Among many things, he is funny, athletic, creative, and brave. He could dribble a soccer ball as soon as he could walk, and at seven, he can easily throw a football 25 yards in a perfect spiral. He blows through his math work and has better handwriting than his almost-10-year-old sister. He has always been obsessed with his art being just right before he could move on to anything else. His agility and athleticism are matched only by his fearlessness to test his physical limits. He is sweet, affectionate, and adores his baby brother more than any of us. He lights up my world.
He is also a 7-year-old boy.
He runs when he should be walking, talks out of turn, and laughs about bodily functions. He fidgets just about anytime he is sitting, fights with his brother, and hates to lose. He gets hangry at times and goes wild when he’s tired. He doesn’t make his bed, leaves his clothes on the floor next to the hamper, and doesn’t mind the table manners I promise I taught him.
He’s just a little boy, and I don’t expect him to be anything else.
Not too long ago my husband, Jeremy, chaperoned our son’s school field trip to the zoo. At the beginning of the day, as adults were being assigned students to accompany, the teacher called out, “Mr. Unthank, you will have your son and John (not his real name).” Before Jeremy had the chance to step forward, another parent snickered and said to him, “Oh boy, you’ve got double trouble!” My dear, sweet husband put on his pastor hat and smiled rather than decking the woman as he would have liked, a remarkable skill your pastor has undoubtedly mastered as well. (Tricks of the trade!)
But I admit that in the part of my brain that battles constant mommy guilt and comparison games, it begs the question: is my kid really that bad??
As parents, we all want our kids to be the good ones. We want teachers to like them, coaches to play them, friends to include them, other parents to admire them. Of course we do. But is this for their benefit or ours? Certainly there is much to be said for favor and opportunity, and many things in life will come easier for those who display virtue early on. However, is it possible we are more concerned with how our children’s behavior reflects on us as parents? Do our own egos and expectations deprive kids of the right to just be kids?
I tell my son every single day to brush his teeth, both morning and night. In seven years, I don’t think he has EVER brushed his teeth without being reminded. Do I worry that one day his teeth will rot out of his head because, without me there to remind him, his adult self never brushes his teeth again? Of course not! He is seven, and he is learning these things. I have to remind him a zillion times because it’s not important to him now, but over time, he will learn. One day he will brush his teeth all on his own, and he will even remind his own children a zillion times to brush their teeth too. It’s the great circle of life.
Rather than treating my 2nd grader like some kind of miscreant because he does not value oral hygiene…or table manners…or my mental health…well anyway, it is my job to simply guide him through this stage of life and help him become a decent, functioning adult in the future. It’s a process, and to treat it like a destination does a disservice both to him and to me. To suggest that my 7-year-old son and his 7-year-old friend are “double trouble” simply because they are both active, average, 7-year-old boys is not fair to them, and it might just get you a mental throat punch from a smiling, pastor dad.
As it turns out, Jeremy had a great time at the zoo that day. He let them choose which exhibits they wanted to see, and he let them take their time getting there so they could parkour around benches and decorative boulders. They didn’t bother reading the informational placards but rather mimicked the sounds and behavior of each animal they observed. Jeremy pointed out the dung of all the creatures to keep the boys laughing. When they got to the playground area, he kicked back and let them go wild instead of rushing them through so they could see everything. By allowing kids to experience the zoo on their own terms rather than getting caught up in someone else’s expectations, both Jeremy and the children in his charge had a much more relaxed, enjoyable field trip that was anything but “trouble.”