When Parenting Philosophy Butts Up Against Sideline Parenting


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The look on his face was fear, and then it crumpled into pouty shame as he buried his face in the couch. I reached out my arms and pulled him close. There he buried his face and stayed until is breath returned to normal, finally calm. He came to me, his mama, for comfort, snuggles, love, and guidance. Because after he caught his breath, and was ready again to face the world, I spoke softly in his ear about what he could do and what he wasn’t allowed to do. I explained the rules. I explained what had happened.

He had been exploring I’m sure, as 2 year olds are want to do, and in that exploration he crossed an invisible line.  He’s learning about the world, exploring the difference between okay things and not okay things. There was a rule out there that he didn’t know, and so he had simply been obliviously doing his thing. My parenting philosophy is mostly that of observation and experimentation while keeping the BIG picture in mind. He’s 2. He hasn’t figured everything out yet. And just like how rules ebb and flow as we age, I am confident that my son will continue to be guided and molded into the person he’s supposed to be. But it won’t all be today.

He’s mischievous, curious, sweet, and mostly gentle. Or mostly mischievous. He’s got that Sagittarius blood flowing in his veins. He likes adventure and adrenaline rushing through his little body as he shouts “MORE, MORE,” when I swing him wildly through the air. He likes climbing. I like piercings. He likes jumping. I like tattoos. He likes splashing insanely in the hot tub. I like that too. We like adventure. We like excitement. We like exploration.

But parenting is fraught with challenges. Being an adventurer is fraught with challenges. In exploring the okayness to not-okayness blurry lines he has made mistakes. He’s learning that rules we have at home may not apply at school, the grocery store, or friend Mari’s house. Hes 2 and hasn’t figured it out yet. When he walks out of the kitchen proudly holding a serrated knife and grinning, he is focusing on his cleverness of figuring out the puzzle that is the kitchen counters, and has no concept that knife could cause him to bleed out if he stabbed himself with it. That’s the adult story laid on top of his actions.

I can’t expect everyone to parent their kids like I do. Because the freeing thing is that I allow myself to be myself as a parent. Because I am comfortable with him exploring the woodshed alone, and am aware of the consequences of what might happen if he were to get hurt, I go with my gut and let him explore. But the challenge in being my brand of parent is that there are sideline participants in our life whose philosophies on parenting vary drastically. For the most part this doesn’t cause conflict or complication, as Potamus knows who his parents are, but when I’m left with my way of being in the world with my son bumping up against another’s comfort zone in sideline-parenting (as in the above example), I scratch my head for what to do.

Because my instinct is to scream. My natural fight (vs. flight) tendency is always to unleash the claws, and it’s only intensified in my entrance into motherhood. My comfort zone for acceptable exploratory behavior is not the same as others, and so I am sometimes left in a position of biting my tongue while comforting my son. I’m battle the prejudice that I don’t have ‘rules,’ or that I don’t ‘discipline,’ while also battling the appeared belief that my child is ‘naughty,’ or ‘out of control’ or that children should ‘behave’ like little adults.

It’s easy to be on the sideline, to look in and say ‘I would do this,’ or ‘my kid wouldn’t behave like that,’ but those are lies. I sit with Mari and watch our boys run around;  they act like angels and dicks at the same time. And she gets Potamus to eat blueberries that I’ve been trying to get him to eat for months, and I get her son to try and play nicer with the baby. Being the non-parent isn’t hard, because it isn’t 24/7. And so to take that tiny snapchat of a moment and think ‘oh if I were blah blah blah parent I would blah blah blah’ is delusional at best, and damaging at worst.

I can’t save Potamus from all the hurt in the world. I can’t save him from being scolded, and shamed, and disciplined. But I’d like him to remain free from fear and shame for as long as possible. I’d like to be the parent who puts aside my jealousy that “when I was a kid I couldn’t watch TV” and confidently let him pick a show to watch. I’d like to live into the truth that his experience will not be the same experience as mine, that my parents will treat him differently than they treated me, and that just because his experience isn’t the same it doesn’t mean mine was bad or wrong (although it could also mean that there were bad or wrong parts). I try to set aside the cultural idea of controlling a child in order to make sure that he becomes a ‘good’ person, because I believe that he is already a good person. And I believe that freedom to explore under his mama’s watchful eye is how he will learn to be the most authentic Potamus he can be. And that somehow, just like me, he will make mostly-amicable peace with the idea that rules exist, and he’ll know when to follow them, and when to mindfully break them.

And so I won’t punch or scream or cuss them out, though in the moment I was seething with rage. Instead I will remember that the sideline, just like in sports, is where the people who sit who aren’t playing the game. And their opinions and rants and rituals have less effect on the outcome as the players and coaches on the field. I’m in this with him. We’re on the field. We’re playing our game. And it involves climbing on tables and getting tattoos.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;” Theodore Roosevelt

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