Parking the “Momma Bear”

As a kid, I was shopping downtown with my mother.  I headed to the counter to pay for my purchase.  The woman at the counter kept taking the purchases of the adults around me.  I repeatedly said excuse me and held up my money.  She continued to ignore me.  I watched my mother checking her wristwatch and she gave me the non-verbal prompt to stand up straight.  And then she lost patience.

“Excuse me. You have a customer waiting politely to pay for her purchase,” said my mother in a cold, icy tone that never ceased to get attention. The clerk was in the process of reaching over my head, yet again. She froze and looked at my mother, then at me.

“Will you be serving your next customer, or do I need to get your manager?”

At this point I didn’t even want my purchase anymore.  My preference was to just slink away.  My mother was having no part of it.  Her stare bore holes in the woman as she took my money, bagged my purchase, and thanked me for shopping at Woodward’s.

“Don’t you ever let anyone treat you with disrespect!  You have as much right as the next person to be here.  If her manager knew that she was treating a paying customer that way, she could be fired.”  

I don’t remember how old I was at the time, but I was at counter height, so I was young. One moment in the life of a primary school student frozen in time. You cannot protect your child from being treated disrespectfully but you can teach them how to process the incident and believe they can handle it. Had my mother stepped in to deal with the situation herself, I would have learned that she can stand up in the face of wrong. As a young child I learned to stand up straight, stand my ground and identify that I could deal with the situation even when it made me uncomfortable.

I have a rule. When I ask a child or a young person a question, I wait for them to answer. It always amazes me how quickly a parent will step in to answer for their child or how often children look to their parent to answer for them. Children will not develop the ability to think, and problem solve for themselves in a void. Communication skills require practice. Good communication skills also allow your child to develop meaningful relationships with people who cannot read her mind. This will be a good source of fun, support and meaningful engagement throughout their lives.

The ability to say, “Excuse me, can I get by, please” happens when the child needs to navigate through a group of people. Allow her to navigate and learn that she can. Your job as a good parent is not to do everything for your child. You job is to teach your child to independently cope with the challenges in life.

Do not take away learning opportunities from your child. Engage them in conversations about what they think. Ask them to explain their own thinking. Let her evolve into the person she is meant to be. It will take time. This is not just one conversation, but a life skill that needs practice to develop. It will also give you insight into your child as a unique human entity.

I regularly interact with adults who are unable to verbalize how they are feeling and why.  This frequently corresponds with conflict avoidance.  This is the bare minimum to being treated respectfully in life and to navigating conflict situations. Big or small.  And yet they managed to get to adulthood without it.

“I didn’t like it when you embarrassed me in front of the group when you said…”

This statement allows one thing to happen. The person involved addresses the situation. It could be that it was not her intention to embarrass with the comment, and she apologizes and repairs the relationship. It could be that she was intentional in trying to embarrass you but learns you will call her out on her behaviour. It may be that this person doesn’t care. Then you know. You are able to convey that you expect better. And believe it.

Your job as a supportive parent is to let your child know that you believe in her to deal with difficult situations. Many times, as a child, I did not want to leave the safety, security and fun with family and friends at my home in Vancouver to go to live in Los Angeles for the summer with my father, step-mother, my older sister, and two younger siblings. I experienced a lot of disapproval, exclusion, and never quite understood the rules I seemed to be breaking. My mother was the queen of outlining the positive aspects of nurturing these relationships. Her belief that I could singlehandedly make these relationships better without compromising my own identity was perhaps overly optimistic. However, I always knew that when I got home, her unconditional love and warm hug would be there. Although my mother succumbed to her battle with breast cancer years ago, her steadfast approval for the person I am lives on. That is the enduring mark of a great parent.

Back to School Series: For Parents – Part 1

Published by Carrie Froese

Curiosity guarantees a life of learning😀 Let me help you find the answer to your questions about educational practice, setting up a small business with a focus on education, and running a non-profit with a focus on educational events.

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