It Isn’t Always Easy to Just Let Kids Be Kids
By Quentin Janes
Photo © JuiceDogo/Twenty20
Nov 1, 2021
When three-year-old Jude Leyton went missing in a wooded area just north of Kingston, after three days alone, rescuers feared the worst.
Experience told them that it’s unlikely a child could have fought through such an ordeal.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Jude survived and he had been dressed for the weather.
It's times like these when I am amazed, sometimes even stunned, by the resilience of children.
So I try to forgive myself when I forget that my daughter is in fact just a child.
A News Cycle That Doesn’t Quit
Not long ago I was watching the news and unsuspectingly my daughter had sidled up behind me, watching the horror that was unfolding in Afghanistan.
The last of the American troops were evacuating.
It would have looked like sheer chaos to her.
Adults were running around bloodied and screaming, even police and military men wore shocked and worried faces.
“Things like that don’t happen here.”
“That’s far away, right?” she asked.
It had been a rough week and I was quite desensitized by that point. I responded with some surly, off-hand remark to the effect of: “What gave you that idea?”
She responded, “Things like that don’t happen here.”
For some reason I took her response as a challenge. Mostly because I knew that the only reason she said that was because I had told her as much myself.
Look At This
I showed her footage of the troubles our neighbors to the south had on January 6.
And then I showed her the horrific police abuses of the G20 riots.
After that, I gave myself a pat on the back for demonstrating such a good argument and turned to my daughter.
To my surprise she was not amazed or enlightened at all.
She was mad.
“Why do you have to show me that Dad? I am just a kid.”
She Is Just a Kid
Whenever she says that I know I have screwed up.
She doesn’t say it to get out of things. I’ve never heard, “I can’t do chores Dad, I’m just a child.”
Instead, I hear it when it’s actually something she fears she cannot or should not do: “We can’t paddle this canoe through those waves Dad, I’m just a child.”
Or, “No Dad, I can’t help you move the sofa.” Yes, even when I cushion the activity with, “But maybe if you just pushed a bit on the corner,” the answer is, “No Dad.”
A Little Bravery
It’s times like these that I am glad that my daughter has the courage to stand up to me.
She is the only chance I have at parenting, so I need her to help guide me.
When the brilliant speaker Claudette Commanda took the stage on The National Day For Truth and Reconciliation in Ottawa, she said, “Let the children guide.”
I could not have agreed more.
Because like every first-time parent, I started this job with few qualifications and zero experience.
Kids Are Burning Out
My brother teaches English online to children in China.
They recently had a holiday, but were asked to make up the lost days of work on a weekend.
Ask a kid, and they’ll tell you: if you have to spend your weekend making up for the work you missed on a holiday, no holiday was had. Adults would probably tell you the same thing.
He told me he could see the kids burning out.
I see it in Canada, too.
Kids finish school, which with COVID protocols is its own form of exhaustion.
Then the bell rings, and some are off to piano, karate, a tutor, a recreational sport or language class.
"Actually listening to a child is one way to help ease the process."
None of these activities are bad. In fact, I think kids should be engaged and directed.
My daughter practices martial arts, but she can stop whenever she wants.
But there is always the chance that too much is being piled on.
Whether it’s activities, or sharing information like Afghani locals running alongside a U.S. military plane at the Kabul airport.
Actually listening to a child is one way to help ease the process.
They are a voice of reason — not always, but sometimes.
And parents don’t always have the right answers.
Give and Take
When I start to worry that I might be overburdening my daughter, I think of child stars.
Kids like McCaulay Culkin, who divorced his parents.
In these rare examples, I think it’s safe to say that working a child day in and day out, for long hours, may provide monetary success.
Or it may produce a star athlete, or brilliant coder.
"Sometimes a kid just wants to be a kid."
But in doing so, a lot of other things are often sacrificed, like having a life outside of work.
Like finding happiness and meaning in something other than image.
These are, as I say, rare examples, but the point is clear: at some point, a load is too much to bear.
Sometimes a kid just wants to be a kid.
I’m Her Dad, Not Her Manager
So I listen to her when she tells me I’m wrong.
I don’t ignore her when she says I have gone too far.
By letting her know there is some safety in voicing her opinion, I am also giving her the space to build some self-awareness.
I am also giving her the option to try, with success or failure.
And meanwhile I’m learning what is too much for my kid.
They Grow Up So Fast
I look at pictures of my daughter as a toddler and she already looks so different.
Don’t get me wrong, I love watching my daughter grow and overcome milestones, but my heart breaks just a little because I know that every step forward is a step we cannot take back.
And that’s parenting.
I want growth, and I want to see her do great things, but wouldn’t it be amazing if she could stay this young forever?
But you and I both know that’s impossible.
So, I listen to her so we can do this together.
I may not always agree, but I promise to listen.
One time when I was giving her a quick outline of how to factor binomial equations, she set me straight:
“Dad, I don’t have to train for university, I’m only a kid.”
I was reminded of how one day she will go to university. And on that day, it will be a devastating loss and a triumphant victory. And I realized then how much I didn’t want to speed her life up. I simply replied: “Yeah, and I hope you stay a kid forever.”
But she’s a smart one. And once again she put me in my place:
“I’m sorry Dad, I can’t do that, I’m just a kid.”
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