Parker had been fussy the entire time we were doing our Saturday grocery shopping. Granted we’d had a busy day, including taking him to a swimming lesson, and then after lunch at home stopping to buy a birthday present for a friend of his before finally going to grocery store. Once at the grocery store, we let him pick some items for himself — like what kind of snacks he wanted for his morning breakfast and afternoon lunch during the week — from among pre-selected range of healthy items. But that didn’t help, and after we checked out I ended up talking with him about it and we had a time-out together* when we got home.
But that wasn’t the proud moment.
That moment came on Sunday, after I’d forgotten about the grocery store, when Parker walked into my office with something to say.
“Daddy, you made me upset.”
I turned away from the computer and asked him to repeat that.
“You made me upset yesterday,” he said again, but this time with a context that jogged my memory. I picked him up and sat him in my lap.
“I did?” I asked.
“Yeah. You made me feel sad,” he said.
I hugged him and told him that I was glad he told me that, and that I didn’t mean to make him feel sad, but it’s still important he listens to Daddy and Papa when we’re out like that, and that he can tell us when something upsets him or bothers him.
What astounded me about that moment was that my son felt safe enough with me to approach and talk to me about his feelings. I guess it surprised me because, having been raised “old school,” I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing that when I was Parker’s age. After all, children were to be “seen and not heard,” and especially where their feeling were concerned, because their feelings weren’t a concern most of the time.
Yet Parker seems to have gotten the idea that his feelings are important and that he should be heard if he wants to talk about them. That made me feel good, and hope that maybe we’d gotten something right. It reminded me of when I was reading Raising Cain a while back, particularly the part about raising emotionally strong boys.
Give boys permission to have an internal life, approval for the full range of human emotions, and help in developing an emotional vocabulary so that they may better understand themselves and communicate more effectively with others. “The simple idea here is that you consciously speak to a boy’s internal life all the time, whether he is aware of it or not. You respect it, you take it into account, you make reference to it, you share your own. There is something of the prophecy fulfilled here. That is, if you act as if your son has an internal life — if you assume that he does, along with every other human being — then soon he will take it into account.”
I don’t know that I was consciously thinking of the above when I started, but sometime after Parker’s verbal skills kicked in I started asking him about his day — what he did, who he played with, what they played, what he learned, etc. — and occasionally asking questions about how he felt about a particular activity or interaction. (Was it fun? How did he feel when ______ did _____?) And sometimes helping him think of a different way to maybe respond to similar situations in the future.
Did it help? I don’t know, but I hope it means we’re on the right track. And I hope it means my son will always feel he can talk to me about what he’s feeling.