I was reminded of this instance not long ago and feel it’s an important lesson in humility as a parent. This reminder came because recently my daughter referred to a person as “bigger.” But then she followed with “some people are bigger and some are smaller and that’s ok.”
When she was about three years old, we were in the post office behind a person who was mailing a few things. My daughter had started to observe the world and liked to point out new details. This day, she said to me “she is tall.” I looked at the woman and thought she was slightly tall, so I said back to her “yes, she is tall, but not much taller than Mommy right?” She responded with “no, she is tall this way” and outreached her arms. I quickly understood and then quickly panicked.
In this moment, I felt two things. First was “thank goodness she doesn’t know the word “fat” and “oh my gosh, get me out of here now.”
As many young kids do, she quickly sensed my nerves and said it again. I whispered to her “we will talk about this later, I need you to not say that again.”
And again, as many young kids do, she found this funny to see my discomfort and persisted. She kept asking, and at one point I even covered her mouth, now reaching the point of feeling mortified. With no other ideas left, I threatened timeout and she stopped. I have no idea if the woman in front of us heard or saw any of this, and I so wish I handled this better.
My daughter, with the threat of timeout, was now quite confused. She didn’t understand what she had done wrong and I could tell she was pretty distraught. Now I just felt horrible. I took her into the car after we mailed some bills and sat her down to talk. I told her that it’s not nice to talk about people and what size they are, and that we don’t do that. She started to cry. How much worse could I make this?
I gave her a hug and told her that she didn’t know and that it’s ok. I just ask her to remember next time.
During the drive home I was completely in my head. I had lost my chance, wrecked this talk, ruined how to do this for her.
Before we pulled into our street, I said “when we get home, we’ll talk more about people and size, ok?” She agreed.
We pulled out the computer and I started to show her picture after picture of people of different sizes. I explained what tall meant and used the words big and small to explain how some people may be bigger than others. She quickly got this and was able to point out some differences. Then I made sure she knew that everyone we were looking at were people, and just like how we have different races and gender, we also have different sizes. This time I said “the way the world talks about size isn’t so nice sometimes. This is why Mommy asked you not to talk about size in front of that person. Some people talk about size to be mean and we don’t do that.” She nodded in agreement.
This is where I chose humility and I looked right at her and said “I’m sorry that I acted that way at the post office. Mommy was afraid that we might hurt that person by accident, so I did not do the right thing in how to teach you. Next time, we’ll talk when it happens or we can step outside and I’ll explain it to you.”
She reminded me a couple days later “remember when you had to say sorry Mommy?” Of course I did, an epic parenting fail. But I felt thankful for the gift that is my kid, and was quickly reminded of her resilience.