Parent The Child You Have, Not The Child You WISH You Had
There we were hanging out with our forest playgroup at a new urban wilderness playground. My son was alternating between begging me to leave and hitting other kids.
Then I called him a butt, and his face fell in hurt and disappointment.
How did we end up here? There has got to be an explanation for how this went so wrong!
Let’s back up.
I love the outdoors. My entire life, being outside has been a critical component of a life well lived. I’m in love with hiking and camping. I’ve been rock climbing, sky diving, white water rafting, and canoeing. I like to sleep under the stars, and I’ve got a thing for the full moon and the summer solstice.
Being outside and having outdoor adventures is part of ME.
But, as my kid will grumpily tell you, he hates nature. Our outdoor playdate organization has the word “forest” in the name. My son says, every time we go, “I hate the forest.”
Now, I’m big on including kids in the decisions about their lives. I try not to drag Dylan out to very many things that he isn’t going to like. And when we do go places he’s not fond of, I try to work with him to figure out what will make it work better for him.
But there we were. With me name-calling my kid, which is definitely a low point!
When something happens like that – when I fail to act like the parent I want to be – I take it as a big STOP SIGN. I need to stop right there and figure out how to shift gears. Something about the situation has GOT to change.
Usually that something is ME.
When I went looking I found two limiting beliefs that were holding back my relationship with my son.
One was the belief that if I needed nature to be happy my son had to go along with me. This is not true. I’m the adult in the relationship, and I have many resources at my disposal. Getting in my love of nature is my business, not my son’s responsibility.
Two, I believed that nature was part of a quality childhood. I admit that I’m drawn to imagery of kids being outdoors, natural wooden toys, and educational philosophies that involve nature. But that isn’t my kid, and it never has been! He loves plastic and mechanical toys and his ideal day is playing video games all day.
Dragging my son to the woods with me was communicating all sorts of negative things:
- That I thought he should be more like me.
- That I didn’t respect his preferences.
- That I didn’t think his interests and personality were “enough”.
- That I didn’t value his time.
It was time to start parenting the child I actually HAD and not the imaginary child of my woodland fantasies.
The decision to drop our forest playgroup was hard for me.
But the decision to respect my child was RIGHT for both of us.
Since that day I have been much more focused on honoring my son as he is. And the positive results from that are delightful. He absolutely blows me away with his video game skills, for example! And we’re no longer struggling and arguing over getting out the door to activities he never really liked anyway.
These things are so much more valuable than any day in the woods.
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