Another busy Tuesday morning and we are rushing out the door in the mad chaos that we call morning. I am bundling up the baby, buckling the 7 year old in, and already compiling a mental to-do list that feels like it is running longer than Anna Karenina. These aren’t the moments where we are thinking about values or what we are teaching our children. These are the moments we are just trying to start the day. Still, learning opportunities arrive at the strangest times.
It’s not until I start driving that I notice my oldest, Liam, has breakfast all over his freshly washed jeans. I gasp and, with an unintentional shrill, say, “Jeez, Liam, you look so dirty.”
It’s a constant battle. In fact, earlier in the morning we butted heads over his hair and how he ‘likes’ it messy. At the next stop light, I reach over and franticly start scratching away crusted breakfast – because that’s what us moms do, right? We try to keep our cubs safe, happy, and clean. But then he says something that takes me aback and made me revaluate what’s actually important in life, and what is not.
“MOM! Do you only like me perfect?”
Of course, I am quick to respond. I tell him how much I love him just as he is, then try to explain how showing up to school or work is a sign of respect for everyone else around you. It shows you care about yourself and the people you spend time with.
I defend myself all the way to school and hug him a little tighter, a little longer before shouting, “Have a great day!”
The ride home, I try to look at it from his perspective. I recall the fleeting moments between my son and I, to see if I have in fact been sending non verbal queues that I prefer him when he is at his most perfect.
Do I want my child to be perfect?
Really? No, of course, not but I can see how he might feel like that’s what I want. And how would he know what he feels is not my intention? How do we teach growth and respectfulness for your peers and the environment around you without sending little messages of ‘you are not enough’ or worse ‘my love is conditional’?
What is the balance between learning to love themselves just as they are, teaching them looks are not everything and that it’s what’s inside that counts … and preparing them for the real world?
The fact is, kids and people who look a certain way are treated different by their peers and teachers. Everyone remembers a time when there was a dirty stinky kid in the class and how everyone treated them like the plague.
Into adulthood, when you are well groomed, well spoken with a great posture, you are offered more opportunities. There are a hundred studies proving attractiveness, nice clothes, and even your height go a long way in job promotion or how you are treated by strangers.
This is part of it, this is the tough stuff making parenting so hard. You want to swaddle them in bubble wrap forever, but you also want them to develop the skills to be out in the world as happy successful adults.
So, now I will look for the moment when all is calm and we are cuddled up, when I know my son is feeling loved and secured, and I will lightly touch on the ideas of what others perceive when judging their peers and then we’ll go deeper into discussing how we love ourselves is the most important and how we look to others is second. Then with fingers crossed, he’ll know my intentions and, most of all, he’ll know how much he’s loved.
Thanks for listening!