Constructive Critiscm

“NO KATIE! Not like that!” Abby yelled.

Katie is used to getting yelled at by Abby. If the mood swings of a preschooler are commonplace, Kate’s worldview must be skewed. This is something singletons never have; peer influence as constant as parental influence. Peer influence from a peer who is crazy, who is kissing you one minute and berating you the next.

I bet the ratio of bi-polarism is higher in children who have older siblings. Someone fund a case study for me.

During this instance of abuse, Abby was dressing her wooden ballerina “puzzle”. Katie was dressing it, too, but was doing it all wrong (naturally).

I was in the kitchen, making lunch. Mostly they find themselves at odds when left to their own devices.

“Abigail, don’t just tell her she’s doing it wrong. Help her do it right. Show her how.” I said.

It sounded so simple when I said it to Abigail. Of course, the obvious thing is to tell your sister what she did wrong and how to do it right. As usual, I immediately started questioning myself.

Casting my mind back, I found a few instances where they had done things wrong, and I hadn’t used the opportunity to teach. Generally I had a reason, or at least a pretty competent excuse. We were leaving the house, or we were at the library and I had to chase Kate, or (the best one) they were too young to really get it, so I should just take them out of the situation.

But none of those reasons are really fair to them. My stated goal is to raise them up, my mission is to make them intelligent, confident, serene and loving adults. On the surface, that mission doesn’t seem to hook up with mundane things like teaching Katie how to hold a cup without spilling.

Except, if I’m being honest with myself, it does. It does because everything I do as a parent instills something in my children. If Kate spills water on the floor, and I take her cup away without giving it back, and clean the water up and don’t say anything, what has she learned? That making a mistake means she loses a privilege? That if she let’s me see her errors I’m going to punish her for them? Even if I do this with a smile on my face, I’ve failed. If it’s true that she’s too young to remember that she’s holding a cup and to remember to keep it upright, so be it.

It’s not true that she’s too young to benefit from me sitting with her and showing her what happens to water when you tilt a cup. She’s not too young to practice picking cups up and carrying them, with me.  She’s not too young to experience the message that her father loves her, and is invested in her success. That he’s willing to take time to help her when she makes a mistake.

I could tell myself, perhaps convincingly, that none of these little vignettes are making impressions on her psyche. Well, maybe I could. I don’t believe it, though. I believe that we tell our children something about the world, and about themselves, and about us, every moment. I believe that they are learning more through observation and analogy than we will ever know, and that every encounter is internalized to some extent.

If I believe all of that, how can I miss opportunities to teach my children that I’m invested in them? That they’re worth taking care of and that interacting with them is my highest calling?

Abigail, if you read this 20 years from now, you’re not as crazy as I make you sound. It’s clear that you love your sister so much.

And Kate, if you read this 20 years from now, I’m sorry about the bi-polarism.

September 2011

I think that's laughter

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