I’m Your Puppet

“Go ahead, show grandma how you do it! C’mon! I know you can.” Meanwhile your child stares at you and does nothing. You look at grandma, “I swear, he does this all the time. It’s so cute!” Embarrassed and flustered, you encourage your child a little more and then drop the topic. Why am I able to describe this scenario with such painful detail? Well, because my daughter has offered me repeated lessons on the fact that, although she can do many amazing things, she is not interested in doing them on command for me so that I can impress other adults.

This phenomenon starts with the birth of a new baby. They are so perfect yet are unable to do much. We revel in and celebrate every new change in this brand new person. The first time a baby smiles we call attention to it and invite everyone to see. This continues with every milestone that occurs. We are so joyful and proud that we want to share it with everyone. There are times when I have felt so pent up with joy at being a mother that I am certain that I might explode if I cannot express my joy to someone.

At my school, we work very hard to ensure that even the smallest children are able to actively participate in their daily routines. We do this by engaging with them and acknowledging their experience, even if they have no words to use themselves. The infants have every moment of every care giving routine dictated to them by the adult performing the routine. For example, we always speak to the children prior to touching them. If we are helping them with a task such as changing clothing, we describe where we are placing our hands and what we are going to do next. This is so respectful of the child and allows him to feel empowered in the situation. We never ask the children to “show off” to others. We instead let them decide if they want to show their skills and do so spontaneously when they are ready.

As a teacher, I have known this methodology for years. As a parent, I have frequently forgotten it. She was so fat and adorable when she was a baby. I wanted to share her flubby cuteness with the whole world. On top of that, she went through a phase around age one where she wanted to please me. She would do anything I asked of her, which made her into a really good live-action puppet. It was so fun to parade her in front of people and ask her do something cute, because she always would…until she didn’t.

Suddenly, I couldn’t get her to do anything I asked her to do in front of other people. I refer you back to the opening paragraph and encourage you to imagine me in this situation at least ten times before I figured it out. When I began to reflect on this change I realized that my embarrassment had little to do with her and everything to do with me. When she wouldn’t show off for others while I pushed her to try, I ended up looking like a mom from a bad reality TV show trying to push my child to do something that will fill my own emotional holes. Had I become a Toddlers & Tiaras  mom? I realized that, although I wasn’t getting her spray tanned and greasing her teeth with petroleum jelly, I was pushing her to do things she didn’t want to do for my own selfish reasons.

This led me to reflect on what I was doing. Why did I feel so compelled to have her show her skills to everyone else? My answer led me back to me…literally. She’s a tiny little version of me. I see her as a physiological extension of myself. Therefore, if she is amazing I am amazing. When she is validated for being cute and smart, so am I. Well, guess what? That’s my problem, not hers. If I am needing affirmation of my awesomeness, I need to seek that somewhere outside of my child.

I realized that I was creating two significant problems with this behavior. The first problem is that I was teaching my daughter that accomplishment is a step-stool to compliments. I want her to think that the goal is hard work creating a step stool to accomplishments and that compliments are just a bonus but not something for which we strive. I was showing her that she should seek external validation instead of showing her the value of determination combined with honest self-reflection.

The second problem I created was that of devaluing the special relationship that she and I share. What a blessing it is to be the trusted person to whom this child is so connected that she wants to share her biggest developments with me exclusively for a little while. This can be an opportunity to share something special that is just a part of our immediate family for a bit. She trusts me and feels safe with me. When I push her beyond that, she will trust me a little less every time. My goal is to ensure that she develops such a deep level of trust in me that she always feels comfortable coming to me to share the new developments in her life regardless of her age.

The next time you go to dangle your baby in front of someone and pretend to talk for her or the next time you really want your child to show your friend the amazing new thing they just learned, reflect on this for a moment. Are you doing this because it will benefit your child in a tangible way or are you doing it because it feels good to show off your kiddo? I encourage you to keep your children’s trust in you sacred and allow them to decide when they are ready to share their brilliance with the world. I promise you, they will shine in their own time and own way and you will be brimming with pride when they do.

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~ by vegucationmama on April 8, 2012.

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