You learn things so quickly and imitate us so well, and I’m sorry to say that you pick up on not only the best of our behavior but also on the worst.
We need to be more careful to not get angry with you for the things that you have learned from us, because your five-year-old mind does not pick up on the nuanced bits of why our behavior is fine or funny and yours is not.
Just as your first efforts at hockey or tennis don’t look a thing like the skills of an adult, and just as your drawings and penmanship have yet to evolve, your implementations of justice, fairness, sharing, teasing, horseplay, and communication are the five-year-old version. Not the 10 year old version, and certainly not our thirty-two year old version or the sixty-plus year old versions of your grandparents.
A few months back you had done something to your brother and I was trying to explain to you why we don’t do the thing that you did, and you listened with impatience and then said “Okay mommy. And. Also. I really don’t care right now.” Before I could respond, your grandfather chimed in and sent you into a time-out and prohibited you from playing anymore. I, however, was not angry. The words that left your lips were my own. They were words that I had uttered to you in frustration when you had said the fiftieth “guess what?” when you needed to be getting dressed for school and wanted to be talking instead. Words uttered when I wanted to be calming down your newborn sister who was screaming because your two year old brother had hit her, and you wanted to be making another excuse for why you hadn’t put on your socks instead of just putting on your socks so that we could go to the appointment that we were already five minutes late for because your sister had a blow-out poop and while I was cleaning her up you and your brother decided to go wading in the dog’s water bowl. With your socks on.
I can’t blame you for words that you have heard others say to you. Especially if they are my own words. Five and a half is too young for me to expect you to fully understand context and to understand that my frustration is somehow more valid than yours.
Instead of being angry with you, I pulled you aside and I apologized. Words that I had said to you had just gotten you in trouble. Your grandfather recognized them as being disrespectful and while he would never dream of getting angry at me for using them with you, he was able to see that they were words you should not be using with me.
That is so unfair.
I don’t blame your grandfather, as those aren’t words that he used with you. I recognize them as my own. And I recognize them as words that I should not be using with you. Even if I have told you for the four thousandth time that you need to just wait until I finish something.. “I don’t care right now.” is rude. And I’m sorry.
I took you from time out and we walked over to your grandfather and I apologized to him for the example that I had set for you. I haven’t heard those words used again. And I have not used those words with you since.
You won’t learn about fairness through others being unfair to you while always insisting that you be fair to everyone else around you. You learn best from example. Both the good examples and the bad ones.
When we jokingly take the food from your plate because we eat faster than you do, you turn around and you take the food from your brother’s plate because he does not eat as quickly as you do. You are five. You do not understand that you eat more slowly than we do because you are jumping around and playing tic-tac-toe instead of eating, and your two year old brother simply eats more slowly than you do because he’s practicing with learning how to use a spoon and fork. We feel justified, and so do you. And neither of us are really being fair. But we are adults and we need to recognize the example that we set.. Just as we remind you to set a good example for your brother so that he won’t do the same things to your sister.
Everything that you are comes from some place. The bits that are hard-coded into your DNA, they come from us. The bits that you have picked up on from those around you, they are examples set that you simply learn from.
A “failure” in you, now, at five.. Is not a failure of you. It’s something that we have not yet been able to teach you. It is a failure of us. We are the adults. We are grown. We have no excuses left.
I need to remind myself every single day, that it is not fair for me to be angry at you for the things that we have not yet been able to teach you. Instead I need to watch you. I need to keep my calm. I need to try to find the little puzzle pieces that have to be put in place so that it can click for you.
First you learn to hold the pencil. Then you learn to make a mark. Then you learn to draw a line. Then you learn to draw a form. Then you learn to color in the shapes, then you learn to stay within the lines, then you learn to color uniformly. Then you learn to write, then you learn to spell, then you learn to craft a story.
As with all things, “behavior” is a learning process. I would not become annoyed with you for a crayon mark skidding off between the lines when you are just learning how to write.
I will not get annoyed with you for missing the mark of empathy, for confusing what is fair, for being overcome with want to the point of not being able to see another’s need.
I will understand that these moments are not “failures” of yours, or personality flaws. They are the things that we need to work on, the things that we need to help you understand. They are the colors outside of the lines, the tentative first attempts, the desire that overwhelms the amount of knowledge that you have at this point in time.
I will not think back to when something “clicked” for me as a child, because you have a different childhood than I did and different parents than I did. Different challenges, different skills, different learning experiences, and different examples. Instead I will look for how I can help those things click in you.
It’s not that you need to “be” better. It’s that you don’t know better because WE need to teach better. We need to understand that we can’t be angry at you for the things that we have not yet successfully taught. The things that you learn are the things that we teach. Both the good and the bad.
I can’t get angry at you when it is my own words that leave your lips. Just as I tell you when your little brother copies you.. I said it first, I was the example. It’s not fair for me to expect you to be better than me unless I’m better too.
We all need to try harder. Not just you.
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