Jacob has a book that he loves, called Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? It introduces children to all different animal sounds (each animal in the book has a button that when you push it, it makes that animal’s sound). Whenever he’s on his potty, he asks us to read it and as we get to the part where you’re supposed to push the button, he does it and he loves it! Well, the ‘walrus’ button doesn’t work – never has – I guess we just got a defective book. (I’ve tried to pry open the panel to fix it, but it’s not something I can do without breaking the rest of the buttons…) Every time we get to the walrus button, he says: “Walrus button work!” I tell him that the walrus button is broken. Then he repeats it: “Walrus button broken!” He likes to repeat this at random points during the day. Sometimes, we’re at the park and out of the clear blue he looks up at me and says: “Walrus button work!” I then tell him: “No, the walrus button is broken, pal.” Then he says: “Walrus button broken!” To which I reply: “Yeah buddy. It’s broken.”
The other day, he looked up at me and said: “Walrus button broken!” I replied: “Yeah buddy, the walrus button is broken” Then he shot back: “Daddy, fix it!” Me: “I tried, bud, but it’s broken and I can’t fix it.” Him: “Daddy, fix it!”
I told him again that I couldn’t and changed the subject. I know this is only about a silly button on a book, but it brought up something deeper.
It’s something that virtually every parent goes through. The guttural urge to coddle and protect and help your child when they need it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken with parents about how we would gladly take our children’s pain away and feel it for them in order to spare them any and all discomfort.
But to what end?
The trials and tribulations of life are what mold us into the people we become. If everything is always easy and handed to us without effort, we become spoiled, soft and ultimately ill-prepared for any challenges in life. In the face of any difficulty we crumple instead of rising to the occasion and overcoming the obstacle, or we turn to drugs or alcohol to escape. We’ve all witnessed it – whether in the tabloids or someone we know personally.
This may be old hat to some, and to some extent I’ve always known it, but it’s now totally solidified: the easiest way to raise an entitled, lazy, and spoiled child is to do everything for them. To shield them from everything. Ironically, the easiest way to do a disservice to your child is by doing something that you’re programmed to do: protect your child. Crazy, right? Obviously, I’m not talking about the extreme circumstances – I’m talking about letting them struggle to achieve their goals without stepping in and showing them the way.
Being a good parent is about letting them struggle, and cheering them on as they try. That’s the only way that they truly get to learn.
“Daddy, fix it!”
It led me to something else, too. As much as I want to, sometimes, there’s simply nothing that daddy can do to fix it. Broken heart, death of a pet, or, well, anything beyond repair. The only thing I’ll be able to do is comfort my son and be there for him as he learns to grieve, or get over the loss, or get back up and try again.
Sometimes, things are broken, and that’s important for kids to know – it teaches them the fragile nature of things. It teaches them to appreciate the things and people in their life because they may not always be there.
I know, it’s just a stupid button on a children’s book.
But one day, it will be something else. And no matter what it is, I’ll be there to comfort, console and guide him as best as I can while he figures things out for himself.
Or if I can, I’ll show him how to fix it himself.