Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Rules

Since Gareth was old enough to realize that his Dad didn't live near him, we've been having variations of this conversation:
G:    Mommy, why doesn't daddy live with us?
Me:  Because your daddy broke a grown-up rule and now he has to live in time-out.
G:    Why did daddy break a grown-up rule?
Me:  I don't know honey.

Sometimes G presses to know which grown-up rule that Cliff broke, but I've been deftly avoiding that one.  How would YOU suggest to tell your small child about sexual assault of a child?  Also, please temper that answer with the knowledge that you can't be accused of trying to turn your child against his father, even if you're telling him about a crime his father CONFESSED TO.

But last week, G asked me another question that I was wholly unprepared for:

G:    Mommy?  Are you and daddy married?

I don't know who he's talking about marriage with.  It's not something I've brought up, though we may have talked a little bit about it during the closing scenes of Despicable Me 2.  (Spoiler Alert: Gru gets married.)  Wherever this new word came from, though, now we're having conversations about it and it's really hard.  How do I talk to him honestly about why his dad and I are no longer together?  How do I talk about infidelity to a 4 yr old?  

And then, to my grief, the conversations MERGED:

G:    Mommy?  Why aren't you and daddy married?
Me:  Well honey, you know that grown-up rule your daddy broke that means he has to live in time
         out?  The rule he broke hurt me too.  
G:    He broke a married-people rule?
Me:  .....Yes.  He broke a married-people rule. 

So now we're talking about married-people rules, and I've managed to make divorce sound like a really cut-and-dry "Your daddy kissed another person and that's against the rules so now we're not married."  As if that even gets close to the heart of why our marriage died.  As if that even gets close to the heart of how marriages work or don't work.  I've boiled marriage covenant down to rules we're supposed to follow and I feel like a parenting failure.

Really though, HOW am I supposed to talk about marriage and it's covenant heart with a 4yr old?  I know it is more than "rules" to follow, but it IS made up of promises that function like rules.  I don't want to raise a legalist because there's too much grief in growing up with the belief that life follows straight lines and then discovering life actually operates more like unpredictable weather patterns.  But I do want to raise him with some kind of understanding of the "operating procedures" of existence.  "If you promise to kiss only one person, you shouldn't kiss other people" seems like a pretty good operating procedure to lay out early on.  Right?

Parenting is hard.  Even more so, now that the discussion du-jour in the interwebs is "raising boys who understand consent and advocate for women."  Y'all - obviously I'm on board.  I'm a single mom who is also a PASTOR.  I'm not purposefully raising a mens-rights activist.  But would you believe I'm ALREADY having to reprogram him in regard to gender stereotypes?  Yesterday we had a conversation about why girls don't always like hearts and pink stuff, that boys can like hearts and girls can like spider-man and your gender doesn't determine what you like.  HE IS 4 AND I'M ALREADY HAVING THIS CONVERSATION.

So on top of teaching him how to be a functional human ("Please use your fork to eat that spaghetti"), I'm also teaching him how to be egalitarian in a culture that marginalizes and stigmatizes femaleness ("There's no such thing as a 'Boy' or 'Girl' toy, just toys YOU like").  And now I'm having to teach him about marital covenants and why people end up in jail?  Let me tell you - there isn't a lot of childhood literature about how to cover those topics.


There's a bible verse, "Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray."  Well folks, that's easier said than done. Oftentimes, the right way only becomes visible after you've gotten cut in the brambles of a not-so-right path.  And right now I feel cut up and frustrated.  I expected this parenting business to be a complicated matter, but now I'm living in a present moment caused directly by Cliff's violation of our "married-people rules" and all I feel is exasperated.  I'm usually pretty good at finding the right words, but right now it seems like they've all fled to the hinterlands, leaving me bereft.

I'll manage, because I have to.  But in the meantime, please be merciful when you overhear G and I talk.  He's asking questions that deserve answers, and I'm making up language as I go.



Mike Clawson said...

Seems to me that you're doing just fine. Framing things in terms of rules is fine for 4 year olds. It's developmentally appropriate. I doubt it will turn him into a legalist. You'll have plenty of time to give him the more complex version later. Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

Hang in there, Mama. This is hard. But YOU are a great parent. You ARE raising your son right. Praying for you both as you navigate this difficult waters.

Dani Cartwright said...

Elizabeth, I am in awe. I don't think any parent expects most of the questions their children ask. I think there is something innate in our children that knows exactly the most difficult questions for us to answer....and those are the ones they ask!! Hang in there! I think you are doing great! And G is quite a cool 4 year old! (I did have to laugh, though, when I remembered my child's kindergarten teacher calling and all I hear is laughing on the other end. She said, "Dani, you won't believe this, but after a little girl in our class made a bad decision and had to spend some time in time out, Douglass Anne told her -- very matter-of-factly -- "You do know, don't you, that YOU are responsible for your OWN behavior. And, you have to be aware of the consequences!"

I'm sure G will be sharing some of his wisdom learned from his life-wise Mom...and it will be fun to hear what he teaches his classmates in kindergarten!! :)

Moonpie said...

You're doing all right. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, day by day. Sometimes that's all we can do and let God handle the rest. Love ya.
Larry J. Crocker