My gut was to say no. It has been helpful to limit my children’s exposure to these things. They read. They play with each other. They interact.
Still, I was conflicted. I like to say yes to my kids. I like to give, to fulfill their requests and see them happy. He’s such a good boy.
I was uncertain. I felt pain, and though unaware of it in the moment, I wanted to blame someone or something for this pain.
My son. If he weren’t so insistent on something I find yucky, I wouldn’t have been in this position. What’s wrong with him?
Myself. What’s wrong with me that I don’t know if I’m being responsible? Or a control freak? Or harming the warm bond between us?
I didn’t like it.
At some point I remembered a beautiful line from child psychologist Chaim Ginott: “Children act good when they feel good. So how do you help kids feel good? Accept what they feel.”
Strong feelings come and go. A surge of feelings can feel frightening, something either to fight or flee. Kids’ acting out is their attempt to fight or flee scary feelings. But when a parent is not inclined to fight or flee his kid’s feelings, the kid isn’t either. And then the feelings pass.
Sometimes a parent needs to parent himself. My surge of pain can feel like something to fight or flee from: ‘What’s wrong with him? What’s wrong with me?”
But I can remember that these feelings are basically safe. I needn’t react to them. And then the feelings pass. The child and the parent ride an updraft and taste the buoyancy of their own spirit.
In the end, I told my son no. I felt his disappointment, I listened, and I expressed sincere regret that he wasn’t getting what he wanted. Thank God, our relationship moved on. And I continue to trust in our updraft.
Here are some takeaways from this story.
#1: You have permission to not know in life. It’s not a failure. It’s a sign of competence and humility to acknowledge something’s not clear, to refrain from deciding simply because others want you to.
#2: Things we don’t know are a type of deficit. Deficits are human; they allow us the chance to form a partnership with others, God, or both. There is nothing more human than that.
#3: Difficult feelings, while painful, are not dangerous. You get to discover that about your own feelings, and then your loved ones pick it up without you even saying anything.