We are waiting outside our ballet studio for class to begin and my 4-year-old is clinging to me, her face buried in my neck, tears in her eyes. People look at me with knowing eyes and sympathetic smiles like this is all totally normal… because for many it is.
She whispers in my ear “I don’t want to go, I just don’t want to go today”. She says that her little sister accidentally kicked her in the face and that she is ok but just doesn’t feel like going to ballet anymore.
I tell her that’s no problem, that she never has to go anywhere if she feels uncomfortable, that it’s totally up to her.
Unfortunately, for many children this is not the case. We witness it every week. Parents dragging reluctant children by the arm, encouraging them, peeling them off their leg to join in, sometimes even threatening them.
When I tell my daughter that it’s ok not to go if she doesn’t feel like it, I know many people believe that this is the wrong choice, and that they would respond differently. After all, the lesson was already paid for, we had gotten dressed and all made the effort to come here, she always loves ballet, and maybe she would end up being ‘fine’ once she started. And what if she started thinking this was ok to do every week? What would it teach her about commitment? What about responsibility?
None of these reasons are of any importance to me. We don’t make decisions based on fear. We don’t subscribe to mainstream parenting myths. What good is it to damage our connection in the present moment, for some vague idea of future ‘discipline’. I don’t think she would ever thank me for that.
This is not a problem, but an opportunity.
An opportunity to reinforce things that are much more valuable in our family.
And so her sisters and I cuddle and reassure her, and after checking that she really doesn’t want to go and understands that her next lesson can’t be until next week, we leave without hesitation. Her big sister offers her a piggy back to try and cheer her up. She is so loved.
So many things were learned from this moment. So many things that I want her to be sure of every single day. So many things that truly matter.
She learned that her feelings are valid.
That she is in charge of her body and time.
That her needs are important.
That she will always be supported
That she is not an inconvenience.
That she has a voice.
That we will always listen.
That there are so many people there for her when she’s just not feeling quite right.
That she should always listen to her instincts and trust herself.
Yes, I could have fallen for the lie that this could create bad habits, that I wasn’t teaching her to be responsible, that is was a waste of money. But at what cost?
The most important thing was that a little girl felt safe and supported and loved unconditionally, and that is priceless.
The best choice is always understanding and respect. Don’t fall for the myths. See your child standing right in front of you, showing you the way. What do they need? What message do you want them to hear? What lessons do you really want to teach?
Choose unconditional love and acceptance, in every moment. Those are the things that every human needs.