As I think about it, there are other reasons I don’t push saying please, thanks or sorry.
Sorry is the one I feel strongest about. Saying sorry when I don’t actually feel sorry feels humiliating to me. It feels like submitting — collapsing who I am inside — for the sake of avoiding having something bad done to me. It feels like letting down my defenses for a wave of awfulness to avoid an even worse wave of awfulness that might come if I don’t. It feels like being over-ridden, being wiped out, being not okay fundamentally. Being shameful. Being bad inside.
I never want that for my kid. I don’t want that for myself, either.
It’s one thing to say I’m sorry when I feel sad about someone’s situation, or when I bump into them or step on their toes, or when I see looking back that I hurt them and I didn’t realize it at the time, or I understand the situation differently now and I would definitely do things differently if I could go back in time.
The thing is, I can’t make my little one feel any of those things by telling him to say he’s sorry when he has done something socially unacceptable. I think the straightest route to helping him figure out what is and isn’t okay to do is to gently coach him, to keep him and the kids he is with safe, and to avoid humiliating him at all costs. Humiliation makes me defensive. I think that’s true for my kid, too. When I’m defensive, I’m stuck in my own head. I’m not learning new things. I’m not tuning into the people around me. I’m not feeling like good connection is easy or even possible in that moment.
What I want for my kid is good connection. I want him to be able to see how what he does affects other people, and to be free care about how they feel.
I imagine writing thank you notes for Christmas and birthday gifts together in the future. (I like writing thank you notes, so when I picture doing it together I imagine it being fun.)
But other than that, please and thank you are things I’d rather skip prompting on. He hears me and Gavin talking politely to each other, to him and to other people. He joins in. He knows how to do it. I’ll let him speak for himself.
If the way he’s asking for something is annoying me, I let him know. “Could you please stop screeching? That bugs me.” Or, “You don’t need to yell. You can ask more quietly. I can still hear you.” Generally, that seems to work pretty well so far.
One of the things being a stepmom for so many years has left me with is a sense of how fantastically fast kids grow up. People say it all the time. Now it’s something I feel.
Kids figure things out. They learn what they need to learn to go where they want to go.
I don’t want to spend my little one’s childhood poking and prodding him. I want to enjoy it, to have fun with it, to play in it together. I want us both to bathe in the good connection we already have and to spin it on and on.