A Good Idea Gone Parenting
Around five-years-old, in a search for independence, my daughter determined that she could now shower unattended. After a few post-shower investigations (fingering the scalp to make sure it was wet all the way through, sniffing the armpit for lingering odor, checking between the toes for things only found between the toes), I cleared her for all future bathing.
Though not unusual for her to empty the hot water tank, one night a gut feeling suggested that her shower extended well past the acceptable time limit. I snuck into the bathroom, pulled back the curtains, and found myself befuddled by the scene inside.
Strewn across the tub were countless bundles of her golden locks. I screamed, she screamed, somewhere from his bedroom my son screamed. What ensued was nothing short of chaos.
“I don’t know!”
“What did you do?
“I don’t know.”
More Screaming and tears.
A million things ran through my head. Did she use the dog’s shampoo by accident? Did she drink or eat something poisonous with the side effect of hair loss? Did she have cancer? Did she have mange?
Somewhere in the chaos, I found my senses.
“Where’s my bikini shaver?”
The tears stopped.
Sure enough. My daughter decided that running the shaver through her head multiple times was a really good idea. That good idea ended with one of those hairstyles usually seen on men wearing t-shirts with no sleeves.
Perhaps the most difficult job I face parenting is guiding my kids’ “good ideas.” Encouraging creativity while preventing stupidity is a fine line I struggle to walk. I try to listen and choose my words carefully.
Take last week when my son announced that he planned to “start a Stuffed Animal Club at school.” Pretty sure any such club was equivalent to social suicide, I smiled and thought a moment. “Wow,” I started, “that sounds like a lot of fun. Too bad tomorrow is the last day of school. It would be a shame to start it now, maybe you should wait until next year.” Without extinguishing his sociability, I gave myself an entire summer to redirect.
Just this week, that same son decided we should sell our house and buy a bigger one. “I would really like to have a room where I can sleep upstairs,” he told me. “Nothing wrong with that,” I thought a little prematurely. He was not done explaining. “Then,” he continued, ” I can wake up every morning and ride my skateboard down the stairs.” Again, I took a moment to plan my strategy.
“Gosh,” I began, “I bet you would be really good at that. Too bad mommy and daddy are too poor to buy a house with an upstairs. Maybe when you become that nuclear physicist like we talked about you can buy a house with three stories!” Parenting brilliance ! In one swoop I kept him from performing life threatening stunts while encouraging him towards a career that could change the world.
I have learned to always ask “why” when my kids request a bucket on their way outside. When pillows are being gathered from all four corners of the house, I know to abort all other activities and investigate. Nothing instills greater fear in my soul than the sound of silence. And I own a much deeper appreciation for tattling than my pre-parenting days.
Some ideas, even the unrealistic ones, warm my heart.
“Someday,” my son began once, “When I’m big and really good at skateboarding, I’m going to skateboard all the way to Minneapolis to see Aunt Laura.”
Some ideas, seen to fruition, remind me just how unbelievable my kids really are. Like the day I told them to play quietly in their rooms and they emerged with homemade cards featuring all the reasons they love me.
I have to be careful not to always insist my ideas are better than theirs. Like the day I “helped” my daughter with her school project. When finished, she turned to me and said, “wow mom, this is way better than what I thought of.” I found myself wishing I could see what she thought of.
My faith tells me to guide my children in the way they should go, so that in the end they will not depart from it. Guiding is hard. It means giving gentle nudges back on the path when they get off, it does not mean dragging them down the trail. Guiding requires that I let them take some steps forward, that I allow them to have their own ideas. Guiding is not leading. Guiding encourages, instills, and corrects.
Sometimes I’m a drag, and maybe I should have let my son start that club of his. I am certainly not a perfect guide. But by the grace of God, together we will find our way.