Recently I was frustrated with my daughter. Those of you who have never been angry at, or frustrated with your children might want to stop reading here. The rest of you, who know what I am talking about, please read on.
My daughter recognized she had gone too far, and began promising me extravagant presents, which she would buy me once she reached adulthood. I was not appeased. I informed her that the only present I was interested in receiving from her was the gift of a child with good behavior, as defined by: talking nicely, listening nicely, and being nice to her siblings. She promised she would give me that gift too, but she still felt the situation called for material compensation. Yet since I had refused her previous offerings, she offered instead to make a donation to the free loan fund (gemach) I manage.
I don't have the intimate understanding of my parents that your daughter already has at five years old.
I was amused by her cleverness and impressed by her recognition, even at five years old, of what I truly value... and yes I was appeased. More than appeased, I was in love. When I shared this experience, and my amusement at her cleverness with a friend, my friend in turn marveled at how well my daughter knew me. "Of course she knows me," I responded. She has me under microscopic supervision all day long."
"No, that's not all of it," my friend insisted, "You let her know you. My own parents never shared that much of themselves with me. Even as an adult I don't have the intimate understanding of them that your daughter already has at five years old."
I though about what my friend said as I sat alone on the beach a few days later. My children were in camp, and it had not seemed necessary to take them out of camp for a plain old trip to the beach. I figured they would be bored watching me sit and do nothing except stare at the waves.
Yet I am my most contented and relaxed self at the beach. I love everything about the beach: the wet sand under my bare feet, the abundance of light, and the wild, un-harnessed quality of the ocean. As I sat at the shoreline and waves swirled around me, soaking me to my waist, I wondered, "Have I ever let my children see this side of me, the side that doesn't mind getting wet or sandy, the side that only exists at the beach, a place where I can shed the weighty responsibility of adulthood and just revel in the sensory experience of being alive?"
I realized that I hadn't. It had simply never occurred to me that it might enhance our relationship. Now don't get me wrong. I am a very child-centered parent. I spend half my life engaging in child-centered activities, and giving my children experiences that they love. But this experience, an experience that I love so intensely, despite the fact that I only come to the beach once a year, somehow hadn't seemed important enough to share with them.
Yet my friend's comment made me realize how much children need, and even crave, an understanding of their parents as people, and not just as parents. All those experiences we had shared, as I watched them jump on bouncy castles, and do acrobatics at the playground, had all been pleasurable, but I had always been on duty, an adult Mommy observing her children at play. Yet at the beach, my own pleasure is so intense, that I am unable to remain on duty. I am simply blown away by the natural beauty of God's world and humbled at my own insignificance in the vastness of His creation.
It is important for our children to know us, because none of us are the perfect parent we all aspire to be.
It is important for our children to know us, to see our humanness, because none of us are the perfect parent we all aspire to and project ourselves to be. At some point, usually during adolescence, but sometimes even before, our children will become aware that the projection is just that; a facade. Then like the Wizard of Oz we will need to step out from behind the curtain of parenthood and reveal ourselves as the flawed and human beings that we truly are.
Our children may respond to this revelation in many different ways, one of which is betrayal and intense adolescent rage. However, there is another possibility that exists. If we have let them know us, if we have allowed ourselves to become vulnerable and shared a part of our non-parent self, then even as the myth of the omnipotent parent crumbles, our children will have another side of us to hold onto.
This inner knowledge of us is a gift that will benefit both our children and ourselves. On the day that I was frustrated with my daughter, she wanted to give me a present. I responded as a parent, and replied that the only gift I wanted from her is the gift of a child with good behavior. Her response and her continued insistence on giving me another type of gift, a gift to the non-parent side of me, demonstrated clearly that it was not sufficient for her to relate to me only as a parent. She wanted more from me than just the possibility of knowing me when I am on duty in my parent role. She wanted the knowledge of what lay underneath the facade.
Our children will eventually uncover the side of us that is flawed. Let's take the risk and let them see the side of us that is beautiful as well.