Saturday, June 23, 2012

little hands

Like most of what my kids have taught me - it seemed small, and turns out it was huge.

Looking back, one of the most important lessons for me in raising kids was to not take things out of their hands.

I don't know how or why exactly but my first instinct, or my "default setting" was to just take it away from them. And it worked fine when they were little, really small.

As they got older I watched a few other Wise Moms not take things, and give the toddler a chance to give it to them, whatever needed taking.

Fascinated, I watched.

The Mom was so patient, holding out her hand and asking for the toy then, if the child didn't give it over, Mom would wait, silently. Then, if still not successful, she would go to "I need you to give me the truck." Sometimes she would give a reason. Simple and short sentences.

After some more time would pass, (maybe 30 seconds, maybe more, maybe less) she might have to take the toy. And the kid would predictably fall apart. And she would often say something like "I know it's hard to give the toy back to Tommy." or "I know it's hard to leave when you are having fun." The moment would pass, the day go on.

Sometimes though, often even, the kid gave the toy up.

For me, at first, I remember it was a monumental battle, inside of me, to do this. The waiting could seem like torture. The being quiet was unnatural...

I figured out it was important to be calm and kind if I could.

As I got better at it I found that the kid would usually comply. I started never taking something if I could help it. I let them give it to me.

So what did I learn?

First, it made me stop. This was key. For this "method" / approach to work I had to recognize/remember this child as a Person. I had a person who deserved my respect. Not just some addition to my life, to be watched over, corralled, bustled, cleaned, fed, hugged, etc. This was a small Person.

It forced me to be patient - a muscle that was NOT very strong when I began having kids. I had to work at it. This was good work for me, and began to prepare me for the lifelong patience the job would require - both of me and for them. (eventually I would even learn to be patient with myself :)

It let the child retain control. Even if just for a few minutes. Not taking recognized them as a person AND gave them control of their universe. It was recognition AND action based on this recognition. Well, inaction actually. I didn't take the toy (or whatever) and they got to consider what they wanted to do.

I gave them a concrete way to control their world. In essense I gave away some of my power so they could start feeling a new kind of power. Not just "feed me and I'll cry until you do" but "Mom let's me hold this and gives me a little space to think about what I want to do. Do I feel like giving it up?"

They got a chance to be thoughtful.

I can't claim I understood the value in this at the time. It took me another 10 or 15 years to really understand the importance of being thoughtful.

And then the next part was crucial. I became a Good Authority. Not taking didn't mean they didn't have to give it up. We all knew at the start that the Mom would win. But she gave some power to the kid, and withdrew a bit, pulling back to allow the kid to have and hold NOT just the toy but the power too.  This is what Good Authority does.

I was teaching them to hold power, to wield it, and to feel how nice it was to be respected. Trust me many people just took things from them. Me included. If it was dangerous, I took it. If it was mildly dangerous, and the potential damage was slight, I gave them a chance to give it to me.

So in this effort, I gave them a taste of Good Authority, which respects them and Bad Authority or Power - which does not.  Many many years later they are still working with and under both. But they know the difference. It's hard wired into them. It may take a few encounters to decide if someone, a boss, a professor, a cop, is Good or Bad, or a mixture. Now, they are old enough to see the shades of grey.

But back then, all they knew was, Mommy lets me decide. I bet it felt good :)

And I was beginning the work of letting go with intention, and pulling back so they could grow into the amazing people they are.
(See midrash for Jewish stories of G-d's creating the universe, first by pulling the Godself back to allow for something other thatn G-d to exist.)

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