My sister-in-law recently commented that she feels she’s made the transition from mothering to parenting. Her three kids are now ages five to ten and she said she finds herself needing less to do things for them (bathing, dressing, wiping butts) and more to guide them. She gets the tough questions at the dinner table and her new challenge is to explain important life lessons.
In my family, I’m still straddling these two phases. While Daughter is three and still requires some hands on mothering, Son turns six this week and is begging for independence from both of us. He pushes me away and fights off my loving advances. Then he wants to curl up and snuggle. A quick read of Your Six Year Old: Loving and Defiant from the Gesell Institute Child Development Series (stock your library with their little handbooks from age one to ten) confirmed that at age six - mom is the enemy. Apparently, by six and a half, we’ll be friends again.
But transitioning from doing things for him to pushing and allowing him to do things himself, takes more savvy than I thought. Many times, I kick myself for not backing off before he tells me to. It’s a six year old habit. His and mine.
We visited family in Princeton this weekend for Niece’s Bat Mitzvah. Son played with his cousins for three days and didn’t want to have a thing to do with me. This morning, he wanted me to put his shoes on. And I told him to zip up his coat. It’s a constant push and pull between us.
Then come the new teaching moments. On Friday, he came home from school and declared that he’d learned about “Marther Lutin King.”
I’d been waiting to explain the holiday to him but the school beat me to it.
“It’s actually Martin Luther King,” I corrected him.
“Okay, well, we learned in school that he didn’t let whites and colored people talk to each other.”
Colored people? What century are we in?
“Actually, we call them Blacks or African Americans and it was the other way around.”
“No! I learned in school that….”
And so it went for a half hour where he refused to listen to my reasoned history lesson, favoring his teacher’s and his own misinterpretation.
I felt especially burdened given my own strong feelings about racial equality and our love for one of my nieces and his cousin - who’s African American. This was his first introduction to a concept that bridged the greater world and his own family.
Since he wouldn’t listen to me over the weekend, my brilliant sister-in-law gently straightened out the story for him.
But I’m left wondering how to chaperone the next warped lesson he’ll bring home from school. Especially when he’s in a phase where the “teacher” holds authority and I don’t know anything.
Geez, wiping butts is such a piece of cake.