i recently became painfully aware of a huge flaw in my parenting that i want to share with you.
after the election in iran and the ensuing violence, rudi, ella, and i participated in not one but two marches in nashville in support of the persian people. we wore green, we carried signs, we even learned a couple of phrases in farsi that we could chant with the iranians as we marched.
we marched because we wanted to stand in solidarity with those who fight (still) so bravely for their right to assemble peacefully, for the right to speak and associate freely, to petition their government for redress of their grievances.
not long after the second march, ella got upset about something--i can't even remember what it was now. she was complaining about it, trying to persuade me to her way of thinking, and when she wasn't getting her way she started crying and saying all the things that a child says--"it's not fair, all i want is _____", and "you're not even listening to me"--that kind of thing.
this went on for about five minutes, and finally i was so tired of it that i said, "that's enough. we're not going to talk about this anymore. if you want to cry about it, fine, but you can't do it here, you can go in the other room. but i don't want to hear you, and i don't want to hear any more about this."
and bless her heart, she dutifully (as always) went into the other room to find some comfort among her brothers and sisters, and then IT HIT ME:
i had just suppressed my own child's first amendment rights.
<insert sound of record scratching to a halt>
i stopped what i was doing that very moment, went to ella, and asked for a moment of her time--i have found if i do that, she is more willing to give me her attention. and then i said, (this is a paraphrase), "ella, i was wrong to tell you that you couldn't talk about what was bothering you, and i'm sorry i did that. you have the right to talk about anything that is bothering you, and you have the right to discuss your concerns with me. the only requirement is that we must speak to each other with respect. as long as we can do that, we can always work things out."
and you know what? we talked, and worked it out, and the whole episode was over in minutes.
i am so glad i didn't stubbornly cling to my "authority". i feel that admitting my mistake in judgement actually improved my credibility with ella in terms of the lessons i try to teach about honesty and humility. i know that it improved our communication. and just as importantly, the simple act of swallowing my pride worked wonders for my self-respect.
there are have been so many other fruits of that moment. letting ella discuss and even negotiate with me gives her the chance to practice her skills in persuasion, lets her have a chance to convince me of the rightness of her argument. it gives her the opportunity to refine her logic, to figure out new strategies and to try new tactics. already she is becoming a better thinker, because she is now considering in advance what might appeal to my sense of justice and/or mercy, and sometimes my sense of humor.
i have no doubt that i will have to repeat this lesson again and again--oh, the context will change, but the issue will be the same--my pride is such that any enlightenment on my part tends to happen retroactively. but i know that in the end i will advance in character and wisdom, because i have never had a teacher like ella, i have never had a classroom like motherhood, and i've never been more motivated to learn.