I was watching the movie Tangled with my family when we came to the scene where Repunzel is nervously trying to get up the courage to ask her mother (who is actually her abductor, though she does not know that) if she can go and see the lights on her birthday. I turned to my teenage sister Hope and whispered to her.
“Do you ever feel like that when you want to ask mom and dad something?”
“Yeah, so I just don’t ask them for anything, ever,” she whispered back.
In many ways, my parents are absolutely wonderful parents, but I think sometimes they don’t realize what they are doing to their children. I think sometimes they are unaware of what it is like to be a child in their home, because they only experience it from the other side and have never tried to put themselves in their children’s shoes.
Hope had wanted to go to public high school, because she has big dreams and felt strongly that she would benefit from having teachers and grades and other students to compete against—and also so that she could do sports. She tentatively, fearfully brought this up to my dad several years ago, when she was in eighth grade. My dad immediately belittled her request, did not actually listen to her desires or concerns, and shut her down. That was the only time she asked, so my parents, if asked, might well say they had no idea Hope so strongly wanted to go to public high school—because Hope didn’t press the issue, because she didn’t feel like she could, the emotional consequences were too high.
I wrote a while ago about feeling like my mom still views me as a child, and one thing that I kept thinking about when writing the post is that there are some ways no one should be treated, whether child or adult. It is wrong for parents to not listen to their children, it is wrong for parents to pooh pooh their children’s desires and concerns, and it is wrong to treat children in a way that makes them afraid to so much as ask a question or make a request.
I try to remember this with Sally. It generally comes naturally to me to listen to Sally and her worries or concerns, but I do sometimes have to remind myself not to pooh pooh something she says or act like her fears, etc., are silly or something she shouldn’t bring to me. Really, it’s just basic consideration and empathy, but it also involves treating my children as people with interests and considerations of their own rather than as something less than because of their age. Yes, Sally is only four. Yes, sometimes that means the things she says or asks for or worries about appear, from my vantage point, ridiculous. But that doesn’t mean that Sally doesn’t deserve to be listened to or to have her desires or concerns taken seriously.
I know that four is a long way from the teenage years, but I’d like to hope that my children will never feel that they cannot bring me a question or concern because I won’t listen, or because I will belittle or pooh pooh it. I’d like to think that I will never get to the point where the risks of bringing a request to me outweigh the possible benefits of doing son—indeed, I’d like to think that bringing me a question or concern won’t actually have risks.
In a healthy marriage, each partner can bring a question or concern to the other without fear or trepidation. In a healthy parent/child relationship, the same should be true. If it’s not, there’s a problem.
Don’t worry about Hope, by the way. She’s going to be okay.