Telling the truth has one set of challenges, but hearing the truth is another matter entirely.
My 7 year old is a constant vehicle of my personal growth and showed me about truth recently. My son likes to build things, mostly Lego cars or vehicles of any kind, and snap-on model car kits. My friend said recently that children are missing out on the opportunity to learn real skills in life, because they participate in so many “simulated” activities, like the model-kit I did with my son. Wouldn’t it be better to give my son some nails and a hammer?
I was inspired. Though I have never put hammer to nail before, this seemed like a fantastic idea to build a real skill while doing something my son had already shown an inclination for. I haven’t felt that my son and I have had much to bond over recently, as his interests tend towards sports and all-things-boy, which I have little experience in, so I thought this might be fun from that angle too. Boy, was I wrong.
So, I eagerly pronounced to my son “We’re going to build a birdhouse today. It’ll be awesome!”. My son had been feeding some birds by putting bread out in the garden, and I thought we could further that with this fun project. We set out to the local hardware store. What started out as a quick errand ended up being at least 2 hours, since we did not have the right knowledge to purchase tools correctly, didn’t know how to put the parts together to make a birdhouse, and had no idea how we would mount it all in the end. After much nailing and hitting our fingers (him too) and sawing to try to make a 45 degree angle on two of the four pieces, I was silently swearing to myself. At the end of it, my son was hungry and tired.
“I don’t even like building” he screamed. “You just told me I had to do it, and didn’t let me try my ideas. Why did you want to do it anyway? It was not a good idea. We can just feed the birds with bread on the ground!!”
I was horrified and upset. His truthful comments really stung, and I felt myself getting oddly teary. I had always thought he liked building things. But now that I think about it, he just likes playing cars, and I’ve been pushing the building part since he seems to have a knack. I was driving him to become a builder in the hopes that he could make some kind of career out of this. My whole agenda was not about fun, or exploration, but coming from a place of fear and control.
I was fearful his childhood would be wasted in meaningless pursuits and worried about his future. I was trying to control his exploration by forcing my design of the birdhouse to protect him from failing. But instead of creating a positive experience, I’d turned him off completely. Furthermore, this made me feel like my son did not enjoy my company, and wouldn’t in the future. Like the famous line from the movie “A Few Good Men” , I have always told my son to be honest, but in actuality, I’m the problem. I CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH! (For those of you who aren’t familiar, here’s the awesome scene from the movie with Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise):
Unfortunately, whether it’s a child or other adult relationship, truth is the foundation of intimacy. If someone shares a truth with you that hurts, before putting the blame on the other person, ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I hiding about myself from myself (that makes this hard to hear)?
- What fantasy am I clinging to about how this situation would go?
- Is my reaction about this situation or something else?
- Have I truly heard the other person’s words, or only my interpretation of their words?
- Have others communicated this before, but I am simply unwilling to hear their communication?
- Is what I’m hearing factual?
- Is it beneficial for me to consider their point of view as valid?
After I calmed down, I took a deep breath, and told my son we didn’t need to continue. Perhaps there is indeed a good point at which one should quit. But, my son, he didn’t want to quit. He wisely said that if we didn’t have the right tools to do it well, we should just go purchase them. He had calmed down too. I apologized. I told him I always wanted him to feel he could be truthful, and I had made a mess of it by reacting poorly.
I got a sound kiss on the cheek for my trouble. And a birdhouse in the back.