Balancing Conflicting Messages

K: “Did you see me today in my tumbling class? How I fell off the tall balance beam twice, but I got back on? ‘Cause I’m going to get better at that! Weren’t you proud of me?”

Me: “I did see you! And I was proud of you! Were you proud of yourself?”

K: “I’m always proud of myself.”

It’s really easy to overanalyze when you’re parenting. A year ago, I worried my kid was too timid. Today, as I watch her scramble to the front of the line and push herself forward ahead of the other kids, I worry that she’s too aggressive.

One moment I’m actively indulging her individuality – the non-matching socks, the backwards jacket, the one braid/one pigtail hairdo – and the other, I’m worrying that her penchant for marching to the beat of her own drummer will make it harder for her to fit in later during the ever difficult adolescent years.

There’s a line I can’t quite see – on one side is parenting that hopefully helps lead to a confident, self-assured woman with a distinct sense of self and a healthy respect for others, and on the other is a spoiled, bratty child with an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement. I’d like to believe I toe one side of the line – but it’s easily possible that I fall to the other side more frequently than I’m ready to admit.

And the reality is that children – particularly girl children – are often praised in preschool by adults for individualism and creativity, but those same qualities can lead to ridicule and disdain by the kid’s peer group in the school years.

As a parent, I try to ingrain a second-nature sort of politeness – almost a solicitousness – toward the people around you. But as an adult woman who has read far too many articles on the pay and role disparity in the corporate world, I also recognize that in the real world, sometimes you don’t get what you deserve not because someone’s trying to screw you, but simply because you didn’t ask and someone else did.

Girls are often chastised for being bossy while boys are praised for their “go-get-’em attitude,” and I worry a bit that my concerns about raising a polite and considerate child serve only to self-perpetuate that dichotomy. I think I would be raising a boy-child of mine the same way (with regard to the polite and considerate part), but doubt that I would be worrying about it to the degree that I do today.

As I think back on it, I note that child-rearing is full of such conflicting messages:

  • “Don’t talk to strangers.” “Say hi to this nice person who just said hello to you.”
  • “You’re in charge of your own body.” “Go hug Great-Aunt Susie.”
  • “Don’t lie.” “Let me tell you about this fat man in a red suit.”
  • “Try new things.” “Don’t dip XX into YY! That’s gross!”

and on and on and on.

How confusing this must be to a child! And the more I think about this, the more I feel quite a lot like my kid did when walking the high balance beam – Lean too far one way or the other, and the whole thing comes tumbling down, but get the balance just right, and you can make it to the finish line with a smile on your face.

So how do *you* balance conflicting messages?

And while you’re thinking about it, I leave you with this thought that, when coupled with the interlude I opened this blog with, tells me that maybe, just maybe, I’m doing something right:

K: “I know you’ll always love me no matter what.”

Me: “That’s true. I will.”

K: “I’ll always love you no matter what, too.

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