I witnessed something incredibly interesting (at least to me) recently that has made me wonder what I will do in similar parenting situations and what lasting impact my decisions in these situations will have, on me and on my daughter. It made me wonder if what I do, or what I will do, in any given situation is “wrong” or “right” and how I will know. It made me consider, and has me continuing to consider, how every action I take in parenting my daughter will have a consequence, a reaction — and depending on when/how/why I react, that reaction may not be what I bargain for.
I was at the SDCJC and they have this gorgeous stone garden, with a fountain and a little rock/slate walkway by a tiny pond…it’s a small little garden. You can see from one end to the other very easily. I was by the fountain and on the other side of it sat this father. He was just sitting, relaxing. His daughter was flitting around the rock garden, running after hummingbirds and bees (yep, she was chasing the bees) and simply having a charming time. But, she was running. On concrete. And at one point she fell. And she fell hard. I mean, I would have sworn that she cracked her face wide open, literally, based on the sound she made when she hit the ground. Needless to say, she screamed and ran over to her father. Her father did nothing. Not a thing. He let her climb into his lap and bury her face in his chest, but he didn’t really even “hug” her and he certainly didn’t say anything soft or gentle or encouraging. Nor did he say “don’t worry” or “stop crying” or any of the ‘suck it up -isms’ we sometimes hear people say (or say they’ll say) to children when they fall. Now, to be clear, there was no blood. I looked. The kiddo really was, it seems, fine. Probably more rattled and startled and with some stinging hands and maybe chin, but overall…fine.
And within one minute, she was done crying. Up and running again and looking at the water trickling down to the rock pond.
A full five minutes later her mom walked out of the building and into the garden and the girl ran up to mom and started crying again. Mom cooed at her, “what happened?” and the girl explained through actual sobs, what had happened. She kept crying, and mom cuddled her and lifted her up and the girl whimpered into her moms shoulder. And this went on for some five minutes longer.
Isn’t that interesting?
She was totally, fully comforted by the presence of her father, even though he did not say a word. She was clearly NOT hurt that badly. She got over it quickly and was completely fine. Then her mother appeared and she reverted to hurt child mode and started crying again, clearly long enough after the initial fall that she was not in any pain any longer.
What messages are both of these parents and their reactions sending? What is this child learning from these messages? It was clear to me that the child knew that her parents have different responses and while she was fine with the one she got from her father, she also wanted the response – softer? gentler? coddling? comforting? nurturing? – of her mother.
What will I do, when Charlotte falls down for the first time and scrapes her knee? She clearly will be all right…but I’ve been wondering ever since this. What will I do? What is more, I wonder, what will what I do “say” to my daughter?
Will I tell her “it’s OK, honey, you’re ok” and pick her up and comfort her with kisses? Will this teach her that I will always be there to comfort her? Or will it teach her that she needs me to fix things for her?
Will I say “get up, it’s all good, you’re ok” and not pick her up, but just be there for her and brush the dirt off her knobby knees? Will this teach her to to be strong and resilient? Or, will this send a message to her that I do not think her pain is a big deal?
What will happen when the scraped knee is something bigger? Something more painful? Something more significant?
I know, I know. I’m overthinking this a bit. But, it’s worth thinking about, isn’t it? It’s worth considering how we respond to our children, in their moments of triumph and their moments of pain. It’s worth considering what messages we are sending to them so that we can be sure that they are getting the messages we want, the messages we actually intend to send. Perhaps the message that we think they can do anything but that we also will be there for them always.
I’m not sure what message I think these parents were sending, or what message their daughter was receiving from their actions. What I do know is that the message of their actions and interactions has certainly got this mama thinking…