The other day, I gave Q a huge hug and said “Are you my boy?” His response was “No, Mommy. I’m Q!” I paused in that moment and let it sink in. The simplicity of his assertion of self struck me. I’m not yours, mommy. I’m mine. Of course he was right. Actually, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
It’s hard to let go of the notion that he’s mine. That he is as much his own person as I am mine. Until he was six months old, I thought of him as an extension of me. Everything that sustained him came from me. It was strange and wonderful that his little body was of my making. It awed me that all of him could have come from a part of me.
But he was never really mine. He was always his.
I am his mother, but can’t claim him. I can teach him, protect him, guide him, and love him. With that, I must respect his needs, his desires and his preferences as much I expect him to respect mine.
The dynamic between adults and children is unique because every adult was once a child. There are expectations placed on children and young people to respect their elders. But, do we respect them? Are they free to expect from us what we expect of them?
In relatively recent former life, I worked with youth. As part of that, I facilitated trainings for adults on how to work with youth within a youth empowerment model: how to guide instead of direct and how to support instead of dictate.
When we did these trainings, my colleagues and I found that those who had the most difficulty with that approach to working with youth were parents. They resisted. Now, I understand why.
The idea that was most difficult to come to terms with was called adultism.
The essence of adultism is disrespect of the young. Our society, for the most part, considers young people to be less important than and inferior to adults. It does not take young people seriously and does not include them as decision makers in the broader life of their communities.
I think that as much as we don’t want it admit it exists, it does. We treat children differently and we perceive their value differently. Being childish or juvenile is considered bad and it is not something that adults want emulate. Why is that? What is so wrong with being like a child?
It is difficult to parent within a youth empowerment model. To guide without directing and dictating is near impossible. In fact, I tell Q on an on-going basis what to do and what not to do – for his safety, for his growth, and for my sanity. He needs to learn to pick up after himself, that he can’t watch TV all day, and that it’s nice to say please and thank you. I am responsible for raising him and encouraging him to be a well-rounded person. As a result, I make a lot of decisions for him. Most.
As he gets older and develops, he will make more decisions for himself. For now he decides, to a large extent, what he wears, what he eats, and how he spends his free time.
His simple claim to himself was a stark reminder that I have to be present in my parenting.
In that moment, the mirror that Bell describes in Understanding Adultism was held in front of my face, posing the questions:
“Would I treat an adult this way?”
“Would I talk to an adult in this tone of voice?”
“Would I grab this out of an adult’s hand?”
“Would I make this decision for an adult?”
“Would I have this expectation for an adult?”
“Would I limit an adult’s behavior this way?”
“Would I listen to an adult friend’s problem in this same way?”
Anytime I answer no to these questions, I need to pause and ask myself why. Parenting is a conscious effort. It is an active endeavour and no easy task. My son needs to be empowered to assert himself and make decisions – and he deserves to have his preferences respected. If I don’t allow him to do that, who will?
My son teaches me more than I realize and in that moment, he helped me tune into the bigger picture.
This post is part of Bigger Picture Moments where we step back and take in life.