Our January PAC Newsletter is here and it includes an excellent article from Parent Education Instructor Rebecca Hoyt.
Raising an Action Verb: Allowing Your Children to Be
Author: Rebecca Hoyt MSW
Winter often means books for my family, books for reading, books for listening to, books with lots of lush visuals to pour over, books to transport us to as many past and future and warm and sunny places as we can possibly travel on a gray Seattle day. One such book we delved into recently is Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell. In this story, we journey to Zimbabwe where we ride horseback across the African plains, climb mango trees, and, after a plunge, dry ourselves off in the hot African sun with a vivacious girl named Wilhemina, or Will.
Will leads a life chock full of happy adventures with her best friend, Simon, and pet monkey,Kezia. Her father knows his “Wildcat” well enough to simply give her a tight hug and some provisions when he senses a plan is afoot. When her father dies of Malaria, grown-ups who think they know best find Will to be lacking in what they consider to be the more civilized ways of the world. To more closely fit into their ideals, Will is plucked from everything and everyone she holds dear and is sent to boarding school in London.
At school, our heroine, who is most comfortable in mud boots and sunshine -filled fields,is stuffed into a stiff and scratchy uniform and taught by sullen teachers. Her new schoolmates disdain Will’s differences from them and pick at everything that make her unique, starting with her name. When they call her Wilhelmina, she explains that she never goes that name, but rather Will.
“Will, like the boys name?” They ask.
“Yes, Will. Like the verb, ja?” Will responds.
Will. Like the verb.
And this, this is where my heart and mind as a parent lit up. Who among us isn’t raising a Will?
Who isn’t privileged and challenged to be sharing their home with a sheer force of Will, a living breathing action verb? And how often do we try to stuff our Will’s into the stuffy uniform of being a Won’t or a May I or something other than who they truly are. I’ll tell you about a time I tried to recently.
My boys were raucously wrestling on the couch, a tangle of arms and legs as they played a game they called “Mad Bull.” And they were being loud. So darn loud. And big. So much movement. It was driving me crazy. I asked them to be quiet and they were. For 30 seconds. I told them to go outside but they promised to be quiet if they could stay inside. I had another 30 seconds before they revved up. Just as I was about to give them one more command, I caught myself. Wait. Who was having the problem here? They were ruddy with laughter, they were being inventive, they were playing together, all things I encourage them to do! They were being Wildcats (Or Mad Bulls) and I was trying to throw a wet blanket on the whole thing because it hurt my ears. I reminded them of our house rules around wrestling and I took my delicate ears upstairs. We were all much happier when I didn’t get in the way of who they needed to be in that particular moment.
The more I’ve thought about my children being action verbs, the more I’ve realized how many things I do to get in the way of their expression. Some are seemingly small like telling my combustion engine of a child he needs to wear pants when he’s more comfortable in shorts, and others are more regrettable like discouraging my child with learning differences from counting on his fingers only later to read an article proving me wrong. I need to stop pushing them to “grow out” of things that are hard for me and foster my boys as they “grow into” themselves. Because you know what? Our heroine, Will, didn’t effortlessly ease into a new itchy blazer. She ran away. To the zoo. And she spent the night with the baboons, the only creatures she could find who let her be who she truly knows herself to be. She is her irrepressible self, as are all of our children.
I don’t want my boys running off to be with other Mad Bulls because they only feel understood by them. I want them to feel secure enough in themselves and our relationship to show themselves to me as Mad Bulls when that is who they need to be. I also want them to be a vulnerable 10 year old who’s feeling confused by changing social dynamics at school or a proud 6 year old who scored a soccer goal after much hesitation to join in the action. When I am present for each part of who they are, I get to delight in all of who they are.
This is not easy, especially when aspects of our children’s temperament are different from our own. Or when they have unique needs that challenge our preconceptions of who we thought they would be. Or when their interests are somewhat repellent to us (slugs). Or when their tenacity demands that we dig deeper into ourselves than we have ever dug before.
In order to meet our children exactly where they are, we must also be willing to meet ourselves in the same place. We must embrace our honest selves. We must also accept the difference between who we really are and who we think we should be. When we allow for our own shortcomings, we are better able to accept them in our children. It is in this space that we achieve radical acceptance – I can accept myself and my children exactly as we are today AND I can strive for change.
When I am true to myself, I am the gentle leader who accepts them as Mad Bulls with the necessary change of acknowledging my sensitivities to noise. I can also be the gentle leader who helps them to see that there is a time and a place to be Mad Bulls and encourage change in them when the library is not one of them.
As Carl Rogers said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” I am learning that the paradox is also true for my family. When I accept my children just as they are, they can then feel safe to change as well.
Parent Education Instructor
North Seattle College
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