My friend is laughing. I’ve just told her something that I believe about parenting and being a mum and what it does to you if you do it long enough, and I’m laughing too, but her kids are little and mine are big and I don’t know if she knows I really, really mean it.
We were talking about a kid we know, and how they really didn’t want to do something that the mum really wanted her to do… and how the mum was all upset about the kid being upset and was going to have to tell her "no" even though it was going to hurt the kid’s feelings. "It’s hard…" my friend said. "That’s a hard place for a mother" and I shrugged at the phone and took a swig of coffee, and I almost didn’t say anything, but then I did.
"How hard is it?" I finally asked. "You just say No" and when I heard that she was a little taken aback, I said "Don’t listen to me. I’ve been a mother a long time. I don’t really care about children’s feelings anymore."
She killed herself laughing and I laughed too, and I tried to explain because it sounded so bad. When I say I don’t care about kid’s feelings, I simply mean that how a kid feels about whatever we’re considering, isn’t my prime directive. I care what a kid feels, but when push comes to shove, my job is to do what I think is best for them, not what they feel is best for them. I mean, c’mon. I’ve had at least one teenager who had some pretty strong "feelings" about their privacy and how I shouldn’t be all up in their business, and you know what? I didn’t care. Until your frontal lobe is developed all the way, you get privacy in your room and privacy in the bathroom, but I get to know where you’re going and what you’re doing, and if you want to keep a secret about where you’re at from me, you’re going to have to work hard at it, and it doesn’t really bother me if you’re upset about that.
Do I care if a kid is sad? Sure I do. I care a lot about their emotional state and how they’re doing, but that’s different than caring about their individual feelings on every point – isn’t it? I mean, I’m feeling right now like I don’t want to go to the grocery store because it’s raining, and I’m feeling super sad that I’m going to get wet, but I’m still going, because feelings don’t matter if you’re a grown up and you’re out of toilet paper, and someday my kid is going to have to do stuff way harder than shopping or homework or showing up on time and I want them to have practice.
I’ve had these conversations so many times, and every time I end up sure I’m the meanest mother in the world. (This is an idea I may have gotten from a kid who was yelling it at me when I didn’t care about their feelings about vacuuming.) Someone will ask how I got the kids to eat brown bread and vegetables and homemade yogurt and all I can think is that kids don’t have any money and they don’t do the grocery shopping and they don’t cook and they aren’t in charge and really, doesn’t that mean that they’re going to eat what I make? Or people ask how I limited TV as much as I did, and I can’t figure out how they think it would be that I would make a rule (no TV if it’s daylight, for starters) and then a kid would say that they didn’t like it, and that then… what? We would have another rule? One they made? There were times that I responded to a kids needs by changing a rule, like… the "you have to go to school" rule got trashed because a kid really needed home-schooling for a term. We’re all about responding to a kids actual needs, but you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that one of my kids needed me to make them a separate dinner because what I’d made them wasn’t what they wanted. (To quote my own mother, this is a family, not a restaurant.)
I can’t tell you the number of times one of the kids tried to turn on the tv, and I went and turned it off again. A few times the tv got taken away entirely, put in a closet and locked up because they broke the rules, and I’m not fighting with you if you do something untrustworthy, and really, I am a mean and horrible mother who doesn’t care at all if that makes you cry. AT. ALL. Television is a privilege, not a right, and you want to scream about it, that’s cool man. Let those feelings out, but they won’t change my mind. Age, maturity, independence, your skills, your actual needs, that stuff changes my mind. Your feelings? No ma’am.
I can hear somewhere, someone’s heart breaking for all of this. They’re thinking that I am actually a mean mum, and that it’s wrong not to consider the feelings of children and thinking how hard it must have been to be raised by someone who does what she thinks is best and steamrolls all over the tender little hearts of her babies. They’re wiping a tear away from their eye right now, and they’re the kind of mum who’s going to turn to me later and say "But how did you turn the TV off? My kids would be so upset if I did that. They would freak out. I could never, ever take away the TV" and I’m going to explain that the difference between me and them is that they think they need their kid’s buy in or permission, and I think it’s my TV and I can do whatever I want with it, because I care more about limiting TV than I do about crying children and that makes it easier. Louder, but easier.
I get that parents perspective. I really do, and let me tell you, I care a lot about what my kids needed – and I will still go as far as a kid needs me to if we’re talking about their physical, spiritual and emotional well being. I want to talk to kids about how they feel, and what their preferences are, and I have always, always tried to listen carefully to what they want – because they’re part of the family and we’re on the same team but dudes, that team has Captains and it’s the parents and we’re looking at the big picture, and it’s their needs that matter to us – not what they want, and I’m totally cool with that, because there’s a reason that society doesn’t let these people vote until they’re 18, and it’s because they lack experience, and wisdom, and a lot of the things that keep you safe and make you go to the store in the rain when you don’t want to, and I have my eye on the prize.
I’m making grownups.
I love my children desperately. I just don’t care about their feelings.
If you know what I mean.