Saying Goodbye to the Wise Role Model
By Lisa Hartwig
Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.
I have a new year’s resolution. This year I am going to give up on being the parent I want to be. I am going to be the parent my children need. I know what my children need: my husband showed me.
My “schooling” happened on a weekday after I picked up my 16 year old from the BART station.
“How was your day?”
“Not very good. When dad get’s home, I need to talk to both of you.”
“Is it serious?”
I coaxed him to tell me what happened. He refused. He silently wiped away tears on the drive home.
Later that evening, my husband and I sat on his brother’s bed as he told us what happened at school. I am going to spare you the details because I don’t think it’s fair to my son. It is only important that you know that he said something really stupid. This stupid thing took on a life of its own once it was passed from student to student in his small high school. He was called before the Dean of Student Life and told that she would be investigating the incident. If the facts warranted, he could be sent to the Disciplinary Committee and face suspension.
By the time we sat down to discuss what happened, he had moved from sad to angry. He insisted that the investigation was unfair. His friends said they had heard worse stories with no consequences for the offending student. He was in full defense mode, invoking the moral judgment of other 16 year olds.
I could feel my face harden and my posture stiffen. How could he refuse to take full responsibility? How could he justify his behavior? I was imagining my parental lecture when my husband stood up.
“I’m so sorry; it sounds like you had a really bad day. Would you like a hug?”
I was stunned. With my hard face and my clenched jaw, I watched my son walk into my husband’s arms and relax. Then my son admitted that he had been really stupid. He was very sorry.
In that moment, I realized that the smartest thing I did was remain silent. My highly anxious son spent the day beating himself up and couldn’t face his parents’ judgment when he got home. So, he decided to assume an offensive position to protect himself. He didn’t need a lecture. He needed a momentary break from his harsh inner critic.
My children are anxious. They have easy access to the harsh critic that permanently resides in their heads. I may have even unintentionally helped give voice to these criticisms. I jumped on every “teaching moment” and provided commentary to their disappointments. I like to think of myself as a wise and fair role model, full of helpful comments and inspiring sayings. Instead, I was feeding the beast. How does “you’ll do better next time” provide new insight to a child who is disappointed with his English final? How could “see what you can accomplish when you put your mind to something?” provide any additional satisfaction to a child who is struggling with procrastination?
The anxiety that comes with my children’s sensitivity and perfectionism will forever do the dirty work of telling them that they are doing something “stupid.” My job is to remain silent, knowing that they will inevitably access the years of lectures I have delivered on every imaginable topic. I need to have faith that I’m in their head somewhere.
So my new year’s resolution is to talk less and give more hugs. And by the way, he was right. There was no violation requiring a visit to the Conduct Committee. His comment was just plain stupid—no further commentary necessary.