zen.org Communal Weblog

May 6, 2007

Accepting your child has lost his own mind

Filed under: — brendan @ 20:43 IST

We’re up early, just the guys. A squirmy four month-old Eoin is in my arms, protesting the fact that his dad’s just not made to breast feed him. Since his mom will be up shortly, I won’t grab any from the freezer. On the TV I’m watching Jon Stewart.

Patrick, age five, comes downstairs in his new Spiderman robe and plants himself down on the couch. “Can I watch something?”

“This is almost done.” I hear a sigh of resignation, the muttering of this is so boring hidden by closed lips. After Jon’s Moment of Zen, I make the MythTV box go to the set of children’s shows it’s been recording.

Seeing the first appearing on the list, I ask, “How about Bob the Builder?”

His answer surprises me: “I don’t like Bob any more.”

“What?! Why?”

“Bob’s stupid. He’s only for babies.”

“Why do you say that?” I ask with genuine curiosity. I already know the answer, but still, you have to ask.

“My friend at school says it too.”

No surprise. A short list of names quickly takes form in my head. “Which friend?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well I still like Bob,” I inform him, and press the button on the remote to make it start to play. I’m sitting in the chair still trying to hold on to fuss-monster Eoin. A few minutes pass, and out of the corner of my eye I can see Patrick watching the TV with me.

As the show continues, Eoin adds his own baby-speak commentary to the current episode of Bob. “Eoin, please, I’m trying to watch Bob the Builder.” By admonishing his little brother I seem to have given Patrick some sort of signal to share his opinion.

“Actually, I do like Bob,” he admits suddenly. Then he carefully qualifies that statement when I look over at him, a look of surprise appearing on my face. “But only a little bit.”

Small victories like this are all I can hope to get. We’re entering a new phase in our parenting: we now have to roll with the punches as these darling classmates attempt to change Patrick’s own mind.

Sure, he’ll be unconsciously fighting this sort of thing for the rest of his life. How to help strengthen his inner confidence when he likes certain music, believes something is wrong, or disagrees with what someone said? I don’t want him to care what people think of his clothes. I want him to try lots of books, music, sports, activities, food, everything. Then he can decide what’s good from his own experience, not what everyone else is telling him.

Accomplishing this is so incredibly difficult that most of us only succeed in small steps. It’s always going to be hard to keep your own thoughts, even as you’re still finding them and developing them. The reality that he’d be going through this so soon is the single biggest shock to me. He’ll grow from these experiences, of course, and I know he’s strong in his heart and will—and mind. All we can do is show him disagreement with others is okay.

The boy watching Bob the Builder across from me has smiles playing on the corners of his mouth. He is back to himself again, if only for a moment. And he knows I agree with him.

It’s apparently still safe to like Bob the Builder—a little bit.

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