While growing up, my father enforced the “children are seen and not heard” rule. If my siblings and I saw our parents do something the wrong way, we certainly didn’t mention it. We’d each tried it out when we were younger and never did it again. Our father would get in our face in public, or spank us if we were in the privacy of our own home.
At the time, I felt hate for my father. He was so unreasonably strict and thought he was right all the time. I’d go to a friend’s house to spend the night and would long to move in with them. They were asked what they wanted for breakfast. They had a say in how their rooms were decorated. They were allowed to get their ears pierced and wear jeans. They had a voice and weren’t just seen. They were heard.
Looking back, I realize the fact my father came from a large family with a strict Southern Baptist upbringing, and his years in the military made him feel dismissed and unimportant.
Being the “man” of the house and walking around saying things like “I’m always right” and “real men don’t cry” made him feel powerful and in charge. But it also made my siblings and me shrink to a size where we felt our opinions weren’t valid, and that crept into other areas of our lives: with partners, with jobs, with friends, with boundaries.
Once, my father was clearly drunk when he picked me up from a high school dance. I didn’t say anything for fear I’d get the belt. That was the night I knew I’d be a different kind of parent than he was. I wanted to raise confident kids who aren’t afraid to speak up. I wanted my kids to feel safe enough around me to tell me if I was wrong — because we are all wrong, a lot, in this one life we are given.
So while some may think my son is back-talking to me when he tells me I’m going the wrong way to a place I’ve been 100 times (I do this often), or that I really shouldn’t have told his brother I wish he’d wear something other than a sweatsuit in 80-degree weather, I don’t agree. To me, it’s not back-talking. It’s raising kids who aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe is right, and don’t feel they need to be silent to fit in.
I’m glad my kids feel comfortable calling me out sometimes. I’m not talking about being little piss-ants and challenging everything I say; there’s a big difference between disagreement and disrespect. I am talking about things like standing up for themselves, someone else, or just telling me — in a respectful way — when I’m wrong.
Like when I’m in a bad mood and being short and snippy with them. They aren’t afraid to remind me how my behavior affects other people in the house and makes everyone feel tense. After all, I’ve spent a lot of years telling them to not take their anger or frustrations out on innocent bystanders and yet here I am doing the same thing when I’m having a bad day.
I was really proud of my daughter when she didn’t let up about a missing assignment that was showing up on her student portal— she’d already handed it in and the teacher had missed it. My daughter was damned if she was going to do it over like I was trying to make her do.
I know if that had gone down between me and my father, I would have shut up and just done the work again.
I don’t claim to know everything, and I don’t want to raise kids who are afraid to challenge their stubborn mom. Believe me, I need all the help I can get. Most of the time I’ve forgotten why I’ve walked into the kitchen.
I want to teach them it’s okay to be wrong and listen to someone else.
I want to teach them there’s a way to challenge authority, and that you can get your point across in a kind, respectful manner.
Most importantly, I hope that by calling me out when I am wrong, it gives them the confidence they need to speak up about social issues, or someone touching them in a way that makes them uncomfortable without hesitation, even if they are scared.
And I’ll tell you — more times than not, my kids have saved me from myself when I get into the ice cream or chips, despite my gastrointestinal issues, and can’t stop. They aren’t afraid to tell me they don’t want to hear me complain, and they definitely aren’t going to feel sorry for me when I’m pooping straight mud into the toilet from eating too much dairy.
Whether it’s something trivial or something important, our kids want to be heard, and it’s our job as parents to give them the room to have a voice.