I’m still surprised and dismayed at the many articles and discourse I see online discussing whether or not children are just immature, sneaky, manipulative little creatures who require extensive breaking to become sufficiently molded to adapt to the human world. I’ve always operated on the concept that my kids are legitimate humans with real souls who have actual needs and who wish to do well in this world. Yes, they need limits and structure and yes, I’m willing to lead them. But this idea that they are somehow sub-human is mind-boggling to me.
I know for a fact that kids are just as sincere and well-meaning in their pursuit of life as the rest of us. I know this because I remember the majority of my childhood in great detail starting from about age two. I have memories from being in my crib.
I had gotten into my mother’s makeup. It wasn’t the first time. I remember the house we lived in. The furniture, the layout, everything. I was about three and a half years old. My mother noticed that I had blush on my shirt. Surely I had makeup all over my face as well, but she pointed to the shirt as some sort of evidence. I remember thinking, for the first time, that it was possible that she didn’t know what had happened. It was the first time that it had occurred to me that my mother wasn’t everywhere that I was and didn’t know everything that I did. This was a break in the symbiotic nature in my thinking about my mother. But I wasn’t sure. I was about to test my theory.
I decided that my daycare was a place I was pretty sure she wasn’t at and wouldn’t know about. So I told her that while I was there, my brother had pushed me into a wall that was freshly painted and that was how my shirt got the pink tint to it. She accepted my story and moved on.
Now, she probably left so quickly because she was laughing hysterically and didn’t want me to see her. But for me, it was a critical moment. I learned that it was true that my mother was not with me or present everywhere I went. She didn’t know everything I knew and she wasn’t in my mind. I learned to lie.
I wasn’t being evil. I wasn’t trying to manipulate her or be nasty.
Of course, I didn’t want to get in trouble for playing with her make-up, but my main thoughts were about whether or not my mother was omnipresent. Because I found out she wasn’t, I decided that I could give her any information I wanted to. I was in control of my life. I was separate from her. It was shocking, exhilarating, scary and freeing all at the same time.
I remember after my mother found out I had been molested.
She was calling me in for dinner. I yelled back, “Ten more minutes,” like I usually did. Normally, she would say no. But this time, she said okay. I knew why. She felt guilty. I was surprised but happy too. Now I could stay out longer like I wanted too. I felt bad for her, that she felt that way. But I was happy for myself. I wanted to stay out longer. I knew I wasn’t so damaged that I couldn’t come in when she asked. But I wasn’t going to argue with her when she agreed to it.
I loved my mother with all my heart, even though she was my stepmom.
And I used to say terrible things to her, just to hurt her. When I was four, I would have tantrums in my room, banging on the door and screaming, “I want my real mommy!” I didn’t want my biological mom. I wanted to hurt my mother. I probably did, too. But she never let on. And I am so grateful she was smart enough to recognize that I was a hurt person, acting like a hurt person.
When I was ten, and had recently seen my biological mother for the first time in years, I used that as ammunition against my mother again. I threatened to tell my biological mother something my mom had said to me, implying she wouldn’t approve. My mother didn’t even flinch.
She knew what I was doing.
I didn’t hate her. I didn’t not love her. I didn’t not need her or want her. I was a child, reaching for ways to show my hurt. I learned from her that that doesn’t work and isn’t okay. She didn’t strike back at me or punish me for my immature attempts to communicate my pain or displeasure to her. She recognized it for what it was, and moved on.
I used to steal things.
When I was five years old, I started stealing from the local store. There was only one store. I can’t imagine I was very good at it, but I didn’t get caught. So, I kept doing it. I would steal candy, toys, whatever I felt like. When I was nine, I had a couple of friend across the street who were children of a police officer. They didn’t want to steal. So I stole twenty dollars out of my mother’s purse and told them I would buy everyone candy from the store. They told their father who told my mom. She confronted me. She didn’t yell. She just told me she was incredibly disappointed and went into her room. I never stole anything ever again.
I sort of knew stealing was wrong. But I only knew that you weren’t supposed to get caught. I didn’t really understand how wrong it was. When my mother looked at me and told me I had disappointed her and I saw how sad she was, I got it. I wasn’t an easy kid. I was very high energy and very persistent. But I wanted to please her and I wanted to do right in life. I got it.
Kids are people.
Just because you don’t remember when you were a kid doesn’t mean you weren’t exactly the same as you are today. You might have had different ideas about the world than you do now. You might have had a limited understanding of how to communicate or interact. You might have been confused about some things. But you were still the same you. Still wanting to get it right. Still wanting to do right. Still wanting to succeed.
The fact that kids don’t understand everything yet just means they need more compassion.
We need to approach them with the understanding that their motivation is to do right and do well, not to be selfish and manipulative. They don’t understand this world yet and they don’t understand everything they need to know. That’s why we have to teach them.
It’s okay to have rules, boundaries and limitations with kids. I’m not saying to let them run wild. All I’m saying is, have some compassion. Stop saying that kids are just sub-human morons who are selfish, manipulative terrorists trying to ruin everyone’s lives. They are you. They are human souls here on earth to contribute to this world. Teach them what they need to know with love and compassion. And keep in mind, your child may be like me. Your child just might remember every single detail of their childhood.
What do you want them to remember?
- Seek to Understand, Not to Solve (parentingfromscratch.wordpress.com)
- Every Moment Counts (parentingfromscratch.wordpress.com)
- Fearless Parenting