“Catch your child being good,” the experts all say. “Tell them when they did something well.”
Great advice. But how often do we as parents catch ourselves being good? And how often do we actually take time to savor a good moment between us and our not-always adorable children?
It’s hard to remember, to be honest, especially when your child acts out, is defiant, won’t do chores, or yells at you in front of your summer guests as your ferry boat docks on the most populated island in Maine. (Check, check, check, and check.)
But recently my 6-year-old son and I had a near-perfect day. You see, I’d been promising to take Alex to the local water park since, er, last summer, (yes, I know, bad mom). And if that wasn’t enough, we also do a variation of the good behavior chart called the marble jar, and he had saved up enough marbles over the summer to warrant a trip to Splashtown. I knew I had to make good on the deal before school started or lose some serious credibility in the always-keep-your-promises department.
We set off with sunblock and flip flops in hand one afternoon last week and I have to admit that I went with less-than a great attitude — it really was a trip I made out of duty more than anything else. But here’s the thing: it turned into one of those golden moments — you know, the kind of day when everything goes right, when you don’t argue with your child at all, and they actually give you hugs for no reason. To parents of adolescents, let me say that I am under no illusions about this — I know that these elementary school years are short and sweet, and that parents need to absorb every ounce of love and affection they can get in order to survive the crazy, hormone-sloshing ride that is puberty.
In fact, to really underline this fact, I had a conversation with my friend (also the parent of a twelve-year-old) right before we left for the water park.
“Jack’s not talking to me,” she said with a sigh. “He wouldn’t do his chores so I took his iPod away. Now he won’t even look at me. Enjoy every minute with your 6 year old — it goes fast.”
With her wise words in mind, we left for the park. And it really was a magical day, full of big, toothy kid grins and spontaneous hugs from my son. Moms of teenagers looked at us wistfully and smiled in recognition. I smiled back, nodding — I know what’s in store, I wanted to say, but for right now, my 6 year old thinks I’m the best thing since snow cones, and I’m going to soak up every last drop of affection.
As we pulled out of the parking lot at the end of the day, a sleepy voice piped up from the back seat — and I got one of the best unsolicited compliments from my son ever: “Thanks for taking me to the water park, Mommy. You’re the best mommy in the world!”
My son had the wisdom to catch me being good. And you know what? It felt like heaven.
About Elisabeth Wilkins
Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.