Everybody knows that raising kids with consciousness is hard. But it is especially tough to raise a woke, patriarchy-smashing son when you grew up with a misogynist father and a mother who was a corporal in the US Marine Corps. I vacillate between wanting to cultivate my son’s sensitive, emotionally in-touch side and telling him to get up and walk it the fuck off.
The thing is, my kid cries a lot for his age (almost seven). He’ll climb two feet up a tree and then wail for me to rescue him. (I never do. I have a strict “Don’t write a check your ass can’t cash” policy, and am of the opinion that it doesn’t help anyone if I’m always bailing him out of the trouble.)
It took nearly a week of daily, gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) coaxing before he’d dip a furtive toe into the lukewarm caress of the Pacific Ocean during our Hawaiian vacation. Likewise, he loses his shit if he gets a single drop of water on his face in the shower.
When he falls and gets a scrape, he screams like he’s had a limb ripped off, and it takes a half hour of Lamaze before he’ll even let me get near him with a Band-Aid.
No parent likes to hear their child cry, but help me Jesus, his frantic “nononono!!” sends me running straight for the boxed wine and Calgon. The kid seems ruled by his fear, and there’s no amount of logic or lollipops that helps. A soothing “there, there” is no more effective than a terse “You’re fine” (courtesy of my inner Spartan). All I can do is try and help him develop tools to cope with those fears so they don’t rule or ruin his life. I want him to be both in touch with his feelings and able to dust himself off when he takes a tumble, whether it’s one that scrapes his knees or his heart.
I started reading Lawrence Cohen’s The Opposite of Worry: The Playful Parenting Approach to Childhood Anxieties and Fears (Ballantine Books, 2013), and while “playful parenting” isn’t really my personal style, I’ve found that some of the techniques are showing promise. For kids like mine, an active imagination is both a gift and a curse; it can take them to magical places or the worst-case scenario. For him, it’s “getting a boo-boo,” but for other kids it could mean being away from Mom or going to bed with the light off.
Turns out the one thing I’ve actually been doing right is not letting him avoid situations that might be scary. For example, making him climb down from the tree himself instead of lifting him out. Keeping kids at what Cohen calls “the edge” helps them learn to face their fears, which ultimately builds their confidence and helps develop their internal sense of security. For my son, it means letting him put the Band-Aid on himself when he scrapes his knee. It means taking him to the seashore, but not throwing him in the water. It means saying, “I know you can do this,” and showing him that I mean it by standing back—even if he cries.