Summer means a lot of togetherness at our house. For a variety of reasons, the majority of our time this summer is camp-free, so most days are family time in some combination or another. With 4 boys in the same room there are a lot of, ahem… opportunities for growth.
Our eldest is nine, our youngest is almost 3. We are pretty accustomed to the grabby, your toy looks better than mine of the younger kids. The middle guys are charted waters also, some bossiness, some attempts at manipulation (at times successful, at times not), a lot of tattling if we let them. The new experience for us is the snarkiness of the tween years. Blame it on hormones, sleep deprivation, “the culture,” whatever the cause we are having some two-year-old problems in nine-year-old form.
Some days his brothers and his parents just seem to rub my son the wrong way. How do I know? Aahhhh… let me count the ways! Facial expressions, eye rolling, tone of voice, body language and word choice let us all know when he feels frustrated, annoyed, put-upon, angry, resentful.
After some late night conversations about how normal yet awful this is for the whole family, my husband and I came to a realization. How our son behaves is more important to most people he will encounter than how he is feeling. And it’s our job to teach him that unpleasant truth.
Of course we care how he feels. There are times when I think I can feel each of his frustrations in my own skin. But empathy, like allowance, is useful to kids this age when it is portioned out in a reasonable way, less so when there is an unlimited supply to ease every situation.
Recently I asked the readers at Our Mom Spot, “Have you known adults who continue to believe that their feelings justify any words or tone of voice they care to use?” The first answer I got was “Hell yes!” I don’t want my kids to grow up with the mistaken idea that their feelings justify a bad attitude.
We’ve made it clear to our big guy that he will never get in trouble for how he feels. But woe to him if he uses feelings to excuse bad behavior. It’s possible that doing right while feeling wrong is the hardest lesson of responsible adulthood. I have no doubt it will take lots of practice.