Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Lead, Follow Or....What?

How do you teach leadership?

This has been something I've been struggling with since I was pregnant with Son. I knew there would be a ton of things I'd want to tell him over the years so I started writing him letters as things came to me when I first found out he was on the way. I'm not sure right now if leadership was one of those topics at that time but it sure is one now.

If you aren't a parent yet but will be one day or if you are brand new at it or shoot - if you're as clueless about some of this as the rest of us, one important thing to remember is people are pretty much born with a certain personality. Life and circumstances affect it, for sure, but a lot of things are innate. The child who succeeds in everything they do. The one who tries. The one who has to be pushed. The one who is friendly and outgoing. The one who is shy. That's built-in stuff, my friends, so don't beat yourself up about it and don't let a therapist blame for you for it later. I believe God wants us to watch these babies, pray over them, try to discover their gifts, talents and natural inclinations, and then take all that to figure out how to guide them in the path they should go according to how God made them - not according to how God made you.

It's not easy. Sometimes our own dreams and ambitions and tendencies get in the way. I know they do for me. But I try to force myself to remember these babies of mine are who they are and they must live their own lives one day. So I want to try to teach them how to be who they are and do what they enjoy and yet how to wrangle their shortcomings so they don't get unnecessarily hurt because of them. I want to encourage the stuff I know will make them strong and happy in the long run. But sometimes what's a "good" trait and what's problematic is all mixed up and I'm not sure what to say about it.

Son. You knew this would be about him, didn't you? He's my challenge since he's my oldest. Early on we could tell Son might be a follower. I can't explain it. It was just what we thought, much like we can clearly see Daughter is a leader, and not always in a good way. When they're together, Son comes down to Daughter's age level. But that's OK. She's a smart cookie so he's not stooping that far. They basically get along and play together and what more can you ask of a brother and sister with 3 1/2 years between them?

Son has Pokemon trading cards. I bought them for him for Christmas and he was truly elated when he unwrapped them. I still don't know if this is HIS thing or just another must-have picked up from the group he hangs with at school. At the ages of 7 and 8, a lot of things are going to arise from that collective mentality, I know.

Last night I picked up Son and one of his friends from their cub scout meeting.

"Mommy, Z won't give me back my Pokemon cards."

"What? You brought cards with you?"


"He has your cards from some other time?"

Son then spoke in tongues as he explained how last Thursday, Z wanted some weird-named card and Son traded him two other strangely named cards for two equally tongue-twisting cards. At some point, Son decided it wasn't a good trade and wanted them back but Z wasn't giving them up. Great. A debate. Just what I was looking for during the ride home. On top of that, I could see Son was going to get upset.

So what do you say? They are trading cards, after all. That's what he did. You can't get trader's remorse afterward. You suck it up because you should have thought of the importance of them before you let them go. But on the other hand, you say you are friends. If one friend is going to get upset, are you really going to let trading cards be the reason for it?

"Son, these are trading cards. That's what they are for. You wanted what you traded for at the time so you should live with your decision. Z has a right to keep them. It's the code. And Z, you see Son is upset. This is your chance to be a friend and swap back. Friendship isn't easy but it's more important than cards. It's your decision. You two work it out."

I wanted that to be the end of it. I didn't want to be in this. But Son wasn't letting go. Z was unusually quiet as Son nagged him to trade back. "Please, Z?" Eventually Z blurted out, "Ohhhh, stop it! Give me time to make up my mind!"

We got to the parking lot where I hand Z over to one of his parents but we had to wait a bit for his father to arrive.

"Please," Son continued begging. "Please! Please!"

If you had been there you would have seen my skin crawl and watched it turn red as my blood boiled. It was all I could do to stay out of it. Son appealed to me again.

"What do you want me to do, Son?"

"Call his mother."

"To complain about trading cards? I don't think so, baby."

Z's father showed and out he went to get into his own car. Son's crying got louder but I didn't realize it until I got back into my car and closed the door. I waited until we were driving once again. I could only imagine what Z was saying to his own father.

"Let me tell you something, Son. Don't you ever, EVER beg that boy or ANYONE for anything every again! Got it? They're cards, for crying out loud. You're upset? Fine. Cry at home! But don't you allow yourself to break down in front of these kids."

Extreme talk, I know. And I knew I had to explain this but first I had to get that off my chest. Z is a leader. A strong one. I've listened to him malign Daughter to Son during the few times I've taken her with me to pick them up, telling Son, "Just ignore her," when she tried to be part of the conversation. Z is a middle child and has no sisters so I understand the psychology of it all but I made sure he understood (and Mr. T has had to say the same, I found out) that he was not going to belittle my girl to my boy and start a rift in a perfectly good relationship. Son already acts like she isn't there when friends come over and I expect this but it hurts her feelings and she doesn't get it.

I could see years of Son being a lapdog to Z and God knows who else and I wasn't having it. I was already trying to figure out how to get the boy to do independent thinking. The last thing I needed was for him to get labeled as a baby among his peers for crying over trading cards. But in explaining all this, there's the whole balance of reacting to things as they really are and then telling them how it should be and acting as if it were. It's a difficult dance to master.

I told Son about being a leader and being a follower and standing alone.
I told Son it's alright to cry but you have to learn to check those feelings in certain places.
I told Son that Z wasn't wrong about the cards and neither was he. It's life.
I told Son to start thinking about his criteria for friendship and making sure people fit the bill before you bestowed that title.
I told Son that the school years are tough and kids can be mean. Don't make it easy for them to make your life hard.

Hopefully he gets his cards back but what I'm really hoping is that he'll never trade his self-respect for someone else's approval.

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