I have three children and each one of them is a rule-follower. They like that sense of control or understanding that comes from knowing what to expect . Even though my youngest is a risk-taker – especially when it comes to physicality, she loves a challenge and pushes the boundaries when it comes to sport – she’s still a rule-follower to the core. Both girls are far more independent than my son, but that rule-following is worth its weight in gold to a parent who wants to stay sane. And they got that from me.
Before some of my old school chums scoff too loud at that claim, I’m not saying I never broke rules, I’m just saying I knew I was breaking them and it had its purpose. And sometimes I make my own rules too, but primarily and still today – I feel better when I am working within a perimeter of rules. That’s an absolute contrast to my husband, who has always (and sadly still) believes rules are made to be broken. I have to say, I often envy this characteristic of his – especially when it reaps rewards –but I am relieved that none of my kids have that same streak within them. One over-the-top rule breaker in the house is enough to handle.
One of the things about having rule followers for kids though, is that it is your duty as a parent to arm them with allowances to break the rules when necessary.
I remember back when my oldest daughter was around 8 or 9. The whole mess with Paul Bernardo was in the news and as much as I tried to shelter her from horrific news like that, kids were talking in the schoolyard and Heather came home with questions. After discussing some of the rumours and truths with her, I told her the only thing she really needed to take from it was to never, NEVER get in a car with a stranger –male or female. Go somewhere public, go to the police, a neighbour, a friend, or run down the road screaming your head off, but never get in that car. I wanted to give her permission to wing out with a vengeance, toss off her British genes that don’t want to make a scene, and do whatever it took to get away. I wanted her to know it was okay to fight.
“But what if they have a gun and say they’ll kill me?” She asked.
It broke my heart that she had to think about it, it broke my heart to answer. “If he gets you in that car, he will kill you… so fight with all you’ve got.”
Thank heavens she got through childhood without having to follow my instructions, but now my other two children are at the age where they start to do more without you, and want a few feet of independence. It always makes me want to hover. The lesson my eldest learned so many years ago came back into play when my husband came home with an awful story about a woman who went out for a morning jog last weekend. While she was running a man grabbed her and started to drag her towards a van. Long story short, she fought with all she had and got away. The police were called, the information given, and after an extensive search, the attacker was NOT found. She was left with some battle scars and certainly the mental torment, but she did get away before worse could be done. Needless to say, I can’t imagine she’ll ever sleep well again.
It may seem odd that we would talk about this in family discussion, but my husband has the same fear as I do – that our children will suppress the urge to fight in that kind of situation – and we all know that not going down without a fight is your best chance to survive and get away. So sixteen years later, here I was having the same conversation with my younger kids.
Our message to fight with all you’ve got, to kick, scream, wiggle, claw, scream, punch, bite and look for any moment to get away was not lost on our kids. My son – the realist – sat sombrely, taking it in like we were passing him a time-bomb. He asked no questions, but didn’t take his eyes off us as we told them this woman got away because she fought with all she had, that she quite literally fought for her life. My daughter – always one step ahead of all of us – had a plan.
“I need to take Karate lessons,” she said. “Because I’ve got the strength, but not the moves.”
If someone can break your heart and make you want to burst out laughing at the same time, my daughter would take the cake. Of course we did not laugh – although my son did roll his eyes at me with a smirk on his face. But my daughter meant it in all seriousness. She also was quite serious in saying she would have no problem “kicking him in the chicken tenders.”
Arming your children for a battle you pray they’ll never have is probably the worst lesson I’ll ever have to teach them. But no one ever said this job would be easy, did they?