You might have read my last post and thought That poor mother. She is really trying. She’s too hard on herself. If you did have those those inklings, thank you. Now, let me tell you about my other son, so you can shake your head and judge me for not setting limits.
Kellen is into play fighting. I mean, REALLY into play fighting. He wakes up and heads for his arsenal of toy weapons. He moves on to acting out fight sequences. He begs me to wrestle. I get a break from these activities when I allow him to play a Lego ninja game on the computer, where he, of course, controls a figure in battle. When he reads, he wants to read about heroes and villains. When he watches a show or a movie, there better be a fight scene.
Early on as a parent I thought there is no way I am going to let my kids play those violent games. There is no way I am going to allow toy guns in our house. Not only do we now have toy guns, we have swords, knifes, light sabers, nun chuks, throwing stars, and about twenty different other versions of toy weapons. Over time, my thinking evolved. I saw the benefit of allowing my sons to engage in imaginary play. I wanted them to lead their type of play. I understood the social benefit of figuring out good vs evil, strength vs weakness, establishing rules of play, and engaging in social constructs.
Which all sounds really good. Until your kid wants to pretend to slap you in the face in the middle of a restaurant (yes, we did have a talk about that).
Kellen is a different child. I see part of his fascination with this type of play is that he is trying to establish his place in the world. He is the smallest and the youngest. The will of others is often exerted over him. For a couple of years now, when people have kissed him (including me) he has said “I don’t like to be kissed.” Sometimes he is laughing as someone kisses him, and the person giving the kiss says “Yes you do.You were smiling” It must be very frustrating to him to feel like his voice is not being heard. I catch myself kissing him all the time. At first I thought I can’t help it or he’ll get used to it. I am now seeing this line of thinking does not work. He’s said he doesn’t like it. He deserves to have his boundaries respected.
I am trying to pay more attention to what he says. Or in Kellen’s case, to what he says without speaking. Whenever I tuck him into bed, I say “I love you.” Most of the time, he does not say it back. I know he loves me. He tells me when HE feels like saying it. But again, his strong willed nature takes over. He does not want to be forced to say it.
But sometimes I need to hear it. Parenting is not all sacrifice. We are in a relationship. Both of our needs matter. I began to think about how to make this situation work for both of us. Kellen loves to talk in made up voices. Part of what is so great about Kellen is that he gives over to imagination 100%- a characteristic people have also used to describe me. One night instead of saying I love you, I asked him what language he wanted to talk in. After considering for a moment, he said duck. So I made some quacking sounds and explained “that means I love you in duck.” He quacked right back and said “That means I love you too.” We now speak in duck, bear, tickle language and sometimes even say I love you with light punches on the arm. Instead of pounding him with questions (Did you have a good day? What was the best part?) I silently scratch his back and wait for him to speak. To my surprise, he has started telling me all kinds of things- how he’s scared of the dark and heights, how he likes to be drawn on with markers because it feels good when he’s upset, how he enjoys being hugged in specific shirts because they are “snuggly shirts.”
At one point, I worried if Kellen’s play was normal. Like any modern parent, I googled it. While there was some differences of opinion, most of the articles I read agreed that the benefits of the imaginary play outweighed any of the violence I was fretting over. The key was Kellen isn’t really trying to hurt people. Yes, sometimes a friend gets hurt during rough play, but it is usually not intentional. This style of play is about figuring out boundaries. Kellen doesn’t want to hurt. He wants to play.
Kellen does have a gentle side, but again, it is best seen from a different angle. He gets very annoyed at the character of “Mom” telling him what to do. He struggles against the thought of me being an authority figure. But if I pretend to be a bear, he will spend hours teaching me things. A couple of days ago, he showed me step by step how to construct a stick figure, finishing by saying “See Bear. Now you know how to draw. Do you want me to teach you how to open a popsicle?” I wonder again if this has something to do with being the youngest. He is constantly being taught things. Does he feel a need to be the teacher?
My worrying brain wonders if years down the road he’ll be prone to fights or have a lack of empathy and I’ll think he was showing signs all along. I can’t help that fear being there. But I hope that by working within his personality instead of forcing him to give in to mine, he’ll figure out his own path to kindness.
Until then, I’ve been writing for about 30 minutes now. Time for me to grab a sword and get back to the battle.