Raising a gentle man

March 21, 2009

This afternoon when I arrived at my son’s daycare, I discovered my usually cheerful kid in tears.  He came running into my arms instead of taking me by the hand and pulling me into whatever game he’d been playing.

The teacher informed me that my son had just gotten in trouble for hitting one of his classmates.  By the time I arrived, his friend had forgotten he’d been injured.  But my son had not forgotten he’d been in trouble.

People often mistake my son for older than his two-and-a-half years.  Raising a large child comes with certain responsibilities.  I try to find a balance between teaching him gentleness, and allowing him to be a normal kid.  Sometimes, he hurts other kids just by doing what two-year-olds do.

When I pick him up from daycare, I like to stand at the door and observe him interacting with his friends before he realizes I’m there.  I once arrived during a toddler dance party. 

One boy took a little girl’s hands and swung her around in a circle.  My son tried the same maneuver, and the little girl went flying across the room. 

Another day, the teacher struggled to keep a straight face as she explained to me that my son had been placed in time out because he’d rolled over another child. 

He nodded wisely and said, “Me big.  My friend little.”  We had to have a serious discussion about being extra careful with people smaller than us.

Generally, my son is a gentle giant.  He gets upset when other kids cry, and he’s always the first to plant a slobbery kiss on someone else’s owie. 

If he accidentally bonks me, he offers an unsolicited, “Sorry, Mama,” then carefully rubs out the hurt. I have no doubt that the reason for his tears this afternoon was he felt badly for hurting his friend.

Thank goodness he is not by nature an aggressive child.  He’s been known to leave me in an exhausted heap after one uncooperative diaper change.  It won’t be long before he’s rolling over me, telling people, “Me big.  My mama little.”  Wrestling with my toddler saves me the cost of a gym membership. 

It is difficult to explain size and scale to a two-year-old.  He gets confused when he can’t fit a two-inch tall farmer into a Matchbox tractor.  I even caught him trying to climb into that same tractor himself a few months ago.  He looked up at me with genuine distress because he could not cram his big toe through the window.

Rather than teach him that he’s big, I’ve decided to focus on teaching him how to be a gentleman.  It is never okay to hit or push, always say please when you want something, and wait your turn. 

I think my message has been generally well-received.  When he’s waiting for me to finish cleaning up after dinner, or we’re waiting in line at the grocery store, he reminds me loudly every few seconds, “Me being very patient, Mama!”

The challenge I’ve discovered raising a boy is allowing him his natural inclination to wrestle and flex his muscles, while encouraging him to be kind and gentle.  He has an innate sense of toughness – at less than a year I watched him fight back tears in a heartbreaking attempt to overcome his fear of the crowd at church. 

Sensitivity is something my son was born with, but it also seems he was born with the impression that it is a sign of weakness. 

Somehow, I need to teach him that it takes strength to be gentle, and that sometimes, muscling your way through life isn’t manly.  I’ve decided that the trick to raising a gentleman is to raise a gentle man.

This article first appeared in the Lewistown News-Argus and the Sidney (Mont.) Herald on March 21, 2009.