Am I a bad mother because I am not up in arms about the M.I.A. “Fingergate” incident that happened during the Super Bowl half time show? There were 10 adults in the room along with at least 8 of the 10 children ranging in age from 6-12 years old. Not one of us caught it (unlike Nipplegate, i.e. Janet Jackson). And frankly if we had, I am not sure that we would have been offended or that it would have shocked our children. Let’s be honest, can you say that you haven’t flipped off another driver with your kids in the car or gone on a swearing tirade when you’ve broken something while your kids giggle in the background? If you haven’t at least once in their lives, I commend you because that is incredible self-control that I sorely lack. I’m not saying that giving someone the finger because they cut you off in traffic or swearing because you broke a dish in front of your children is setting the right example, but to ere is human. It happens. Do I think M.I.A. was expressing her displeasure at a performance disrupting field official driving a golf cart? No. I think she got caught up in the biggest moment of her fledgling career and lost sight of what she was there to do, entertain millions of Madonna fans. She’s young. I think she will eventually look back at this very public indiscretion and regret it or at least think, hmmm…, that was kind of stupid.
But despite all of this I began to think about why I didn’t have a strong reaction to the finger being pulled on live, primetime TV. Am I not parenting my children properly? Do I not care what their young impressionable minds are exposed to daily? Why am I not hovering over them like a helicopter ready to descend when the slightest no-no is uttered or arguments break out over toys and staring contests? It all comes down to parenting styles. There is no right or wrong style, it’s just whatever works for you, and most importantly for your children. I don’t always agree with other’s styles, as I’m sure they don’t always agree with mine, but who am I to judge? If your children are happy, healthy and most importantly, loved, who cares if as an adult they never curse a single day in their lives or choose to express themselves with the occasional bad birdie. I discourage my children from using foul language and gestures just like any other parent but I also know that completely sheltering them from the world is impossible. I’ve given them the tools and tutelage with the occasional reinforcement tactic to help them understand why it’s not appropriate in every situation for adults to swear or gesture. I’ve apologized to them for my own swearing, finger pulling and idle gossiping. Just like you have to teach a child to share, you also have to teach them social graces and tact.
Parenting is a never-ending cycle of teachable moments. My children say please, thank you, yes and no ma’am and know how to behave in front of adults, at friends’ houses and in public places. But like most children I know, they will choose to push that envelope to see how far they can go with just about any social faux pax. They are testing your reaction. I choose not to overreact with a lot of the situations my children put me in daily. If your children are like mine, they are going to try and get a rise out of you with the one thing they know sets you off and sends you over the edge. Sometimes it’s done to push the boundaries in an attempt to make sure they are still VERY clear. Other times I personally think they just want to push buttons because they enjoy the attention and the control. It’s all part of growing up and learning what is and isn’t appropriate and why. But I still often wonder if they are really listening and getting the messages I’m sending.
My daughter came home from school today annoyed and, frankly, mad as hell at two boys. These boys have been bothering her while she plays with her best friends during recess. The year started out with the entire class playing nicely together but by November the tides had turned. Cliques were formed and loyalties divided. A lesson in what is to come later in life. She was friends with these two boys until they began to pull her hair and say she liked a certain boy. The first incident she had done everything I had taught her to do in a bullying situation which was to ask them to please stop and walk away. They pursued, as 10 year old boys often do, and began to taunt her further. Again, she asked them to stop and walked away. By the third time, my daughter was raging. She was done. As the verbal assault began she raised her voice and told them to stop. With the final tug of the hair and a shove, she unleashed a barrage of curse words that left both boys stunned and my daughter shoving them aside, running to tell the teacher. I chuckled under my breath as she told her story, beaming with quiet pride of the girl power I had instilled in her. I want her to know how to physically defend herself if she is forced to. However, I also needed to address the swearing, which she got into trouble for using on school grounds regardless of the boys’ part in the fight. I had to explain that while swearing does seem to alleviate tension it doesn’t solve anything and makes you look tacky. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, wow Beth, eat crow much. She understood what she had done wrong and could do better next time. There would be a next time, many next times with these boys.
Today I got up from my desk to find my daughter quietly playing with her horses next to it. As I often do, I messed up her hair and sang a silly song. Usually that garners a huge reaction like “MOM! STOP! You’re embarrassing me!” Yet, nothing. I continued to tussle her hair and sing. Again, nothing. After a couple of more rounds of “You are My Sunshine”, I finally asked what was up. She turned to me and said, “Mom, I’m practicing ignoring you. The boys are bothering me again and rather than swear this time, I’m going to be classy, ignore them and show them that they can’t bother me no matter how hard they try. Eventually they will give up.” I sat down on the floor next to her, gave her a great big hug and said that I was proud of how she was choosing to handle a very difficult situation. Then she said something that took my breath away, “I know you’re proud of me. I’ve learned all my best moves from you, Mom.” She then turned back to her horses.
A teachable moment for both of us. Validation comes in the most unexpected forms, doesn’t it?