I want my son to grow into a courageous man, unafraid of being good in a world that does not always reward goodness. I want him to face his fears and overcome them.
I want him to be a man who does not cower behind excuses or look the other way when bad people do bad things. All it takes for evil to flourish, someone once said, is for good people to do nothing. I don’t want Jacob to be one of those who do nothing while evil spreads.
The world needs brave men. I want my son to be one of them.
That was at the heart of my most recent parenting mistake.
It was Easter. I was visiting with my mom who is recovering from open heart surgery. Jacob and my wife came in to her room to visit too. It wasn’t long before Jacob wanted to return to the main house to play with his cousins.
Then my brother’s two baby Labrador Retrievers came romping by and Jacob decided he didn’t want to play after all. I could tell he changed his mind out of fear of the dogs.
But wait. They weren’t really dogs. They were puppies!
My son … my son … afraid to go outside because a couple puppies are out there? No way! They are clumsy but friendly, so I took him to the door to face his fears.
As I took my son to the door, he began to cry. I felt him pull against my hold on his arm. But I knew that what I had in mind would be good for him, even if he didn’t know it yet. So I pushed forward and stepped out the front door where the dogs were. Jacob started to cry louder. Panic crept into his voice. The pull against my hold turned into a struggle to get away.
Still, I knew that what I was doing would show him the invalidity of his irrational fears. So I continued pushing forward. He was trapped, pinned up against my lap as the dogs began to jump on him in excited puppy language for, “Hey, I really like you, and I mean I really like you a lot!”
But Jacob is still 4. He is a short 4 year-old. The baby Labs are almost as big he is, and probably heavier. And yet I still knew this would be good for him. Besides, since they were only playing, there was no danger of any realistic reason to fear anyway. And so I stayed with it. Jacob began to scream. He was in full fight or flight mode, even hysterical.
I realized in that final moment that I was being unfair, but it was too late. The puppy Labs were all over him and his terror excited the them even more. The dogs to him were the same as though a horse was jumping up on me to play. I should have been more understanding. My pride had gotten in the way (my son afraid of puppies?).
Jacob has been traumatized by two pooches that he now fears more than he did before I stepped in to rid him of those fears. Not the intended lesson!
But a lesson was successfully taught … to me.
Courage is not the only virtue. Patience matters too. So does compassion. Including the patience needed to successfully teach my son to be brave and the compassion needed to keep myself from turning irrational 4-year-old fears into rational ones.
Please comment! How would you have handled it? Have you made similar mistakes?