“Susan, the clicker isn’t working,” my dad said as he handed me the TV remote. Ronald Reagan was president and I was mid-college, but the seemingly insignificant conversation has stuck with me all these years.
In the time it takes to read this sentence I flipped the remote over, opened the battery box, gave each AA a couple turns, put the box cover back on and handed it back to him.
He looked skeptical, but pushed a button — the TV responded.
This is so deeply burned into my memory because of the look on his face: a delightful combination of astonishment and pride. He laughed and shook his head in disbelief. “Wow! How did you know to do that? You kids just know this stuff.”
You kids just know this stuff.
How many times have I looked at my own kids with that same look? When I gave a 5-year-old Bekah a new computer game, of course she wanted it to play it immediately.
“It’ll have to wait,” I told her as I continued whatever chore seemed so important (yes, I know better now.) “I don’t have the time to set it up today.”
But within minutes I heard music coming from our computer speakers. She had installed it herself and was happily playing a math game.
You kids just know this stuff.
When I was mid-learning curve for my first smart phone years before the kids would get their own, I was flipping through the manual trying to figure something out. Luke walked in, saw me confused, asked what I was trying to do, took my phone and showed me how.
Kids just know this stuff.
Recently Noah was playing a game on his tablet and sounded a little frustrated. A game that I had TRIED to play a couple times before but stopped out of deep confusion. “Mom, can I use your tablet?” he asked me.
Curious, I silently handed it to him and watched as he tapped the screen, then propped mine side-by-side to his own and learned from one screen while he applied it on the other.
For each of those times that I laughed and shook my head in astonished pride just like my own dad, there were times when I underestimated my kids’ ability to figure things out for themselves; I did it for them. If they came to me with a problem did I always do the right thing and ask, “What do you think your options are?” Heck, no! I shortcut the whole process and gave them a solution. Problem solved!
Which then created new problems, bigger problems. If I always call another kid’s mom to discuss an incident on the bus, what happens the next time? If I give them the words to use when talking to a teacher about a disputed grade, how are they going to learn to stand up for themselves?
How are they going to become independent thinkers if they always come to me to think for them?
Although I have had plenty of Amazed Pride situations, how many more could I have had if I had backed off and let them tell me their plan? It’s one of the things that I still struggle with: Where is the line between parental guidance and parental over-control?
While walking that fence, I’m trying to keep something else very important in mind: A lot of those things they know, a lot of those things that they do well — they don’t just magically know how — they learned it.
But when I respond so that they remember my amazed pride? Parents just know this stuff.
Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. For more of her writing, go to thehistorychicks.com.