Before traveling for work recently, my 5-year-old son and I had an intimate conversation about my time away. I explained to him slowly how long I'd be gone, where I'd be and when I'd return before he interrupted me with a simple, "I know all of this already, Mama. I also know you'll be gone three sleeps longer than normal, which is a long time."
He tilted his head back as if to take it all in, and stayed there for a while before reassuring me with his big little hand on my shoulder, "I will think about you, and you will think about me. It will be okay."
Amid the fast pace of parenthood, it's easy to forget that my child is not less than me. Our children are capable of so much. But, we don't always see it. Sometimes, we only see our efforts to raise them instead. We see the exhaustion of managing, scheduling and maintaining the day-to-day that we miss their competency. We think they are able because of us, when, in so many ways, our strength comes from them.
Beginning at conception and continuing through birth and growth, their courage and exhibition of self is always a delightful surprise. The simple ways in which children communicate joy, the honesty in their voice and the vulnerability in their questions leave us with a newfound love for who they are becoming, right before our sleepy eyes.
Instead of superiority, our children need to feel that we trust them, that we believe in them, and that we see them as equals. Child-rearing is a partnership between parent and child and we should realize the beautiful human being who not only wants to be just like us but is already like us, too: Learning and living and growing, every single day.
How can you treat children more like an equal? Here are five ways, mama:
1. Treat your child as you would like to be treated.
What makes a relationship meaningful to you? When you're overwhelmed, overtired or in need of support, what or whom do you seek? When you're feeling celebratory, whom do you choose to participate in the joy with you?
Children need companionship the same way we do, but we tend to blame their need on adolescence as if they need our care and direction, not a supportive friend.
In times of learning, we also talk at the child, exasperated in what surely has been told one hundred times, but does it help you when someone talks down to you? What words will resonate with you instead?
The way in which we engage in loving, respectful relationships with an adult friend is possible with a child. They feel everything from us, sometimes before our dulled senses feel them ourselves, and when you show the child how much they mean to you the way you would do for a friend, they feel that, too.
2. Include your child in your plans.
When making decisions about your day, big or small, ask your child for their input. Thinking about dinner or planning meals for the week? Ask your child what they'd enjoy. Can't decide what to wear, which book to read or where to go for lunch? Watch as your child revels in the inclusion of your choice.
Also ask your child for help in daily endeavors, like cleaning the house or yard work, and be mindful of asking for his participation in activities that might be above what you think is his level of ability. Help your child to believe in himself!
3. Offer choices to show an interest in their opinions.
Along with asking for their opinion, afford your child the space to make decisions on their own, ensuring that you're supportive in whatever those decisions may be.
Sometimes, when we tell children what to do, they begin to relinquish their own power of choice, not even realizing it as an option. Instead, remind your child that we all have choices in our lives, and how we choose to respond to those choices is what strengthens us.
Give options. Instead of saying, "Do you want to go to the park today?" Ask, "Do you want to go to the park today or to the library?" Near bedtime, ask the child, "Do you want to take a bath first or put away your laundry?" At dinner, "Do you want to help me rinse the dishes or put away the dishes?"
Yes or no questions imply hierarchy, whereas choices signify an interest in the other's opinion.
4. Think less like a superior.
If we treat children as if they know less than us, our minds will always approach and speak to them as if they know less than us. We will subconsciously speak above them, not even hearing ourselves the condescending tone in our voice. Instead, empathize with a child's perspective.
When I speak with my son, I am aware of the intuition and honesty he bears that is purer than me. He sees things differently than I do and with less of a filter than I have, so who am I to speak above him or tell him how it is? His perspective enlightens me, and I wonder how to learn from him every single day.
And, to think less like a superior is not to act less like a superior. We are responsible to our children and must always be acting with their well-being in mind. Our actions show that we care for them and love them deeply. May our thoughts show that we revere them in that responsibility, too.
5. Pay attention.
Be less mindful of what we think children need and more mindful of what they are showing us they need.
Ask your child more questions and make eye contact. Come to their level, and once you've finished asking questions, ask if there is anything else they would like to say.
Children do always surprise us, with their willingness, tenacity, concentration and awe for the world around them. Our children want to participate in all of it, and perhaps if we gave them the autonomy and equity to do so, they would show us that they can do it, too. This is their big world, too.