pick up my groceries,” he said as he bent down and grabbed the bananas.
“Miller, don’t throw rocks.” He looks at me and throws the rocks. “Miller, don’t throw rocks. You could hurt someone or break something.” He looks at me and throws the rocks. “Miller, throw rocks one more time and we’re going inside.” He looks at me and throws the rocks. “Alright, we’re going inside.” He headed straight for the door without complaint. In this instance, I wondered if he wanted to go inside and achieved it through his actions.
“Miller, look both ways before you cross the street. If you see a car coming, then it’s not safe to cross, because you could get hit.”
“Miller, don’t touch fire. If you do, it will burn you and hurt.”
These aren’t conditions just because I’m the adult and I say so. They’re cause and effect. I want him to understand that his actions have results, and that he chooses his actions.
I don’t know how this will pan out as he grows; it’s a different script than the one I was handed as a child. Maybe he’ll become a bit mouthy or defiant as my snarky side feared while leaving Target. I’m willing to risk it, because I want to raise a child who can think for himself. I want to raise a child who knows how to weigh his options. Who, when he’s a bit older, will stay standing in the shopping cart if he wants to because he’ll understand that he will get the guitar regardless – mom paid for it, it goes home with us.
I’ve heard it said that the advice we offer others is subconsciously intended for ourselves. So, thank you to the Target lady for rousing this mama bear and reminding me that I, too, can weigh my options. I can teach my son to “do as I say”, or I can teach him the power of choice. I choose the latter of the two.