“That’s not true” has become my ten-year-old son’s knee-jerk refrain. He corrects every word I say. Every. Single. Word. He’s not trying to be mean or mouthy. He genuinely thinks he’s right. I did the same thing to my mother in my teens, except I was being mean and mouthy. Doubt oozed from my pores whenever she spoke. Sometimes she’d hide a smile or laugh outright. More often, she’d lose her shit. “Stop already,” she’d yell, “I’m not an idiot!” “I didn’t do anything!” I always protested before stomping out of the room. How dare she think she knew more than I did about what I was learning or what I needed to reach my goals? After all, she was just my mother. Nothing more than that.
When I got pregnant, I prayed for a boy, not because I didn’t want a daughter, but because I was afraid to have a daughter like me: a difficult know-it-all, a challenge-her-mother-on-everything-just-for-the-sport-of-it kind of kid. I was convinced a son wouldn’t do that to me. Mothers and sons are different enough to create a special bond that keeps them loving each other, or at least tolerant of each other. What I didn’t count on was that most children, no matter their gender, will eventually assume their parents are wrong about everything. It’s a rite of passage; it’s part of being a kid. It’s part of being my kid.
I would like to say I’m handling this turn of events with grace. I would like to say that when my son (incorrectly) corrects my grammar or tells me with certainty that studying for a test isn’t homework, it’s just, studying, that I hide my grin and humor him, or that I sigh and turn away, knowing he’ll eventually learn the truth from a teacher or some other adult who isn’t his mother and therefore knows more about, everything.
I would like to say this, but I can’t. Often, when my son corrects me for the thousandth time in a day, I find myself snarling, “Dammit, I’m not stupid!” Or, I try ten different ways to convince him I’m right before I storm off, leaving in my wake a sobbing, frustrated little kid who’s mystified by my fury.
I’m always ashamed afterward. My son isn’t the mouthy know-it-all I was as a teen. He’s happy-go-lucky and kind, a kid who offers me bites of his favorite desserts and craves family nights where we all play cards or board games or watch movies. When he corrects me, he’s simply testing the boundaries of his own knowledge, trying to separate what he’s learned about the world on his own from what I’ve taught him. He’s trying to separate from me.
And that is what I’m reacting to: him separating from me. I’m not angry, I’m afraid. I should be happy that he’s learning to question people and gauge the veracity of their values and opinions. I should be proud he has opinions of his own, that he’s confident enough to think he knows more than I do. His confidence is something I want to foster and encourage. It’s part of what will enable him to thrive without me, which is every parent’s ultimate goal.
So, when he questions me, I know I should smile. But still, I find myself yelling, from fear and also grief, that one day he will no longer be mine. And, each time I buy into the angry side of grief, I push my son further away. I see it as he tries to placate me when I’m angry despite his own tears, or instead turns to his father with his questions.
To build a more positive relationship with my son, I need to see beyond my emotions and respond with tolerance to his steps toward adulthood. Instead of presuming he’s being bratty when he corrects me, I need to remind myself he’s likely excited to share something he’s learned and thinks I don’t know. He’s trying to show me he’s growing up and becoming his own person, someone who can take care of himself and others, someone who can be responsible and brave, and certain of his place in the world. Then, instead of yelling, I need to take a deep breath and say, “You know, honey, maybe you’re right.” —Colette Sartor
(Photo: Getty Images)
Originally appeared at The Good Men Project
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