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Let Them Be Children
Ever have one of those moments when you let a word or phrase slip and suddenly realize your child is in the room and heard it loud and clear? Depending on the level of comfort in your household that word could be rated “Tame” on a swear word scale (they exist, Google “swear word scale”) or perhaps “Harsh”. At any rate, make a mental note of this moment for when your child lets one of their own slip and you are wondering where they heard it. From here I guess the process is pretty simple and commonplace. You explain that those words are not nice and should not be used and that sometimes Mom and/or Dad say them without meaning to. We then spend a few days trying hard to not let the almighty F-bomb slip. There are some items involving our children that we can fix/adjust/curb with a simple sit-down, chat, discussion, explanation, pictographs (for super-involved parents), etc. But what about those rare curve balls they throw at us. Those sometimes more bizarre, quirky, or serious experiences we may hear or think about but don’t always have an immediately prepared response for. In the article, “10 Things I’ve Learned With A Hidden Disorder” (https://capebreton.lokol.me/10-things-ive-learned-with-a-hidden-disorder) I briefly mentioned how strong my children were as it relates to coping and processing my disorder. I also mentioned how we could learn so much by observing them. Well, I recently failed in my observation of my youngest which is the inspiration for this article which I hope will help myself as well as possibly others should they be faced with a similar situation. You see, this past year our youngest has, from time to time, expressed her desire to stay home from school which I’m sure is fairly common for most parents of school aged children. Upon questioning, she stated that she missed me and wanted to keep me company at home. In response, I explained that I would miss her as well but her cats would keep me company while I was busy doing work at home. Reluctantly satisfied, she would proceed to get ready for school and we would make our way to the bus stop until her school day ended and we met again where we parted earlier that morning. This wasn’t a morning routine, simply a rare occurrence until about two weeks ago when she started waking at nights due to bad dreams. To help comfort her, my Wife or I would cuddle her in our bed until she felt strong enough to go back to her bedroom or she simply spent the night in the “big bed” with the odd camp out for me on her bedroom floor to make her feel less threatened by whatever her dream happened to be that night. At about the same time, and upon reflection as I sit here, she seemed to be requesting to stay home more often even though a pattern of snow storms and weather systems resulted in an epidemic of storm days home from school. I now realize that she had been a little more aggressive in her sales pitch to have me accompany her to dance practice or to wherever she was heading if I was planning holding down the fort at home. It’s easier to put these all together now but at the time it was somewhat easy to dismiss them individually. That was until a few days ago when she began to show signs of cracking. By cracking I mean that expression most kids get when they are emotional and are fighting back tears. Upon questioning her during these moments she would throw up a smokescreen by saying somebody had made fun of her at school, or she was over-tired, or some other creative excuse to divert our attention away. This tactic worked for her for a little while but my Wife eventually became suspicious and pushed a little harder during one of these moments while returning home from dance practice one evening. Upon their arrival home, they were cuddled together on the sofa when I was informed that they needed to talk to me about something. Now, I probably don’t have to tell you that, as a Dad, when your Wife and Daughter give you that “we need to talk” line, it can cause your heart to stop for a moment and brain suddenly adopts the fetal position. These days of wanting to stay home “because she misses me”, the bad dreams, the desire to have me accompany on her outings, and “bullygate” (fake stories of bullies as diversionary tactics) were actually all related. But why did they need to talk to me about it other than the fact that I am her Dad and would certainly have a vested interest in the well-being of my little girl? Turns out that each emotional branch stemmed from the same tree. The dreams, missing me, wanting me to tag along, and bad kids from school were all branches that were rooted together in dark hole where she feared something would happen to me. She did not want me to be alone because she worried something would happen to me during an episode so she did what kids to best, they get creative about ways to stay home or keep me with her. There it was, my little girl whom I pledged to myself to protect from every evil the world has to offer. My little warrior who, during my episodes, offers me back rubs, holds my hand, hands me fresh water, plays air guitar with me, crying because she is worried about me. I was dumbfounded. I looked at my Wife, I looked at my Daughter. I did not have a rapid reply for this one. There was no simple reply that could fix this, at least not that I could come up with at that very moment. I reached for her, pulled her close, and hugged her. After a hearty hug I looked her in the eye, wiped her tears, and did my best to honestly explain to her that I would never risk something happening and that if I thought I could be hurt that her Mom was always there for me and I swore I would not be stubborn and would call if I needed help. It was the best I could come with and if not for her Mom I may not have been able to process what was happening fast enough to even come up with that. A few pinky-swears later and we had a deal in place where I would promise to call for help if I felt I needed it and in exchange, her Mom and I wanted her to focus more on being the beautiful little 9 year old she is. To live her childhood, dance and sing until her heart is content, and to try to be up front with us about her true feelings rather than trying to protect us. A deal I never thought we would be making with a 9 year old who apparently has a 65 year old soul living inside of her. As Parents we are told it is our job to protect and teach our children and I agree. But we also need to learn how to listen to our children, even when the communication is shrouded in code. Talk to your children regularly and you will know by the sound and tone of their voice when something is not quite right. We expect so much from our children, it’s only fair that we show them the courtesy of meeting them half-way and treat them with the respect, compassion, and honesty we expect and, at times, demand from them. As with the opening of this article and how it relates to the message, I will be more mindful of my words, physical state, and even my outward facial appearance and emotional projection. For the benefit of my loved ones, the more positive the better. A child should want to be out playing, learning, and growing. Not wanting to be rooted at home for fear of something that will likely never come. I feel my biggest personal lesson here was that in spite of how strong, grounded they might be, how developed their coping and processing skills may be, they are still kids. It’s okay to treat them as mature young adults but Mommy and Daddy are still the foundation of their physical and emotional life shelter. If they sense a crack in that foundation for any reason, it can affect them in ways that can be hard to see so one should always be aware of how we project ourselves and of how those projections may be interpreted and processed by our little ones. I can’t stress enough (although I’m by no means an expert) that communication with our children is key to ensuring a strong bond, a safe link, an honest dialogue, and a healthy soul. Not just for our children, but for us as well.
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