To Be Firm or Flexible

Your lips say “no,” but your eyes say “yes”

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Hold fast or maintain flexibility. Command and demand or provide choices. These are some of the directions a parent in today's world faces. Case in point: Today's blog is supposed to be about something altogether different than what I am writing. I was going to tell you all about my boys and our local bookstores, and instead I am sharing why that's not going to happen.

My two sons and I were planning to venture out and visit the few remaining Indianapolis bookstores. We would enter through doors to peruse books rather than type in passwords to gain access to them. Sounds fun, doesn't it? As a kid, I liked nothing more than entering into a room filled with potential good reads. And when I was a girl growing up in Indianapolis, we went to the library exclusively. (And, no, we didn't walk five miles in the snow to get to my one-room schoolhouse.) I really don't remember any brightly painted cavernous spaces lined with books - especially with entire areas devoted to me and only me, the young reader.

It seems that so much of what we do, plan and execute revolves around our children. That can be just fine, but what does a parent do when the kids don't want to follow the parent's agenda? More specifically, how much does a parent push the child to have an encounter with a new artistic experience when all the he wants to do is say no?

In the March 31st Sunday New York Times, Frank Bruni wrote a fantastic article on modern parenting. Granted it was nothing new or monumental in what he proposed. It was simply a common sense approach from a person sans kids but who "maybe has a valuable distance and objectivity as a result." Bruni addresses lots of modern parenting topics, one of which is that once upon a time parenting wasn't even a proper verb or gerund. But what struck home was the idea that today's parents often surrender control when they shouldn't. We often throw away the rules, replacing them with requests.

So when I asked my boys to accompany me to two or three bookstores and was meant with whining "no's" worthy of calling a "waaa"bulence (thank you, Modern Family), what do you think I should have done? Said "nuff," and thrown them in the car, burning rubber all the way to Big Hat Books? Once we entered the temple of hardbacks, they would have been fine, probably even putting up a fight when it was time to leave. Plus, I would have watched my children interact with books, magazines, store owners, and you, my reader, would be reading something entirely different at this moment. Or should I have done what I did? Requested their presence, had them decline and gone back to folding their laundry? I think you know in which direction I'm leaning.

My enthusiastic and hopeful invitations to attend or participate in artistic endeavors have frequently been met with the same deflated response from my kids. When my kids say no to the arts, when do I decide that our family will say yes? There is no easy answer. I can compare it to taking my children's pulse. I just have to constantly gage where they are and what I think they need, and take it from there. Sometime it's okay for my oldest to decline an invitation to a performance or for my youngest to lay down his mandolin and take a break from weekly music lessons. But sometimes it's best for my sons to go ahead with a lesson or visit to the theater anyway. I will listen to them, but they will learn the same courtesy of listening to me. After all, the arts are about finding your voice, isn't it?

Even though my kids' declaration might not be what I want to hear, it's their pulse they themselves are listening to. And as my family navigates as individuals what artistic mediums and experiences inspire him, as a parent I sometimes just have to keep my mouth shut. As artist Mark Rothko said, "Silence is so accurate." And that will probably continue to be a sometimes-battle when it comes to involving my kids in anything I believe will open their hearts, heads and imaginations. I hope to get better at when and how and why I arrive at my "yes" when it comes to their "no."

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