When my Eldest Little Man was younger, he was the “Move First, Think Second” kind of kid – as most little kids are. And some big kids, come to think of it. But anyway…
Eldest Little Man was wild, energetic and loud. His imagination knew no boundaries. He always had ripped knees, holey shoes and muddy hands. You get used to it, as a mother. You still roll your eyes and grumble about having to buy new clothes again, but you get used to it.
Eldest Little Man was the kid who arrived at his karate class, ran continuous laps around the dojo, took the class (while being reminded often to stay still and listen), played several games of tag at the end, then fidgeted and jibber jabbered all the way home. He had enough energy to power a small village. So naturally I thought he’d have no problem playing rugby when he asked. I thought it’d be great for him, to make friends with other energetic boys, and to have a bit of an outlet.
But as any mother would, I worried. I worried he’d hurt himself, or someone else. I worried he’d get a cut or scrape or – god forbid – a broken bone. This wasn’t just at rugby either. This was when he climbed trees, or rode a bike, or played (as children tend to do when they’re children). I was forever telling him to “be careful,” or “slow down,” or “watch out!”
Without realising (but with the best of intentions), I became the voice of doubt in his head. I became the voice who told him he couldn’t do things.
At rugby, he would run after the opposing team, catch up to them, but wouldn’t make a tackle. He wouldn’t go for the ball in case he got tackled. He didn’t want to get hurt or hurt anyone else, and spent most of the game dancing around the edge of the field (sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally dancing). Because he wasn’t involving himself in the game, he got bored, he struggled to make friends, and he didn’t have fun. He would go through an entire game without getting dirty, without getting a speck of mud on him. A clean uniform would go into my washing machine, week after week.
The fear got in the way of the fun.
I know that I’ve let fear get in the way of happiness before, and so I’m taking steps to overcome that fear. I’ve decided to choose life and happiness instead – and I want that for my kids, too.
Of course, as mothers it’s our job to care for our children. To look out for them and look after them. But it’s also our job to nurture their potential and allow them to grow into the people they were always meant to be. I didn’t mean to stifle my son’s spirit, or his personality. I didn’t mean to remove the “free” part of his carefree nature. But I did. Luckily, though, I realised (eventually) that I was overprotecting him, that I was hindering him.
I remember the exact moment the penny dropped, when I realised the effect I was having on him. We were at a skate park and Eldest Little Man was riding around on his bike, having a great time. He was about to go over a little bump, and before I could filter myself, I yelled, “be careful, you don’t want to fall!” And he stopped in his tracks, and said he didn’t want to ride his bike anymore. He didn’t want to attempt riding over that bump in case he fell.
That moment rocked me. Was that the lesson I wanted to teach my child? To not attempt things that are hard or difficult or new? To not take any risks? That it’s not OK to fail?
Those lessons are, in fact, the exact opposite of what I want to teach my kids. That’s not the style of parent I want to be, or the childhood I want them to have. I want my kids to have enough confidence in themselves and enough self esteem to give anything a try, and to be OK with failing every now and then. So I started changing the way I talked to him.
Instead of constantly telling him to be careful, or to slow down, I’ve started making sure I encourage him to climb higher and run faster as well. I have to consciously bite my tongue while he’s playing, and try and hide my own fear (because they can sense it, I swear!) and put on a brave face. I haven’t completely stopped telling him to be careful, because sometimes he does need to be careful; I’ve just changed the frequency a hell of a lot. And you know what? He’s survived thus far. He seems to have a lot more fun these days, and is a lot more willing to try new things. It’s like the old him is back; the real him.
Now he rides his bike again, he tries new things, and he’s starting to have a decent crack at rugby. He comes away from his games buzzing – and muddy.
So why do I love washing my son’s dirty clothes? Because it’s a sense of triumph, that I overcame my own crap enough to let him be a kid. Because it’s a sign he’s having fun. Because it shows that he’s heading back to his wild self. Because muddy clothes are a childhood badge of honour.
What do you want for your kids’ childhood? Let me know below or on the Facebook page.