It was around 9:30 in the evening, the small children were in bed and my eldest son was still up playing Xbox. He had his headphones on and it took me some effort to get his attention- which got me annoyed. So I snapped at him- telling him to get off the machine (said with appropriate levels of disdain) and get to bed.
He looked incredibly disappointed, but being the great kid that he is, muttered a reluctant ‘yes, mum’ and took himself to his room. I went to kiss him goodnight a little while later and sat down on the edge of the bed to talk. Something about the way he had looked at me, wasn’t sitting right.
I asked him about it and he explained that he had been wanting to connect with one of his friends in Canada for months. Turns out the two boys had only just been able to find each other on Xbox live, all the way across the world, for the very first time… when I walked past and told him sternly to turn the machine off.
I couldn’t believe it. I felt so disappointed for him and his friend. In his eyes, he was being obedient. In reality, I wish he’d spoken up. I lay down beside him and explained to him that as long as things are said with respect, we all have an equal voice in our home.
I especially wanted him to know that when something is important to us, we should ALWAYS make the choice to speak up. Even if it means potential friction. I shoved him playfully, “challenge me, ok kid? Do it with love, humour, a quiet word or whatever… just know it’s never wrong to fight for things that matter”.
Whilst I value obedience from my children, I am determined not to raise pleasers or push overs. I’m always looking for ways to celebrate questions asked, initiatives taken, changes proposed. Even when my answer is ‘no’ to something, I often commend them for asking.
“No, I will not buy that dangerous sling-shot for you. But good on you for asking a tenth time. Loving your tenacity, son”.
I’m not joking, I really say that sort of thing- often with a smile and a playful shove. And every now and again, I surprise them with an unexpected ‘ok, sure’. Just because I want them to know there’s always value in asking. Life doesn’t have to be black and white. Spending another half hour with his Canadian friend, would have been a reasonable exception to regular bedtime.
As Jack and I spoke about it, an analogy came to mind from something that happened in my own life this week. I’ve recently started training the Brazilian martial art of Jiu Jitsu; it’s great fun and incredible for both mind and body.
The one thing I’m struggling with however, is the full contact combat. Being the most inexperienced person at the gym, I’m getting hurt. A lot. I would have less bruises on my limbs right now if I’d fallen down twelve flights of stairs. On roller blades.
Naturally, I’ve become a little nervous. Then in one of the sparring sessions, my grappling partner made a statement that surprised me: “You’ve stopped resisting. Come on, fight!” It was true- I had stopped struggling against him in a subconscious effort to avoid pain. My aching body had decided that it was easier to fall, than to be thrown.
It sounds like a flawed theory: don’t resist and you’ll spare yourself some pain. But if you think about it, we do it all the time to avoid conflict. Go with the flow, it’s not worth the trouble. It’s easier to put up with it, than to try to change it…
The only problem with this passive attitude is that eventually, we do get tired of getting pushed around. Be it by your boss, your partner, or the guy you’re wrestling on a matt. Eventually it’s going to start to hurt anyway. Something’s gonna have to give.
We need to give our children opportunities to challenge us. I’m not talking about celebrating aggression. I’m talking about reminding our kids that they have a voice. Gone are the days of being ‘seen and not heard’. He who isn’t heard these days, gets lost.
I grabbed Jack’s arm and twisted it into a playful submission. “So what are you going to do, kid? When stuff happens that you don’t like?”
“I’ll speak up,” He shoved me sideways and wriggled out, “I’ll do something.”
Good. The world needs more people like that.