"I know he doesn't have a lot of constraints at home."
"I'd like you to read this chapter called The Toddler Executive."
"You are WAY more tolerant than me."
"I would have been way too afraid to treat MY mother that way."
"If that were my child I'd..."
These are the kinds of things you hear while raising an extremely curious, high energy, strong willed child. I've heard them all. Sometimes from well-intentioned friends or caregivers. Other times from total strangers who may or may not have realized that I could hear them. I won't pretend that these words never bother me. They do, but for the most part I brush them off.
My child is a wild one. I know it. He knows it. Our entire neighborhood and social circle know it too - as does everyone at the grocery store.
What they don't know, is that I was a wild one too. I recognize that spark my little one thrives on, and I remember how crushing it was when the people around me tried to dampen it out. I was lucky to have a mother who allowed me to explore the world in my own way. She saw the art within the destruction, and the joy within the havoc I wreaked. She put up with a lot, and even loved me for it, messes and all.
But growing up with freedom doesn't mean that I didn't grow up with rules. My mother set boundaries, both physical and philosophical. I, of course, challenged and questioned every one, exhausting her with questions, doubts, and creative ways to get around the rules she had set. I spent my childhood walking the line between disobeying and re-interpreting the boundaries set before me.
At home, it worked. At school - not so much. I struggled with a world where few adults would take the time to answer my questions, where nobody seemed to see things my way, and where social and societal pressures forced me to cram inside I box that I just didn't fit inside. I quickly became an outsider, and spent my school days being bullied by kids, and scolded by teachers. By the time I got home my energy was so pent up that I exploded, making sitting down for homework pretty much impossible.
I needed freedom. I needed to be myself. Not being able to crushed me. By the time I reached seventh grade I had fallen into a hole of chronic depression - a pit that I didn't climb out of until re-discovering my freedom after high school. Despite life's challenges, I consider myself to be a happy and successful person, and I believe that I owe my success in a large part to my mom's willingness to set me free and let me be myself.
So, when my son jumps fully-clothed into a mud puddle I don't flip out. I laugh, snap a photo, and gently steer him back inside to get changed. When he hurts someone else, or does something dangerous, I stop him, and depending on the circumstance, I discipline him. Then we talk about it. I let him know what I expect him to do, how I expect him to behave, what is safe to do and what isn't. When he asks questions, or challenges my point of view, I listen. If he's right, I bend. I give him a long lead, and I allow him to explore his world at his own pace. I let him get scrapes, bumps and bruises along the way. I let him fail at things he tries and I celebrate with him when his wild ideas succeed.
As his mother, I feel that I am his guide, his protector, and his home. I do not feel like I am his boss.
I know that choosing to grant him this freedom makes my job harder, but I also know that his spirit thrives when it is allowed to explore. And while I sometimes wonder if school would have been easier for me if I'd been disciplined more firmly at home, I just don't believe that hobbling my independent spirit would have been worth it.
School may prove to be equally challenging for CC, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, I am loving every minute (OK maybe not EVERY minute) of life with this wild, messy, strong-willed child. He is marvelous just the way he is.