"We are all wanderers on this earth...our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams." ~ Gypsy proverb

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Free

Something happens to a child when they begin to understand what it feels to be "free", and when they start to believe that they have a right to respect like everyone else.

The other day amongst other children, one of the mothers in the group was telling the children not to be too loud as to not upset the other adults in the public area. A reasonable request of course. My daughter M. was singled out to confirm that she heard these instructions. We have not known these people long, but adults that are use to control, order and obedience can spot M. like a pink donkey in a sea of brown.  M. did respond with a "yes".  But I am guessing this mother was not convinced as she proceeded to try to correct M. by responding with "How about a yes, MA'AM?"

This is when I felt my body tense, not because this woman was trying to correct my daughter, but because I had no idea how M. would respond.  For some people this would not have been a big deal. The child would respond obediently "yes ma'am", or the child's parent would encourage the "yes, ma'am" and life goes on.  But let's be honest, what this woman proposed to my daughter was a challenge in control and a demand for respect. I knew it, and M. knew it. She can smell it when someone asks her to lay down her own will, something she does not give up easily.

I watched and waited. I did not want to intervene yet I admit I don't think I took one breath at all. I truly had no idea what she would do. Her behavior is of the unpredictable sort driven by one thing, her own inner compass. She stared at the woman for a moment. I watched her body shift nervously from one foot to another. And with just a minute amount of hesitancy only I would notice, M. reinforced her own voice with a plain old "yes." I finally breathed, and turned to suppress my own smile.

Please understand, I have nothing against the use of "ma'am" and "sir".  I believe they are terms of respect completely justified when deserved.  What this was was a challenge of a child's own self respect versus an adult's need to know she was in control. What I will resist 'till I can no longer breath is the assumption that children mindlessly need to concede dominance to an adult (who is unquestionably stronger and more powerful) just because they are children.  Children know every day that adults have more power, and everyday they are looking for the small opportunities to gain their own independence.  We can control every last bit of them if we wanted to, but then when we do, how do they learn to trust and stand up for themselves? When do they learn that blind compliance is not necessarily the answer to self confidence and self respect?

I was proud of my daughter for asserting herself and standing her ground. To her, this little exchange probably didn't mean anything. But to me, it meant much more. It meant that my six year old has a greater undestanding of freedom than I ever did at six.

This won't be the last time this happens. I get comments on how hubs and I are going to have a tough time when she is older. "She just does whatever she wants doesn't she? She is so strong-willed!"
I nod, smile, and then say "Yes, she certainly is..."

xx oo

27 comments:

  1. Oh my dear! Yes...our two would be some match for one another. I'd love to see what would happen if they got together in the same room...I suspect we'd have a lot of breath-holding moments, but of a slightly different sort on our end ;-). I am in complete agreement with you re: "the assumption that children mindlessly need to concede dominance to an adult" I remember the first Christmas dinner when I sat myself down at the "adult table" ... I must have been 10 or 11. No one said a thing, but I could feel my Grandmother seething. "Children are to be seen, not heard" That's how my father was raised. And while that mentality didn't last long after I sat at the big kids' table, I have never forgotten it. So, I guess I see where my son gets it from, eh? For as much as his strong will makes me completely crazy, I have to admit that sometimes it makes me smile, too :-)

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  2. fist pumping YEAHHHHHH!!!!! :) i love this about you, mj, and am on the same page. i am so in support of children and adults having equal dignity, equal right to receive respect, and respect is earned, not demanded. i am also the biggest believer in protecting my child's ability to operate according to his own internal compass- a phrase i return to frequently. and, as for understanding freedom, i am with you- i did not have nearly the sense of it at six that m does. :)

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  3. That's an amazing moment! It's really something to explore the idea of freedom and understand that you can flex your freedom and still respect the situation. How did you ever stay quiet and not intervene? You are so strong!

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  4. I was holding my breath too for that answer.
    And I like it, I do.

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  5. hear hear!

    I cannot stand how children's sense of self-authority is squashed under an insecure adult's needs.

    We request please and thankyous, but always REQUEST it rather than demand it. And she's only 3 of course. And often it's just as much about tone. Like you can say no quite respectfully.
    Mr demanded it not long ago and I asked him not to. That's how we learn to speak respectfully, all you've done is forced her to do something.

    Doing something because ma or pa will be angry with us otherwise is COMPLETELY different from doing it because ma/pa reminded us to and we know it's what we ought to say.

    Anyway, every time my girl contradicts me, it drives me nuts. At the same time, I'm so glad she does because it's a sign I haven't killed her self-respect or right to expression.

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  6. I am extremely proud of M holding her ground. Kudos! If it were my child I probably would have a hard time holding my tongue during this interchange, so kudos to you, too!

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  7. mj, as usual you have composed a thoughtful and eloquent post. i love you for not stepping in when my mama bear instincts would've driven me to have interrupted that moment and gotten in that woman's face about overstepping her bounds. you (and your little girl) are inspiring.

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  8. HUZZAH M! And to you too mama for hanging back and letting her handle it her way. There is nothing wrong with a strong will except that it scares the weak ones ;-)

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  9. Absolutely fantastic! Love it! You can indeed be proud of your daughter for standing her ground whilst staying perfectly polite. I also have to admit that - had it been me - I would have found it immensely satisfying to see a person like that defeated by a child.

    Wishing you and your family a lovely week xo

    PS: lots more frills on pinterest, thanks for clicking ;-)

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  10. Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, MJ. 'Specially to the part, "What I will resist until I can no longer breathe…" YES. I feel exactly the same as you. I cannot bear when anyone tries to assert power or control over another, but it's especially impossible to bear when it's a grown-up with a child, assuming it's their right, expecting mindless compliance, simply because they are Bigger.

    I am so proud of your girl. So amazed at you, there, holding your breath, letting your girl speak for herself. You truly gave her space to have her own power and a Voice, didn't you. That is beautiful.

    Hurrah to your girl for recognising disrespect when she saw it, and standing her ground! Hurrah to you, MJ for being the Mama that you are! I just want to leap over the ocean and all that land and give you both huge hugs and grin at you 'til my cheeks hurt :)

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  11. Oh MJ, that is a girl after my own heart!

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  12. Heck, I'm proud of her and I've never met her. Go M! And I second what Amanda said about you holding back. I don't think I could have, SHOULD, but I can't always make myself do what I should. You gave her the chance to assert herself and stand up for herself. So, go mama!

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  13. Thanks for sharing. As a Mama to a daughter, this rings true on many levels.

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  14. I was holding my breath while I was reading your words.
    All has been said in the comments you received. I am also struck by this wonderful balance of standing her ground while still being respectful. Any other reaction that I could think of would have ended in some form of resentment, boiling blood, or anger. I feel that I can learn personally from her reaction. Wonderful!
    I completely agree with everybody regarding respect for children. Sometimes when I observe how children are treated I cannot help but think of it as a form of ageism only as disrespect towards children.
    Now I wonder so much about how you are raising your children. Have you experienced a form of unconditional, respectful and freedom based parenting? Have you ever written a blog post on it? If so could you share the link with me?

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  15. I loved this post. Respect can never be demanded, but is earned and your daughter clearly recognises this. Credit to her. And to you. I'm not sure I would have been able to hold my tongue in the same circumstances ;-)

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  16. I don't know how you did it,but good for you and M for how you reacted to this woman and I hope the rest of the day was a great one.xx

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  17. Thanks all for your kind words. As to how I held my tongue, I felt that if I did say anything, it would have undermined M.. I didn't want the woman or M. to think I doubted my confidence in her.

    Eva--this post encompasses our parenting:

    http://www.wanderwonderdiscover.com/2011/02/new-perspectives-bring-new-beginnings.html

    Here's a post on a book about power and adultism:

    http://www.wanderwonderdiscover.com/2011/03/for-love-of-books-review-and-giveaway.html

    And this post lists some books that have molded and changed my ideas on parenting:
    http://www.wanderwonderdiscover.com/2011/03/my-top-ten-plus-two-life-altering-and.html

    Also in my menu, the page "Peaceful Company" has links to other blogs and sites that embrace parenting peacefully

    Hope it helps :)
    xx oo

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  18. Amazing moment for M and for you. I was told by a family member that our mother let us (my bro and I) talk too much-meaning we spoke our own opinion and I guess we shouldn't have as kids. We weren't rude about it. We just spoke our minds. M sounds similar to my Helena. Good for you and her. Demanding respect because a person feels weak-that's too bad for that lady.

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  19. YES M!!! You go girl!!! You know, I used to get this a lot too because my husband and I have always allowed our son (and now our daughter) the freedom to disagree and express his ideas, thoughts, and feelings openly. I was always told that I would have a hard time "controlling" him when he was older. Now that he is older, what I have is a teen that can argue for an hour and half, quite eloquently, on why he should be able to do xyz. And although we often engage in heated debates and his views are often skewed by his teenage-ness, he is never inappropriate and we don't get the "I hate you!" or "You're ruining my life!" or door slamming or, worse yet, disrespectful language (you know what kind I mean, I'm sure). So...I guess this is a long way of saying that you can teach your child to express themselves in a respectful manner that some may still see as inappropriate because they feel children should obey blindly...but that person's uncomfortableness speaks more about them than it does your child :)

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  20. That behavior on the part of the woman insisting on the "ma'am" would have about made my blood boil! Hooray for your daughter!!
    My girls are both very strong-willed, and I definitely see that as a positive thing. I feel that my job is to help them learn to direct their strong will and determination to their best use, (and not hurt others) instead of squashing their will.

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  21. Love the bravery and courage that both you and M showed in that instant...beautiful!

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  22. There's power, strength and bravery in a strong will.

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  23. Way to go, M and way to hold back, mama! Wow, I could learn a few things from your strong 6-year-old!

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  24. I love it MJ and bless M. She sounds like a little trooper. I wrote a blog post a while ago about speaking up for your children in the case of people who try to use their authority over your child. I think it is important that children feel that they can respond in a manner that is comfortable for them. I think she would get along well with my kiddos for sure. Jacinta x

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  25. I love this! We are trying to encourage respect too but I also do not like the adult who does what they please and expects kids to act differntly and better. We got a lot of that at Cub Scout camp this week. I'm glad my son didn't make waves but I felt bad for him in a way. He was trading his voice for a week full of fun. I'm not sure how to describe it. On the one hand, I'm glad he can function in a group and is more respectful, but part of me is sad that I don't hear his thoughts anymore. (He is almost 8 yo) Maybe this is maturity and that good kind of filter that we all need, or maybe it is his ideas and individuality being squashed for the sake of the group? (thankfully we don't do group things very often and that particular woman is not in our pack!)

    I'd much rather him say to me later that he didn't like the one parent who was dominating him and us get to talk about it and the trade he is making for the fun camp week... I don't mind discussing with my son when adults are wrong. We don't need to point it out to this adult because in my opinion it rarely does any good, but I would like to talk about it. Hope you know what I mean. Good, thought provoking post!

    BTW, before I hit post, I did talk about it with him and I'm glad I brought it up. He said he wants to go next year, so I'm a little sad he thinks he won't go if he tells me his feelings. Maybe we've over-protected him by withdrawing from things that don't fit without giving him a choice. hmmm I think I will bring it up again, especially since we are making a commitment to scouting and we will encounter people with a different philosophy during this journey. I want to have open communication without fear that he doesn't get to go... At least BSA is organized and there is training for how it *should* be. :) Maybe I should end my blog break, I'm cluttering up your comments! lol Hope you are having a good summer, Cori

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“Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
~ George Bernard Shaw