Musa was mad as his mother drove them away from dropping his big brother off at an event for older children. He wanted to go, too. Tagging along with his toddler brother and his mother was unworthy of all that was inside him. Something deep down in this four-year-old told him he was ready for bigger things. Out of sorts, he misbehaved all the way home.
An hour later, as they sat together at the kitchen table, Musa was still making his mother run through her entire repertoire of counter-insurgency parenting tricks until, frustrated and exhausted from battling his bad attitude, she simply stopped reacting and sat in silence.
After a few minutes of silence Musa said, “It’s okay, Mom. You can make a thousand mistakes, and I will still love you.
Completely cured, she beamed love back at him and replied, “You can make a million mistakes, and I will still love you.”
But Musa said, “I don’t make steaks. I make hot dogs.”
Sometimes kids seem to think they were brought into this world to educate us rather than the other way round. Maybe they are half right. If we sometimes feel that our child is unmanageable or that being the consistent parent we are supposed to be is impossible, maybe that’s what we should be learning. Raising children is a full curriculum of messy, sloppy exercises in imperfection.
Our job is not to shape our children, but to build a relationship with them, a relationship that is reciprocal and mutually educational, a relationship that will sustain itself and sustain us both more and more as we go through life, a relationship that helps us find our center, as we help them define themselves more effectively in their environment.
Humans aren’t designed to be loners. We function much better in relationship. Therefore, the disciplines of parenting are the disciplines of relationship–building, disciplines of learning through conflict, disciplines of leadership. This includes the art of being out of control.
Who’s Educating Whom? If we look beneath the surface to the relationship, we can get a glimpse of how they are helping us learn leadership—helping us learn that leadership is a matter of defining ourselves to the situation, a series of never-ending lessons in navigating the disturbing, uncontrollable dynamism of life.
This is why trying to manage children is a bad idea, why “Consistency” is not even a worthy objective sometimes, and why letting our children teach us is critical to the very challenging game of leading them.