Life Lessons · Mamahood · parenting

The Tale of a Broken Shirt

Our kids are known to be on the slender side compared to other kids their age. In fact, there was a time where I would still buy my then 5 year old daughter, RyRy, clothes from the toddler section and she would be able to use it for a very long time which didn’t cost us as much as a typical family would spend on clothing. But things have changed. Now, both our kids are catching up on their growth and we often find ourselves buying more clothes than before.

Several days ago, in the middle of a quiet week, we decided to get them both new shirts as the stores had incredibly good deals. As I hit the sale rack in Old Navy, I saw this cute blue dinosaur shirt for my son, Miguel. I knew instantly that he would love this because he’s very much into this type of reptiles and I can already picture him wearing this on our upcoming trip to the museum. He’d definitely look cool! But I guess I wasn’t the only one who’s excited. We got home, unpacked the bags then Miguel, with much hysteria, quickly reached for the scissors and being his mom, I kind of anticipated what his next move is.

Mike would always refer Miguel as, “too smart for his own good.” Knowing he just wanted to act independently,  the moment he cut the price tag from the clothing, he also punctured the shirt making a small hole just above the shoulders.

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We were given three ways to react from this accident:

  1. Yell at him and put so much weight on his action;
  2. Avoid stress, replace the item; or
  3. Let him live with his choices

Yell at him and put so much weight on his action would probably be the easiest. After all, this wasn’t the first time Miguel did something like this. He has had quite a fascination for scissors and there had been a lot of moments where we would find him cutting his own hair or the locks of his sister’s Barbie dolls no matter how much we tell him not to. Last year, we had a similar incident when he got very curious about the small package delivered for me and without hesitations, he cut through the plastic envelop that caused a rip on my new shirt.

We know for a fact that the boy has issues with authority. Nevertheless, we didn’t choose to shout to puncture his feelings too. Honestly, it’s pretty tempting to nag and order his dad to give him a spank but that won’t bring the shirt back to its original condition either. The moment he realized what he did was not as cool as his new shirt, I saw him frown and felt that he too was disappointed by his own actions. He hugged me as if asking, what am I going to do now, mommy? That guilt was good because I know my son was aware of what he did.

But just like all the other kids his age, Miguel is still innocent about the repercussions of his behavior and most of the time, parents, including me, let simple issues like this slip to avoid stress. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for “don’t sweat the small stuff” too, after all it’s just a shirt. Charlotte Mason said in her book, Home Education, “Deal with a child on his first offence and a grieved look is enough to convict the little transgressor; but let him go on until a habit of wrong-doing is formed, and the cure is a slow one. To laugh at ugly tempers and let them pass because the child is small, is to sow the wind.” It’s exactly what keeps me up at night— we let children get off the hook easily nowadays.

It also became clear to me that there is truth about what Linda Åkeson McGurk said in her book, There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather, “our attitudes about parenting are thoroughly steeped in cultural norms, and our children in a way become an extension of ourselves.” By nature, Filipinos hate confrontations. We have a tendency to sweep problems under the rug. We yield to convenience rather than solving the real issue because we think simple problems as such won’t matter in the future. And since reasoning with a child takes up so much time, distracted parents would often result to simply replace the item.

At one point, I thought Miguel can no longer use the shirt. Who would want to wear a distasteful ripped shirt in public anyways? I was so tempted to just get another one knowing that it wasn’t even that expensive and there’s more available at the store. But also, I realized that the value of the shirt is the same as the 5 kilos of rice I buy for us. And if I dispose of it, I would be hurting nature even more. So the question remains, what do I do?

You can’t stay away from stress when you’re a parent. Having kids is consuming not just physically but also mentally and emotionally. You can’t replace every single item they break or they will never grasp the meaning of life. In the same way, you can’t just hand them an iPad to pacify them every time your life gets crazy or they will never learn respect. We owe our children explanation. We owe them the discipline they need most especially in their thriving years.

So far I haven’t yelled. No spanking deemed necessary. Although tempted, I did not buy a replacement. Instead, I told my son I can sew up the hole but it will not look the same anymore. A scar will remain to remind him that he has to be more careful next time.

Our kids, they need to live with their choices. Although a parent’s heart would rather say otherwise, we don’t need to solve our children’s problems all the time. Too much hovering will eventually disable them from being their own person. They need to learn that every action has a corresponding consequence. McGurk explained in her book the theory called Zone of Proximal Development by the Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, saying, “by giving children space, adults allow them to develop self-esteem and to learn to solve their own problems.” In Sweden, they call this concept as raising a competent child. An example where you either view children as empty containers, waiting to be filled by adults through teaching, or you believe that they have the innate capability to learn together with others.

In our house, a perfect example would be the many times that I say the word “don’t” or “no” in a day (someone should start inventing a NO counter so we’d be more aware!). I got so tired already from these phrases that I started following every parenting book I read which tells you to stop saying NO (unless of course if the matter is life and death). My two kids would fight all the time and no matter how much I prevent them from hurting each other, they won’t just stop. So I tested the theory and I made them stay in one room to resolve their issues. Five minutes later, I heard laughters and of course toys being spilled from the box. Just like that, there’s peace and harmony once again.

We need to become enablers. We need to raise kids who can solve problems and not become a part of it.

This morning I sewed up Miguel’s shirt in front of him and it amazed me that he’s still as excited as the first time that he saw the shirt. He can’t stop asking me if I already washed it and had already plans on when he’s going to wear it. I can’t help but think that what if I responded differently? What if he got a handful of scolding and a spank? Or what if I bought him a new one? Would he feel the same way?

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