Out of the Mouth of Babes



Recognizing that our children are on their own individual journey means being self-reflexive


I must have asked Mathew (not is real name) a million times to eat his dinner. He must have sensed my exasperation because he responded with, “If you keep talking to me like that I will not listen to you.” He was so matter of fact. I turned to him immediately ready to ask “who do you think you are talking to like that?” My own Caribbean socialization and upbringing was now at the forefront of my consciousness. My child had just turned 4, I thought to myself, and here he was disrespecting me. My mind was racing; I wanted to quote Proverbs and Ephesians respectively. He needed to be obedient and, honor his mother so that his days would be long upon the land. Notwithstanding, Mathew would be oblivious to whatever scriptures I wanted to quote, I wanted to repeat them anyway.

In truth, I was worried that somewhere along the line I had given him permission to speak to me in whatever manner he chose and, that is unacceptable. Instead of repeating the verses and thoughts that was ruminating in my head, I took a deep breath and, asked Mathew, “How was I talking to you.” He promptly responded, “Not nice.” I then remembered the scripture “out of the mouth of babes.” My son had stood up for himself; he knew that my behavior was unacceptable and was obviously not intimidated to say so. I did not particularly like the feeling of being humbled (who doesn’t struggle with pride?) by my 4 year old child. In that moment and other moments, I have been forced to examine my own behavior and attitude about parenting, which is also intricately related to my own expectations.

“Mathew asked, ‘why do I have to keep reminding you to pray,’ I’m tired of asking you to pray.”

Let’s face it, my friends and family know that I’m perpetually busy; I move, walk, and talk fast; Will (my partner) jokes that a leisurely stroll with me is like a marathon. I get things done! This attitude is sometimes manifested in my parenting which doesn’t work well with a 4 year old especially at dinner time. I sometimes get frustrated with how long Mathew takes to eat especially when there are other activities to complete before bedtime. For Mathew, life is not a rush! So when he called me out on my tone, I had to admit that he was absolutely correct; he deserved to be treated with respect. Living in rather hierarchical culture-where parents epitomize authority and are supposed to be all knowing- admitting to and apologizing to a child is foreign. Our ego will not allow that kind of submission. In moments like these, as parents, we are forced to confront our own contradictions. We insist that we want to raise autocanstockphoto23651678nomous children who grow up and contribute to society. Yet, we take certain interactions like the one I mentioned with Mathew out of the equation; we often fail to see these as moments of growth for ourselves and our children. We love and appreciate our children as long as they abide by the rules we have put in place, such as “not talking back,” which seems to be interpreted as impertinent.

That moment with Mathew (and I have had many more) made me realize that he is precisely the kind of child I want him to be. I recognize that my son is intelligent and capable of articulating his feelings even if it is at the expense of my ego. It’s not enough to want our children to be independent thinkers while placing limitation on them if it appears ever so slightly that they are challenging us. As a process, parenting is difficult, because it requires that we let go of some the norms and ideals that we hold dear to our hearts because they no longer work. It means recognizing that our children are on their own individual journey that is separate from ours. It means being self-reflexive, (not over-reactive) which is sometimes my tendency. It means listening to our children and valuing their ideas, feelings, and perspectives.

Thus, a few nights ago, as I lay beside Mathew as it’s our custom; he asked, ‘why do I have to keep reminding you to pray,’ I’m tired of asking you to pray.” While Mathew has been the one to pray, several months ago, he would ask that we pray out loud. I’m more accustomed to praying silently. He was obviously annoyed; I chuckled and then prayed. The next morning I had a conversation about his response to my forgetting to pray; he reiterated his reaction. I then admit that yes sometimes mommy does forget to pray, which is not intentional. Mathew then said, “O.k. mommy, I will always remind you to pray after I pray.” Our children can be the best teachers if we remain open and receptive.

Dr. Karen Flynn is a Toronto native living in the U.S. She is an associate Professor in Gender and Women’s Studies and African American Studies, and at the University of Illinois and author of Moving Beyond Borders: A History of Black Canadian and Caribbean Women in the Diaspora.

Follow her on Twitter @KarenFlynnPhD