My son walked into the kitchen this evening. I was cooking and he saddled up at the bar to have a chat. “What’s puberty?” he asked with a slight mumble, as it’s a new word he doesn’t quite know how to pronounce. “Well,” I said slowly, looking at him now and wondering if less is going to be more in this instance, “puberty is something that happens when you get a bit older, like a teenager – older, like that, and..” He looked at me blankly. “What is it? What happens?” he asked with more urgency now. “It’s when you start to grow hair…and you smell…that’s puberty,” I replied with little emotion. “That’s disgusting! I’m not doing that!” he announced emphatically. “Everyone goes through it, it’s normal and you’ll go through it too.” “Nope, not me, that’s totally disgusting and I’m definitely not going to do it.”
Aside from how completely adorable that moment was for me, it brought up a lot of stuff. Namely, how much I know and how far their lives/minds/souls need to go in order to understand the dangers and painful exchanges that can happen. I have so much knowledge I just want to give them from my heart to theirs so they can avoid at least some of the bad stuff. My mother used to say that it was life’s greatest challenge for a mother to take care of one’s child completely, happily micro-manage everything so that even a positive dental check up was about how well you could look after them, and then, watch them get older, stop brushing their teeth and realize you can’t control any of it.
It’s a very simple analogy but one that resonates so much with me. And then the harder lesson; when does nurturing turn into enabling?? When does one’s maternal instinct become the very thing that possesses a negative affect? I can tell my son about puberty, the factual information that he needs to hear right now, but what I really want him to understand is ‘you’re going to feel weird, out of place at times, perhaps grow awkwardly and people may be cruel..and then girls may or may not like you for that reason alone…’ but it’s too much information, too much protection. The instincts I have now about my sons are nurturing; positive support wrapped up with a lot of love. But those instincts, the same thought patterns, in time, may haunt me and enable them to develop in the wrong way. They may be exactly what I should not do, or say, so therefore, how does one decipher which way to guide, now? When does nurturing turn into enabling?
I am dealing with all kinds of needs at the moment. Academic challenges, emotional and physical development, and I find that any one of my boys could have me working 24/7 for them alone making sure that they are getting what they require. So when should I hold back, let things just be and take my foot off the pedal that stands directly in front of me, all of the time. Never? There is a great debate going on over here between two totally different camps of parenting. Two books were published simultaneously for a very good reason. The first book was written by Amy Chua, “Battle Hymm of the Tiger Mother” and the second by Wendy Mogel, “The Blessing of a B Minus”. Professor Chua works at Yale and Ms. Mogel is a best-selling author and psychologist. Basically the tiger theory is about pushing one’s children to be only the best; all study and absolutely no play whilst accomplishing this task. Fully focused work, homework, study and musical practice makes Amy a happy camper. She makes huge generalizations about the American cuddling aspect of parenting and how our children have no discipline or work ethic…because of us, and the Asian way creates successful children.
The other argument makes you ask yourself what is success? Stressed out, over-wrought kids with no childhood free time are not, necessarily, successful even if they bring home the ‘A’. Sometimes the ‘B-‘ represents the best case scenario all-round. The reason I mention this debate is because it’s a debate I have in my head, and with Husband, all of the time. Having gone from the English traditional system where Husband felt (and still feels) safe and I felt frustrated, to LA’s progressive style where I have faith and think I’ll be proven right, we are caught analyzing our boys all too often. Laziness vs limitations; stress vs a healthy pressure; challenges vs challenging. I am forever trying to figure out the balance of pushing, pulling, positive encouragement and honest appraisal. The Westside of LA is filled with parents who scream ‘good try’ ‘well done’ when in fact it was crap. How will our kids trust us if everything they do is amazing?? How harsh can we be without being damaging? Will all the positive reinforcement end with a child who thinks he’s the center of the universe, capable of everything and then crash and burn when the real world strikes?
Nurturing…enabling. Same instincts, different outcomes.