Saturday, March 14, 2015

On Parenting the Stubborn (and Musical) Child

I had to meet with the RMO/P at post once, a few years back. (RMO/P is State Department speak for psychiatrist.)

The reason for the meeting was somewhat inconsequential. I needed somebody in the medical office to sign off on a form in order to update a medical clearance for one of the kids, and for some reason the RMO/P was deemed the person most qualified for the task.

I brought the kid in and the three of us talked for a couple of minutes before she dismissed the kid to the waiting room so we could figure out what to do with the form. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned that it was difficult sometimes, being a mom to four children, all of whom were stubborn, with independent streaks a mile wide. I speculated that perhaps it was genetic, and laughed that my husband said it came from my side of the family.

Well, she said, not laughing herself, that isn't genetics. That's a fault in your parenting.

A fault. In my parenting.

I still carry that scar with me. Whenever my kids argue, or talk back, I find myself remembering that phrase and wondering, what am I doing wrong? I see friends with children who are constantly saying yes, mommy, always aiming to please, and I admit I sometimes feel a small stab of jealousy when I see those people-pleasing kids.

Because my children are not people pleasers. They are mini debate specialists, always wanting to know why and how and isn't there a better way? This is incredibly frustrating when it's a simple matter of who needs to clear the table after dinner, or who takes the first bath at night. We all want to raise our kids to ask the big questions, to point out injustices in the world around them, to defend the underdog. But also? We want kids who respond to our own requests and demands without debate. Save the arguments for the classroom, kiddo, because in this house, I'd prefer to be the dictator.

I've only slowly come to terms with the fact that I don't have any people pleasers under my roof. And while that RMO/P may have been partly right when she said this had to do with my parenting style, I think it is also partly genetic. From the time they could crawl, my kids all crawled toward what they wanted to see, and no amount of distracting with shiny toys could get them to turn away from their goals.

I've decided to see this as a long-term positive, even though, in the short term, it is some times exasperatingly negative. Long term: I'm raising kids who think independently, who won't be swayed by what others think they should do, who set goals and pursue them. (Short term: gahhh! Why don't they set the goals I want for them? Why don't they just do what I say? Why??)

There are days, though, as they slowly mature, when the positive side of this stubborn streak shines through.

Kyra is my musical child. She loves singing and dancing and making noise of all kinds, much to her brothers' chagrin. When we moved here, I promised to sign her up for voice lessons, but months of searching for a teacher led nowhere. She was disappointed, but in the turmoil of everyday life, of making friends and memorizing her multiplication tables, she mostly forgot about my promise.

Then, about a month ago, she started talking about learning to play the violin. Bart has a violin - apparently he was quite a good violinist, back in high school - so we thought she could mess around with that one, but when we took it down off the shelf for her, we discovered that it had broken in the move from Baghdad to Moscow. I wasn't eager to buy a new one, nor did I have time to research violin teachers, so I sort of ignored her chatter about violins.

Until this week.

Apparently she decided not to wait around for her slacker parents to solve her problem for her. She came home from school on Wednesday and announced that she would be starting violin lessons on Friday. "I found a teacher," she said. "She lives here on the compound, so I knocked on her door and told her I want to take lessons. I'll be going every Friday at 5, so I need a violin the day after tomorrow."

And that was that. She even negotiated the price of the lessons. The future teacher emailed me to confirm that the plan was acceptable. ("In all my years of teaching, that was a first for me," she said. Apparently kids don't just knock on her door asking to study the violin.)

Now all that we needed was a violin. I emailed her classroom teacher, who emailed the music teacher, who emailed the school's strings coordinator, who called me directly to report that she would happily meet with Kyra and set her up with a properly sized rental violin before Friday.

And so it happened that my stubborn independent sparkly small daughter had her first violin lesson yesterday.

I can only hope that her stubborn determination to learn sticks with her for those first few difficult months of lessons, and on into the future, for every endeavor she undertakes.


Theresa Sondjo said... [Reply]

Oh, Donna, it sounds like you have wonderful children. We too wonder whether we are encouraging independence or a lack of respect, but at the end of the day, we've decided that we want to raise women who think first, then obey, and not the other way around.

And as someone who began playing the violin at a very young age, giving your daughter the gift of music is something that will stay with her for the rest of her life.

Talia & M.E. said... [Reply]

I have three of these children myself. It used to upset me when people said it was my parenting (yes - I had a doctor tell me that once as well), but now I view it as a great compliment (though I know it has less to do with parenting and more to do with trusting your child and knowing when to just get out of their way!). These independent minded children will leave an amazing mark on the world. And, you sound like an amazing mom! :-)

Geraldine Kiser said... [Reply]

Your kids sound a lot like mine! We have 4 daughters. The youngest is 29 today and the oldest is an FSO, which is how I found your blog. (Adventures in Good Countries is her blog.) All 6 of us are somewhat controlling and we butted heads a LOT during their growing up. Still and all, I would not trade them for any of the calm, complacent kids as I think it would get boring and I'd want to poke them to just get a reaction!

And I must ask, did that RMO/P have any children? If so, they must be the boring kind!!

Thanks for your blog. I enjoy it very much.

Dorothy Handelman said... [Reply]

I am in similar throes with my 3 and had many head butting moments when they challenged us daily. Not on the big issues of decency and caring- more along the lines where we did not agree on academic choices and an unwillingness to do organized sports. But now at the ages of 21, 18 and 16 I see what we do have are three independent thinkers who can make decisions, have loyal friends and are willing to work hard for what they want. I learned long ago that my kids are not here to make me happy- and it's the happiness I can take at seeing them become who they aspire to be that matters in the end.

Stephanie Sever said... [Reply]

The story about your daughter is awesome, and you must be very proud. I love her independence! A fault in your parenting, ha!

Please. Write your own stuff.