My son, Boone, is seven. He’s incredibly bright, he loves potty words, he is, at times, extremely inattentive, and he’s an overall cool kid. For the first three years of his life, he was an only child. I was home with him full time, and we filled our days with play groups, story times, and any other kid-friendly thing that got us out of the house. And while we played, I helicoptered hard.
(Look at that toddler Boone baby. He can make no mistakes.)
I know we’re all familiar with the hovering, overprotective helicopter parent. And I think many seasoned (read: tired) parents agree that our kids can really benefit from some distance. And even as a new parent, I was aware of this. Which is why I helicoptered discreetly. I might have looked calm and nonchalant, but in reality I was side-eying everything Boone did. If he took a toy, I was quick to remind him to give it back. If he started to wander off while a librarian read a book, I would pop up to collect him and bring him back. I made quiet toy bags if we went out to restaurants so he wouldn’t bother other customers. I didn’t do this for him. I did it because I believed a cruel and unfair lie:
The lie that my child’s mistakes were my mistakes.
I just really believed that if I was parenting correctly, my son wouldn’t be rude to other kids. He wouldn’t talk back to other adults. He would be, even at three years old (or younger!) a little model citizen in public.
So I was obviously quite delusional.
Time, experience, and Boone’s little brother all worked to cool me off a little bit. I began to allow Boone to play without my reality-tv level of surveillance. I’d cringe when a situation arose, sure. I’d bite my tongue after asking him “what happened?” when we were still in public and launch into an intense line of questioning when we were in the car.
But you know what really perpetuated this lie? The fact that Boone was – is – a pretty good kid. It’s always been easy to look at the good parts of his behavior and think “yeah, I did that.” And that’s why, when Boone got his first referral at school, I screamed “WHAT THE HELL?!” and cried for an hour.
Yes. That’s really how I reacted.
A note for those who don’t know: at my son’s school, a referral is a piece of paper that goes home to be signed by the parents. It explains the problem the child had, how it was handled, and if anything else needs to be done. OK, so now you’re probably thinking ok, if she screamed and cried this must have been really bad, right? Did he punch a teacher? Steal donation money? Burn down a classroom?
Umm… uh… OK. Well… ah, he was at recess, you see, and a recess monitor told him and another boy to not climb a hill. He did climb the hill. He spent the rest of recess on a bench. There was nothing further.
YES. THAT’S REALLY HOW I REACTED.
Hindsight, yeah? In the moment, here was the perfect little newborn that I raised who was TOTALLY RUINED because I somehow couldn’t get him to listen to authority figures. How could I have led him down such an unholy path? I was clearly an unfit mother. There go the Ivy Leagues. “We’re sorry, Boone; we can’t accept you into Harvard because of your first grade referral. Pity.”
This is so insane I’m almost embarrassed to share it with you all. But I do so because every single day I watch moms and dads beat themselves up over the choices they’ve made for their kids. Public schools or private or homeschooling? Screen time or no? Local, organic veggies only or food rewards? Music lessons? Sports? Are we doing enough? Are we doing it right? Are we ruining everything?!?!
First of all: if you’re questioning and doubting and overthinking? You’re good. Please, believe me; you’re good.
Secondly – and this one may come as a surprise – your child is actually a completely different person than you. I know. I know. Let that one sink in. You could do everything correctly (oh, you won’t – this is a hypothetical; anyway) and your child will do whatever he wants because that’s how he’ll learn. And it’s frustrating and infuriating and also real life. And hey, maybe if your child doesn’t test authorities in first grade, he’ll try it when he’s much older and the stakes are much higher. Some lessons are better learned early on.
So don’t believe this lie. You will make mistakes, surely. But they’ll be your mistakes, and you’ll learn from them. Just like our children, if we let them.
Come back next week for the second lie I (used to) tell myself… and, until then, try not to tell yourself too many.