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Defining Reality

July 3, 2009

It is slowly dawning on me that one of the tricky parts of parenting is — as my friends Danielle and Julie put it– ‘defining reality’. Parents are tasked with describing the world to their children, narrating and sharing a coherent worldview, as well as defining appropriate behavior. Which is obviously a challenge, and not least because our charges need this shaping well before they have the mental and communication skills to do such abstract work.

So several months ago The Wife was talking to our toddler, who had just raised her voice at another family member (I forget which one just now). “We don’t yell at each other in this house,” she said, which sounded pretty clear and constructive to me. Before we could follow up with some commentary about using our words to help people, our then almost-three-year-old processed the data for a minute and calmly responded, “Right, Mommy. We yell at each other when we’re outside!” Well, not exactly. We grownups stifled our snickers while The Wife rephrased: “We don’t yell at each other in this family.” Right.

Today I was outside with the same child, leaning down to help her with something. Noticing the largish rock she was straining to hold, I admonished her to be careful, and to avoid dropping it on her foot. Similar mental processing again, followed by the careful release of the large rock directly onto my sandaled foot. “Ouch!” I shouted, in utter shock. I’m proud to say that I didn’t yell at her or berate her, but instead simply demonstrated that my foot was in great pain (this was made easier by the fact that I was by then sitting on the ground, flushed, breathing heavily, and nearly in tears). My bruised foot should make a good reminder that next time, I need to protect everyone’s feet, and encourage her to carefully set down the rock. Right.

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