"Vivaan, can you please sleep, it's way past your bedtime. All your friends are sleeping. It's getting too late for little children to be up."
"Vivaan, can you please sit down and eat your broccoli. Oh, look at Kirin. He is sitting in his chair and eating his food. Can you also do what he is doing?"
I have said these words over and over again when I am frustrated with my son. In those tough moments when I am exhausted and depleted, it is so instinctual to compare my child to what other children are doing and using that as a technique to get him to agree. Perhaps, the reason I do it is that it often works in the moment.
However, here's the catch—if I reflect more deeply on the choice of my words, I am teaching him to make decisions based on what others are doing, not what he needs or what is aligned with his values, (our family values at this point in his life) even though that's not my intention.
For example, when he is 7 and if his classmates are making fun of their teacher, I don't want him to do that. What I want for him to be able to do is I want him to tell his friends that this behavior is not kind—even though it may be hard and uncomfortable for him to do. I want him to be okay with being different. I want him to feel confident enough to use his own radar to guide him through life.
When he is 17 and if his friends want him to drink and drive, I hope he says no and chooses safety over fitting in and being liked by his peers. I know there will likely be under-age drinking, but I hope he can understand the consequences of a few beers and a few miles of driving and vehemently push back.
When he is 19 and if he is around a group of young men who are discussing their experiences harassing and possibly taking advantage of the women in their lives, I absolutely want him to stand up, call them out, and take action.
I want him to be very intentional with the people he is choosing to surround himself. I want him to practice courage over comfort and not make choices so that his friends think he is cool.
And, here's the hard part. The desire to fit in, be liked and agree with the group is a deep primal desire. Saying no, raising your hands and confronting your friends is uncomfortable and hard. Being clear about what your values are and then living life according to those values takes awareness, practice and conscious effort. So, if I want my child to do so as he grows up, I need to stop telling him to do things because other people are doing so now.
Yes, I need to teach him things like the fact that he needs to eat his vegetables because they are good for his health because they will make him strong so that he can go on long hikes with mommy and try surfing and go on other adventures. Or that he needs to go to sleep on time, so he can be well rested for school.
I need to have more real, purposeful and age-appropriate conversations with him about these feelings. I need to give him permission to disagree, question the status quo and think for himself with what feels like the millions of choices and decisions we make every day. It means I need to be more creative, patient and empathetic while disciplining him and creating the boundaries for our family instead of simply asking him to walk in the footsteps of his friends.
More importantly, it also means that I need to be more mindful of why I want my next promotion at work and another pair of the newest yoga leggings. Is it because everyone around me wants to climb the corporate ladder or is it because it aligns with the what and why of my life? Am I going shopping because everyone else in my exercise class has cute leggings or is it because I enjoy dressing up for my exercise class for myself? It is tough. Sometimes I feel just as susceptible to peer pressure as these innocent children around me.
I need to have these tough conversations with myself and my almost 4-year-old more often than not. And even though it may seem that he is too young, the truth is—he is notices everything! He is always learning and watching and I know I need to constantly model how to make good choices and consistently explain why we make the choices we do.
I need to share my own stories of courage and also my stories of when I didn't have the courage to speak my truth. I need to ask him questions and create space for his answers. And even though he may not understand all of it right now, I am developing that skill bit by bit and hopefully giving him permission to find his own truths in life.