The actions we take to demonstrate love for our children sometimes seem contrary to the very children we love. Sometimes saying no to a child when they want or want to do something￼￼￼ a parent knows will be bad or unhealthy or just not possible for whatever reason can make a child angry.￼ “It’s not fair!” is a familiar cry heard by parents worldwide from about the time a child learns to talk until adolescence. OK, through adolescence and even into adulthood.￼
Saying no to a child doesn’t make a parent mean or abusive or unreasonable. Any early childhood developmental text will teach you at that children crave boundaries. Children need limits, and test those limits in pursuit of their development of sound decision making.￼
I was selected and sworn as a member of a jury this week. Being a licensed driver meant that I became part of a group of average citizens hearing testimony on, deliberating, reaching unanimously, and delivering a verdict on a serious case. I wish not to go into detail because it feels sensational and in poor form even to discuss someone else’s business. Not being able to talk about my day, and being made to absorb sad and even shocking details took a toll on my well-being this week. If you believe jury duty to be a free pass or a joke, allow me to disabuse you of that notion. There was no humor in our case.
Of the many, the testimony of one witness in particular stuck with me. The lesson that I took away from that heartbreaking Q&A is that love isn’t enough. Giving a child everything he wants because you are afraid saying no to him will make him think you don’t love him isn’t love.￼￼ Or maybe that’s what love is/was to her; who am I to judge another? Yeah, I get the irony in my asking the judging question. . . But never saying no, then enduring a life of abuse and fear from the child you claim to love isn’t a life. Never saying no is granting another human being tacit permission to wreak hell and havoc without fear of consequence, or even knowing what a consequence might be.
I came home from court that night wrecked, and I immediately ran up to my sophomore’s bedroom. Once I pried the headphones off, I sat on the side of his bed with him, telling him that sometimes I have to deny things or exert consequences for the stupid shit he does, not because I’m mean but rather because I love him. I want him to know right from wrong. I want him to see that his actions are the stone causing ripples in the pond around it. I want him to understand he is not the sun of the entire universe. I believe it’s something I’ve been doing his entire life, but after court Tuesday, it was imperative I spelled it out again. To him this “give your mom a hug moment” had to be an utter non-sequitur. He played along, agreeable boy that he is, and I was able to sorta vent in some weird way in order to keep my tenuous grip on my sanity that day.
Even when I want to throttle either or both of my boys (see Mom’s Exhibit 1 below), I believe I have done my best to help them understand that being a good citizen matters, and it started early. When Number One Son did or said things requiring parental intervention, we used to make him “sit on the stairs” for period of time in punishment. The child, even at ages 2, 3, 4 years old would inquire about the length of his stint on the stairs before committing his “crimes.” I’d instruct him to pick up his toys. He’d retort, “What if I don’t?” I’d say, “You will!” He’d come back again with, “What if I don’t? How long will I have to sit on the steps?” I used to remark then that he’d grow up to be a politician or litigator–funny how my stint in court recalled these exchanges to mind. I remember fits of “it’s not fair!,” and responding (and I quote): Life is full of disappointment, son. Get used to it.
Despite the dirty sock evidence here, he’s a decent human being. They both are. Even when I take a tone or roll my eyes or make them go to bed early or prohibit the purchase of inappropriate video games or ground one of them for falling asleep in class (!?!?!!!!), they know I love them. They’ve been told “no” more than once, and they’ve survived the disappointment. They’re good decision makers in terms of keeping themselves out of trouble, achieving academically, and being good friends. They’re far from perfect, but who is perfect? You?? Not me.
For what it’s worth, the trial and jury process wasn’t TV-shiny Law & Order perfect, but it worked as intended. It was taxing human drama, and I believe we arrived at the correct verdict. We obeyed all of the judge’s orders and instructions, upholding the integrity of the jury process. I’ll never see the other eleven again, and I wish we hadn’t been called to spend a week together, but I’m better for having met them. I learned a great deal about how courts operate, and learned that even among people with terrific differences of opinion, opinions can be shared and arguments made in a civilized, solutions-based manner. There’s a lesson in this, and now that I’ve led you here, I’ll leave it to you to figure that lesson out.
I’ve worked in education nearly three decades, my North Star the belief that improving the communication skills of our city’s youngest and most in need will lead to better outcomes for them, improved academics and problem-solving skills are a surer path to success in and out of school. NOTHING I teach or impart in a therapy session to any kid is going to make a damn bit of difference if he or she lives a free-for-all everywhere else. Case closed.