Last September, my 11-year-old son received a gecko for his birthday. This was a pet that he had to earn by regularly doing his chores and homework. When he received the gecko, we had every belief that he would take great care of it, but after only a few weeks, I began to notice that my son was “forgetting” to feed and refresh the water for his gecko.
Being a perfectionist and always in a hurry, I began to take care of this gecko. It was also easier than nagging my son to do it. Instead of talking with my 11-year-old about this, I would make passive aggressive statements like “I’m here to feed the gecko because no one else is.” You would think it would have occurred to me to more thoughtfully assert my feelings about this because geckos eat crickets, live crickets, which meant I was touching these live crickets with my bare hands! Instead, I told myself to be brave and feed the gecko because I wanted him to live, and if I fed him, he would live.
March 14th we went on the stay-at-home order, and I realized that our weekly trips to the pet store were now going to be much harder. Thankfully the pet store was an essential business, so we could still get the crickets, but I became so uncomfortable with the thought that I could catch COVID-19 that I looked for ways to minimize our trips to the pet store. I bought a larger cage to house about 40 crickets and a lot of different kinds of food for the crickets which would lead to fewer trips to the store.
As the pandemic did for many of us, my life slowed down and became very quiet. In this new quiet, I returned to listening to the many thoughts I had been pushing away. The slowing down helped me to thoughtfully respond to what I was thinking inside. Some thoughts such as “what we will have for dinner,” I could still push away until around 4 pm when I needed to decide, but thoughts about my personal peace were thoughts I decided to act on. In all that listening, I began to notice that I was trying to be a perfect mom who makes life peaceful and comfortable for my kids and I became aware that the reality of my doing things like feeding the gecko was not allowing my 11-year-old the opportunity to be responsible.
So one night I went into my son’s room and said, “Luke, I am done taking care of your gecko. I did not ask for this gecko and I do not want this gecko. The day is here where I trust you to take care of the gecko.” This was liberating because finally I expressed what I felt, and Luke completely understood and even apologized for not feeding the gecko. I wasn’t done though. I then told him that I would buy 40 crickets every two weeks and that he needed to keep the crickets alive for those two weeks. I set an expectation and I let him build a plan for how he would do that.
The next night I let Luke take care of the gecko and only asked if he fed the gecko, I did not go in his room to make sure the gecko had water or that he was fed. Each successive night, I would hear my worried thoughts about the gecko return and I would just reassure myself that the gecko would be fine and that this was not about the gecko; this was about listening to my own wisdom and allowing my son to be responsible.
The past three nights when I have gone in to say goodnight, I have found Luke with his gecko on his arm. This was such an unexpected and fantastic consequence of my stepping back. Not only did my stepping back allow Luke to be responsible, but also it allowed him to connect and attach to his gecko. This time of listening to my own wisdom has allowed growth not only in me but also for my son. Sometimes what we see as the most loving thing to do for our kids isn’t. Finding the quiet to hear our own wisdom and then acting on that wisdom is the real loving thing to do.
As you reflect on your own experience of the past few months, have you also had more time to really listen to your thoughts? What are you thinking about? What parenting thoughts are you grappling with? Over the next week, pay attention to the thoughts you are having, act on the wise ones and let the little ones go.