436. Allies

Children, like the rest of us, complain sometimes. Some more than others. And also like the rest of us, their complaints are sometimes justified, sometimes not. Often, when we listen to people’s complaints, we think about whether there’s any substance to them – whether they refer to real problems that ought to be addressed. And if we decide in favor of the plaintiff, we often try to help solve the problems. That’s a nice tendency we humans have.
Parents often start out trying to solve all of their children’s problems (e.g., wet diapers, hunger). That’s appropriate, because children start out relatively helpless. But they don’t stay that helpless for long; they learn habits and
strategies that enable them to solve their own problems. It can make both parents and children proud.
Still, children have a way of turning to their parents when problems seem too big, and they hope their parents will provide solutions. And parents – even some parents who once looked forward to their children’s independence – sometimes welcome the opportunity to offer solutions. It reminds us of old times. Our children need us again.
But it’s sometimes more complicated when the children are older. We don’t try to convince infants that they’re not really hungry; they know what they need, and our job is to meet their needs. But older children, like adults, sometimes complain about problems they ought to be solving on their own. Sometimes it even seems as if they complain about problems they’ve created.
I think that when that happens, the role of parent is sometimes substantially different from any other role. Children want to think of their parents as their allies. They want their parents to side with them. When you, as a parent, really do side with your child, that’s great. When the whole world seems to be making trouble for a child, it’s nice to have Mommy and/or Daddy on her/his side.
But what if your child’s complaint doesn’t ring true? What if you identify more with the one your child is complaining about? That’s one of the many times when parenting becomes a real challenge. You want to get your child to see what you think of as the errors of his/her ways, and you feel as if you’re the one who ought to point out those errors.
Sometimes, that works. It depends on the situation and the child. But I think sometimes it makes more sense to keep your convictions to yourself, and just listen, perhaps asking questions to clarify the problem, but playing the role of ally as effectively as you can. It’s not exactly a dishonest role; ultimately, you are your child’s ally. But you may not always agree with your child’s complaints. I’m not suggesting that you should lie about it – just that you can sometimes help more by listening than by correcting. When the whole world seems to be against your child, you’ve got to try hard to be an exception.

Comments are closed.