Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Don't tell dad

A guest post on Owning Pink

My five year-old got off the bus visibly upset yesterday. Instead of giving me her usual run-off-the-bus-all smiles-and-giving-me-a-bear-hug, she stomped past me avoiding eye contact and headed straight for the house. When I asked her what was bothering her, she blurted out, “________ cut my hair in art class!” 
Keeping my cool
I’ve braced myself for this moment -- the first time my child would tell me something shocking. I know I am suppose to keep a straight face, don’t judge, ask open-ended questions, stay calm, be caring and concerned -- but support her in solving her own problems. The dilemma was that none of this was working. She had completely shut down and refused to talk to me about it. The only information I got was that she didn’t tell anyone at school and she didn’t tell the boy to stop. Then she said something I really wasn’t expecting: “Don’t tell dad.” I knew this day would come -- when I was asked to keep a secret from my husband, like her first crush, buying her first bra, or wearing lipstick -- but I did not expected it at the age of five. 
Fortunately, she has dance right after school. Most parents have luck talking to their kids while in the car, right? They aren’t distracted, and you can’t make eye contact -- this is where is where it is all supposed to all hang out, right? WRONG! I got nothing again. I let her know that I was so glad that she told me, that I loved her no matter what… but I wanted to talk about how she could have handled the situation differently (being firm with the hair cutter and telling the teacher). Nope, she wasn’t having it! I tried to address the safety issue of the scissors and that she has every right and absolutely should protect her body. All I got was, “Stop taking about it mom!”  At this point I was less concerned about the hair cutting itself and more concerned at her reaction and withdrawal. This is not the child I know.
What other moms would do
My daughter’s dance class is over an hour long and when I am not feeling particularly inspired to go to the gym, I stay and talk with my friends. Today, I needed their advice (a perfect excuse not to work out). When I tell my two friends the story, one immediately blurts out, “My husband would be up at the school in a hot second.” The second one said, “This is a safety issue and it needs to be handled.” (I have great firecracker friends that always have my back!)
After their knee-jerk reaction, they deeply listened to me and realized that I had a trust issue here. I want my children to feel comfortable telling me ANYTHING.  I don’t want my daughter to feel like she can’t come to me without me immediately reacting and calling the school. I want to be the “go to”, and a positive guide in the right direction, but not THE problem solver. If I felt like my child or another child was in danger, then that is very black and white. I would tell. This situation was a grey area for me -- and one that I felt was a test for the future.    
I completed this conversation deciding that I would try one more time on the car ride home to encourage my daughter to tell her daddy and grant me permission to email her teacher. If she refused again, I would leave it alone. Trust trumps the need to inform in this case. My friends still disagreed with my decision, and came to their own conclusions that if this were their kid they would call the school. Being the open minded and non-judgmental gals they are, they tell me to trust my gut and that I know my kid best. 
One more attempt
I decide to try one more time in the car on the way home from dance to talk to my daughter. I attempt to convince her to tell her daddy -- because he would want to know, and to grant me permission to email her teacher -- because she needs to protect the other kids. Bingo! I suppose the endorphins of exercise are a natural mood lifter. She was much more “available”, verbal and clearheaded about what we should do, and what she can do in the future if someone else is invading her body or space. I feel much better that we were able to talk, and that we have a plan. But most importantly, I kept her confidence. I bet she will come to me next time she needs to talk without the fear of me getting all hot and bothered and reacting without her consent.
I do, however, hold strong that I would have stuck with my original decision to do nothing if this is what she ultimately wanted. 
What would you have done? How have you handled the balance between the desire to protect your child and the need to gain their trust?


  1. Oh, Heather, I feel your inner fight! And also, your BINGO!!! when she was more open finally. With my daughters being older (11,5 & 13,5) I have faced some similar situations and I agree with you! The first time "I buried it". I was fortunate enough because it didn't involve not even a hint of security... but I thought it was more important that the first lesson would be "I'm here"! Sometimes we, parents, try to give all lessons in one hour... me included. When I'm calm enough to step back and see the picture from the children's point I understand that this can be done in another way... One step at a time... One lesson per day or per problem... For us it's more complicated, for them, not. However, after a day or two, when the "dust settled", I made a review with them... focusing mostly on "your father is really close to you and would be happy to know about it... I'm sure he would have some great ideas... because he's the one who is helping ME when I have some problem...etc."
    It's getting longer than your post itself, I'm sorry...
    Send you love!!!

  2. Heather's SisterFebruary 3, 2011 at 10:57 PM

    Brilliant sistah! Beautiful story. Thanks! :)