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Can I Sit on the Table?

OK, there are things that are important to me, and there are those that are not, or at least not enough to fight for them. In every area of my life, including parenting. Now, in the area of parenting, everything seems to be more complicated, simply because you have the big responsibility of helping this little person grow into a happy and (ideally) emotionally healthy, intellectually curious, and socially well-adjusted human.

When my son hits, I am concerned. When my son throws something because he is angry, I am concerned. Despite the fact that this is age-appropriate behavior, I know it’s my husband’s and my job to teach our son that it’s not acceptable behavior. Time-out is our method of choice. Combined with teaching our son that that there are other ways to deal with or prevent anger: Jump to let off steam. Say, I am not finished playing with the boat; you can have it when I am finished playing with it. Whatever. Hitting or throwing is not acceptable. Period.

On the other hand, I am desperately lax about many other things. Andrei wants to play with … whatever hits his fancy: any kitchen object that’s relatively safe, any object from my desk that’s relatively safe, any object from the bathroom cabinets that’s relatively safe. My answer is always, Sure, you can have that. OK, this tendency of mine has created some problems because nearly every object in our house has become Andrei’s toy. But, in the moment when it’s happening, I so desperately want to support my son’s curiosity and imagination that I simply can’t say NO (unless the object is really dangerous, fragile, etc.).

So this is how I reached a point where I allowed my son to sit on the table. OK, I defined some rules early on: Sitting on the table is not always allowed. Not when we have guests, not during any other meal but breakfast. Mostly when Andrei and I are alone, in the morning, on weekdays.  Andrei always asks first if he can sit on the table, and if I say yes, he gets on the table. He usually sits cross-legged right across from me while we are eating, and talking a bit, and singing a bit…

Why didn’t I say NO the first time Andrei attempted to climb on the table? I guess teaching him manners and appropriateness at his age wasn’t really that important to me. I liked the fact that, independently of me and my arms, my two-and-a-half, three-foot-high son was able to experience a different view of the kitchen. That he was able to dream (I am sitting on the top of a mountain). And, of course, there was the cute factor…

But this is what happens at some point. Andrei and I are in the coffee shop. We are sitting at the table and eating a croissant. Suddenly, Andrei says, Mommy, can I sit on the table? No, I say, not here. You can sit on the table only at home, and only sometimes. OK, Andrei says. No tantrum, not even a whine. We continue to eat, but suddenly I am panic-stricken. Just a minute ago, my son asked me if he could sit on the table. Just the fact that he asked me something like that scares me (despite the fact that I understand his reasoning: I am allowed to sometimes sit on the table at home so let me check if I am allowed to sit on the table here – it could be fun). In no time my son’s question takes me to that default parenting place: Maybe I am doing it all wrong!

OK, I’ve been to that place many times before. So, I stay there for a second and then make an effort to get out of that place. Yes, my son has just asked me if he could sit on the table at a public place. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t know that chairs are for sitting and tables for eating. Teaching my son appropriateness at this age is just not important to me. So I just have to acknowledge the fact that this is the parenting choice I am making: fun and exploration rather than manners and appropriateness.  This is what I believe in, and I can only parent based on what I believe in.  In twenty or thirty years, my son may approve or disapprove of this choice, but that will not change the reality of me being able to parent in only one way – the one governed by my beliefs.

Parenting is complicated, isn’t it? But maybe it’s not a bad thing that it makes us go over all our beliefs and principles with a fine comb. Self-awareness never hurts.

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