I sometimes (read: almost every day) have this horrible, shallow habit of worrying about how others judge my parenting decisions. I decided today to stop it.
It went like this:
"Water?" Bella pointed at the bottled water on the counter of the yogurt shop as we paid for our after-school treats. (She thinks it's super cute and fun to talk like a baby sometimes. I'm praying the phase ends soon. Like tomorrow.)
"No, sweetie. You have a juice box in the car."
"Water! Water! Water!" [insert jumping, stomping, reaching, flailing, pointing]
"Bella, Mama said no."
"Water! Water! Water!"
"Sir, we'll need a bottle of water with that, please."
We went on our way with our fifty-cent bottle of truce and were happy about it.
I tried not to imagine the judgments of the others in the yogurt shop as I "gave in" to Bella's demands. They probably thought, "Well, no wonder that kid can only speak in monosyllables and jumps up and down until she gets what she wants! She's spoiled!" Or, the opposite, "The kid wanted water, not beer! What's that lady's problem?"
Were they probably right? Does any of that matter?
On the way to the car, Bella and I chatted about how her reaction might have been less than desirable. The usual: What is the right way to ask for something you really want? What should you do when Mama says no? How can we show that we are disappointed without throwing a fit? I was in full (capital S Southern Mama Voice) lecture mode.
"But, Mama. I just really wanted to open the 'frigerator." (Can't blame her. I noticed how cool it was, too. It was a super-shiny mini-bar fridge. It would look great in my basement. I may or may not already have a spot picked out for it.)
"Honey, we have water in our refrigerator and we're almost home."
"But their water is soooooo good, Mama."
As we walked across that parking lot, I realized that she just wanted that water so she could get it for herself, by herself, in front of God and everybody. She wanted to tear off the label and look at the watery sun through the bottle. She wanted to squeeze that cold plastic in her tiny hands and hear it pop and know she caused it.
Huh, I thought. How about that?
I unlocked the car and she climbed into her carseat, thinking all the while about what makes yogurt shop water so good and how cool that mini-fridge really was. When I finally got everything settled in the back seat and reached over to strap her in, she was on her knees in her carseat, backward, studying something out the back window.
"Birds!!! Birds, Mama! Birds!" With all the pointing, flailing, and volume of just moments before, but this time in glee. "See those birds, Mama?"
I looked at the birds, swooping in front of the shop windows and settling on the sidewalk.
"Are they inside the store or outside, Mama?" And with that simple question, she flopped around on her bottom and put her arms up to be buckled, without another word.
What would have happened if I'd raised my voice, insisting that she sit down right this instant, because I said so, because I'm in charge here and I wait for no one and yada yada yada? What happened because I "gave in" and let her sit backward in her seat while I froze my butt off with the car door open, waiting to buckle her in?
Here's the thing, the way I see it, anytime someone in our lives--especially someone we love, care about, and know better than anyone else on the face of the planet--is overly demanding or isn't responding in the way we desire, something else is going on beneath the surface of that exchange. There's a real reason for that outward disconnect. There is an unfulfilled need or something that we can't immediately see and understand but that is more important than our personal agendas and schedules. Before we make our own demands, why not take a second to see what it is that they need to get out of that moment? Why not think about why they are demanding water? Could it be that they are simply thirsty?
It's been five hours since we got home and that bottle of water still hasn't been opened. But at 4:30 this afternoon, it represented beauty and experience. Those were the thirsts that Bella needed to quench.
Sometimes I look like a big, fat pushover. Fine. I'll take it. But I believe there are two things every parent should try to do as often as possible.
- Buy the water. So your daughter gets to touch the super-shiny fridge and watch how light changes as it passes through the ripples and ridges of a plastic water bottle. While that's still all it takes to fascinate her all the way home.
- Watch the birds. So your daughter gets to experience the wonders of nature all around us. Before she plugs in her headphones and closes her eyes, and has to re-train herself how to really see the world when she's damn near thirty years old.
I choose to buy the water and watch the birds. And starting today, I don't care who judges me for it.