Little known fact about Godless Mom: I once dated a child. Sure, he was a man child, but mentally, he was a goddamned (no holy) child.
He moved in with me pretty quick because Godless Mom has an almost all-encompassing “yes” policy. When people ask me to try new things, I say yes. Nowadays there are caveats that protect my relationship, my son and my dog, but other than that, I’m all yes, all the time. I have a tattoo done with bamboo I got on the island they used to film The Beach, I free dove 30ft for shells with purple octopi in French Polynesia, had my wallet stolen by Colts fans in the streets of Mexico at 4am, and seen people dance on horseback through a giant puddle in a massive tent in Vancouver’s Olympic Village all because of my “yes” policy. Yessing makes for an interesting, adventure-packed life. And so when this man-child asked to move in, in my doe-like state of infatuation, I said yes.
I quickly learned that the man had no idea how to do a thing that is expected of adults. He could cook a mean stir-fry but that was literally it. He hadn’t the faintest how to fold clothes, how to load a dishwasher or how to light a barbecue. He didn’t know you could return your empties for refund, or that the dust pan was for picking up what you just swept up. He had no clue how to set up utilities or pay bills or even question charges on them.
Batman jammies are OK if you know how to wash them.
It was all very shocking to me and it came to a head one day when he went to heat up some takeout that was in a styrofoam package. I came home to wafts of smoke billowing out of my apartment, because he’d put it, container and all, in the oven.
So that ended.
But in the years since, I’ve met many more men like him. I’ve met plenty of women like him, too. When I realized I was pregnant, this made me think very hard about how I wanted to raise my child. I certainly did not want to raise a man child like my ex.
Here are some of the tactics I use to avoid the state of man-childness in my son’s adulthood. I have absolutely no way of knowing if they will work, but I have to trust my gut.
1. Swearing – I have always sworn around my kids. It is my firm belief that the bigger a deal you make of something, the more power your child understands that something to have. Swearing is not different. We have never, ever made a big deal of it and as a result, my son hardly ever swears. He doesn’t get a reaction, it’s just totally normal, so he barely uses the words. On the occasion he does, we explain to him that some people inexplicably are upset by those words, so it would be best to just say them at home. He has never sworn anywhere but with us. Trusting my son to understand when it is appropriate and when it’s not, is giving him a big responsibility and responsibility boosts confidence. A confident man is not a man-child.
2. Montessori – My son has been in secular Montessori since he first went to daycare. We now pay for a Montessori private school. It is student-led learning that adjusts itself to your child’s pace. It is not possible for any child to fall through the cracks at a Montessori school simply because of this main philosophy. He makes choices and decisions every single day at school. These choices and this control over his education cultivates a strong love for learning and fills him with the confidence he will need to grow up and be a well-rounded, healthy adult.
I love Fry.
3. Blasphemy – Nothing keeps the child in a man more than believing childhood fairy tales. There is nothing so sacred in our house that we cannot say it. Making blasphemy normal may sound disrespectful, but the more normal it is, the less power it has. It’s like the word freedom. At one point in time that word meant something, it held a power. But now every motherfucker with an American flag screams about it, at the same time as being a citizen of the least free western country in the world, it’s lost all power. It means nothing anymore. Making blasphemy normal cuts faith down a notch and makes it something that we can openly criticize. It is an attack on an idea, not people.
4. Honesty – When my little guy asks me questions, even if they are difficult ones or involve heavy stuff, I still answer him honestly. I don’t keep information about body parts, or sex, or crime from him. We are open about everything, because life is real and it’s not made any less real by hiding it. He will come across everything on his own at one point or another and instead of being afraid, shocked or confused, I would rather he feel totally at ease with coming to me and asking me. Teaching your child to deal with and accept reality at an early age will make him that much more capable of dealing with it when he’s an adult. That doesn’t mean I explain things in a graphic manner or terrify the fuck out of him. Eg. If he overheard someone say murder, and asked what it meant, I would explain that it is when someone hurts another person so bad that they die. I would then follow it up with reasons for why he doesn’t need to worry about it and that, for the most part, people are amazing, wonderful creatures and would never hurt someone else.
5. Choices – I try to give my son choices as much as I possibly can because nothing teaches responsibility more than learning how your own choices affect the outcome of certain situations. I let him choose how to dress, I give him choices when it comes to food, bathing, extracurricular activities, etc. I also try to give him choices when he’s not cooperating, eg. every night we read to try and reach his reading minutes goal the school has set out for him each month. If he reaches his goal at the end of the month, he gets a gift certificate for a pizza at one of two pizza places we have in our tiny town. He loves that particular pizza place because there is a gumball machine in the pizzaria that, for some reason, is better than every other gumball machine, ever. When we sit down to do our nightly reading, he sometimes loses interest, or just never had any to begin with and his attention veers. So, I re-explain to him that we still have so many minutes to do for this month, and that if we don’t do them, the school won’t give him the pizza certificate. I say he can skip tonight but we would have to add the minutes to another night, or we could just not do it at all. Then I tell him, “but it’s your choice”. He almost always chooses to continue to read.
6. Teach him real life skills – I teach him anything and everything I can. He knows how to put on laundry, he knows what days the garbage goes out, he knows how to do a lot of things in the garden, prep veggies for dinner, get his own breakfast, run his own bath, feed the dog, and so on and so forth. The older he gets, the more he will become responsible for so that when he falls in love and moves in with his significant other, he can hold his own with household chores.
7. I fucking relax – leave the hand sanitizer behind, forget the fucking wipes and let him climb that huge play structure. If he falls or gets sick or gets dirty, who cares? He’ll learn that some things are dangerous in a far more effective way than if I’m yelling at him. If he does fall, I don’t jump up and run to him asking if he’s ok. I usually wait to see if tears are coming and if he needs comfort before I offer it. It’s difficult sometimes, but if you jump and freak out every time your kids get hurt, they understand that falls, scrapes and other inconsequential injuries hold great power over you and they will grow into adults who seek comfort for every fucking thing and can’t handle life’s tiniest scrapes and bruises.
8. I don’t limit electronics or forbid certain foods – I had this neighbour when I was a kid. His parents had a very strict no electronics policy and he was only allowed to watch 30 minutes of TV per day. When he came over to our house to “play” he would run up to our rec room and start playing Nintendo and stay there until, very literally, his Dad had to come and peel his fingers off of the controller. He is now almost 30, lives at home and plays video games all day when he’s not working at his entry level retail job. I also had a friend who was fit and athletic as a child, when her single mother forbid sugar, wheat, meat and dairy. When she turned 13, her mom told her she wouldn’t forbid those things anymore. She went out and had a McDonald’s cheeseburger and never turned back. She blew up to over 200lbs and continued to hide what she ate into adulthood. Forbidding things, creates an unhealthy relationship with them. It also says that you don’t trust your child to make good choices. My son has never had a limit on his electronics use and has very little interest in them. 9 times out of ten he wants to play outside. As far as food goes, no food is forbidden (but we do control quantities and when he can eat it) and his favourite foods in the world right now are coleslaw, sushi and avocado.
I hope that these things help my son turn into a confident, capable man. What are some of the things you do with your kids to ensure they don’t grow into oversized children?