The oldest child is the experiment kid. We don’t know what we are doing, and every new developmental milestone is another exercise is rookie parenting. My oldest child is an 8 year old boy named Henry. Over the last six months I have been caught off guard several times with behavior or comments coming from this 8 year old man boy. What the heck? Where did my little boy go? I’m looking for the boy who let me dress him in coordinated outfits, cuddle on the couch reading with me, and happily hold my hand in public. That boy is grown and gone. I am so fortunate when I get little snippets of those days through an impromptu cuddle or hand grab. When those moments come I soak them up like a dry sponge. My little 8 year old dude still has a sweet spot for his mommy (now known only as “Mom”).
Times are changing mamas, and we could reminisce on days gone by all day long, but what about the present? How do we embrace this new little man in our homes? How do I appreciate what and who he is growing into? How do I bring out the best in him? How do I change to accommodate and encourage this new development? Moms, I don’t have all the answers. I am in this journey with you. Let’s lean in together and figure out this new adventure of parenting an 8 year old dude.
Step 1: Allow him to make more of his own decisions.
I never realized just how few decisions I was letting Henry make until he started complaining about always being “bossed around.” At first I just thought he was being a defiant punk, and I was getting really sick of hearing “No!” in response to a simple, “Please get your shoes and socks on.” We talked about respecting authority and following directions. He still kept complaining about being “bossed around.” It was only after a frustrated rant by me that a tearful conversation came out revealing how powerless and frustrated Henry felt. I realized to my own horror that my decisive, organized, activator approach to life was crushing the spirit of my son. My heart hurt for him, and as I cuddled and dried the tears of this sweet dude I vowed to let go of some control and loosen up my expectations.
The simplest first step was letting him choose his own clothes. Yes, he looks like a Smurf sometimes dressed head to toe in all blue. Also, the “cute” clothes stay at the bottom of the dresser drawer possibly only to be seen again in family pictures. (As if any of our kids actually dress like that!) The sweet side effect of this simple change is how quickly he gets dressed. Henry comes out feeling good and sometimes even strutting when he thinks he looks awesome. Oh! My sweet boy, please forgive me for holding you back.
We are still in the trial and error stage of increased decision making. Honestly, it is really hard for this control freak mom to back off and think of decisions for him to make. Last week, Henry surprised me by making his own lunch and heating up leftovers in the microwave instead of making himself the usual peanut butter sandwich. I was shocked. He taught himself how to use the microwave. He even grabbed carrots to go with his leftovers. Who is this guy?
Step 2: Let him direct the conversations and hear what he is truly excited about.
This sounds like a no brainer, right? Pretty basic “Good Parenting 101”- but how many times can I be asked who is my favorite Jedi? How many times do we look up Nerf guns on Amazon? How many made up knock knock jokes can one endure? Mamas, it is laying the foundation. I want my son to be able to talk to me about important stuff. The non-important stuff helps lay the foundation of conversation, being heard, and trust that I care what he has to say. When I have shown Henry that he is worth listening to, I see a great increase in his willingness to listen to what I have to say.
This step is hard to practice on a daily basis with 3 kids. They all want to be heard. They all want an audience. They all have different things they want to talk about. We are still working on group conversations in our house. The kids tend to think the loudest one gets heard. Dinner time can get crazy! As a mom, I have to purposely make sure to have conversations with each of my kids individually. You’d be surprised how hard this can be, but great is the reward! I see a dramatic change in my 8 year old dude’s attitude around the house when he has been able to express himself and has been heard by his mama.
Step 3: Allow him to get some alone time and let him choose how to use it.
My 8 year old dude’s interests include Legos, Star Wars, and reading about Legos and Star Wars. He’s a natural introvert, but does enjoy hanging out with friends and swimming on a swim team. When he has had his fill of people or activity he will retreat into a book, go to his room to play Legos by himself, or beg me to let him zone out in front of the TV. He never articulated his need for a break, and I was slow to realize it. I’d see a break in the action as an opportunity to run an errand, or to kick the kids outside until dinnertime. Henry would react by throwing a fit and move as slow as possible to accommodate my desire to leave the house. It was not a fun time. This step was such a revelation for me because I only thought of myself as a mom needing a break. As Henry has gotten older, he needs time to decompress and choose his own way to do it.
This step is another area that “needs improvement” in our home. The problem is a tag along 4 year old brother who both shares a room with Henry and loves to be messing with anything Henry is playing. Oftentimes I have ended up forcing sharing and denied Henry the ability to be alone. The fruit of this has been a worse sibling relationship, and constant whining for his own room. As I write this post I realize the need to figure out a workable solution. I don’t want to honor selfishness, but I also don’t want to turn a great kid into a punk because I am not honoring his need for downtime.
Moms, our littles are quickly growing up. Let’s take these steps together to love and nurture the dudes or gals in our homes. The trial and error of figuring this stuff out is exhausting, but so worth the effort. Let’s lean in and commit to be life long learners as parents. I don’t want to go into autopilot. We love these littles too much to check out early.