A few months ago, I wrote a post that went semi-viral on social media. It was about a very specific time when I miraculously made the right parenting choice in a high-stress (for me, anyway) moment. And I think it went viral because this is a common make-it-or-break-it moment in everyday parenting, and it’s one that we don’t usually talk about because it’s not really the most “Instagram-worthy” snapshot of our lives. But we’ve all had that moment: when your child does something that at first glance seems “wrong” or “bad” to you, and then you have a choice to make about how you react. Usually, we react immediately without consciously making that choice. I do it, you do it — we all do it. Occasionally, we can catch ourselves, and pause. That’s all it takes — just a slight pause. A moment to think about it from your child’s perspective. And then another pause to re-evaluate your own gut response.
This was the post:
This is not the first time something like this happened. In fact, there was one particular time when I did NOT manage to pause — I exploded instead.
Here’s what happened that day:
Lila had made grand plans for “our snowman this winter” [keep in mind, this happened in September], and it involved some braids that she finger crocheted and wanted to attach to a hat so it could be an Anna snowman. She spent all morning crocheting two braids with her yarn. I finally got in the shower, at which point Lila went down to the basement, took a winter hat out of the winter clothes bin, and began figuring out how to attach the braids. When I came downstairs, I discovered that her first attempt had been with a stapler. That didn’t work, so her second attempt involved cutting two holes in the hat. I saw the scissors, the stapler, and a mangled winter hat — and I lost it. I took the hat away, and Lila was devastated. I couldn’t see her hard work or her grand plans anymore — the ones I had been so proud of just a few minutes before — I could only see destruction.
Five minutes passed. Lila was still very upset about it. I had had a chance to calm down and reflect. And I realized where I’d gone wrong. Destruction? It wasn’t destruction. It was creation. It wasn’t creation in the way I would have done it, but it was the creation of a dedicated 5-year-old with a grand plan and the confidence that she could make it happen. I apologized for overreacting, told her that I loved her creative mind, and gave her the hat.
Do I want her to use scissors and staplers on things in our home? No, I don’t. But this was a winter hat that nobody ever wore — free from when I was in college. This was a very specific project that she had been envisioning all day. I had assumed she would sew the braids on, and is that really all that different from stapling or tying through holes? Context is everything. Perspective is everything.
A couple of weekends ago — MONTHS after this grand plan was completed — we were able to build our first snowman of the winter. Guess what it wore?
Allowing for that change in perspective makes all the difference. Of course, there are definitely still boundaries around here. If it had been something really destructive that affected others’ property (for example: common property like walls or someone else’s property like her sister’s doll), I would probably have her “fix” it — clean it, put it back together, save up to buy that person a new one, etc. But with her own property, I am learning to let go a bit. I have definitely started taking into account Lila’s creative urges when I buy her things now, so I don’t spend money on things that it would REALLY upset me to have her enhance. And when I come upon Lila engaged in that act of creation — because of course it always happens when she is unsupervised and very, very quiet — I have learned to pause and consider her perspective. And then I am proud.