Good Kids: How to Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child with Jamilah Lemieux transcript
[00:43] I’m Jamilah Lemiuex, and you’re listening to Good Kids: How Not to Raise an Asshole.
[00:50] There’s an old saying, ‘children are meant to be seen and not heard.’ And fortunately for myself, that was not something that my parents adhered to. They never spoke to me like I was a baby. They didn’t talk to me like I was a small child. They spoke to me like I was a person. They worked to adjust their language, the examples they provided, the things that they were willing to share with me — of course, based on age. But they always treated me like somebody whose voice and perspective and feelings mattered. That is something that my co-parents and I have aspired to do with our child. It is important that we hear her out. If I’m constantly saying, ‘don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this,’ and getting the same result over and over again, I’m not communicating effectively. And there’s a good chance that there’s something that she may be communicating with this behavior that I’m simply not hearing. By taking the time to explain my decisions to her, as opposed to simply saying ‘because I said so,’ — ‘why can’t I wear shorts in the winter? Because I said so.’ No, you can understand that, yeah, it might be pleasant enough for shorts around the middle of the day, but at some point you’re gonna get cold. These seem like small things, but so many parents refuse to engage their children in conversation about the decisions that they make on their behalf. And that does not empower them to make good decisions on their own behalf in the future.
[02:16] All kids misbehave. Even ‘good kids’ are going to make mistakes. They’re going to disappoint you. They’re gonna put themselves in danger, get in trouble at school. But a good kid is one who’s been surrounded with the love and support that they need to thrive and to survive. In order to empower our children to be the people that we want them to be, to be self-determined, to be productive members of society, to be kind, to be well, we have to be intentional about doing that.
[02:46] It’s not enough to simply say my child is well-fed, or well dressed, or lives in a nice area, goes to a good school. We have to think about nurturing their spirits. We have to think about ensuring that we hear them, that we have the capacity to apologize to them, to listen to them. Parents should not look at their work as like that of a police officer. We are not the law in our homes. We are a guiding force. We are spiritual advisers. We are doctors and healers and teachers. But our authority should not be primarily punitive. If we don’t work deliberately to understand how our children communicate, and what they’re communicating to us and why, then we’re not doing our job. I have a six-year-old daughter and earlier in her life there were times where I found myself sounding like a broken record, offering little more than ‘because I said so.’ But what does it mean to a two-year-old or a three-year-old that I said so? The rules that govern our lives in this country and other countries and our communities, our churches, our schools, our homes are oftentimes arbitrary and based on standards and behaviors and norms that may not directly connect to our lives.
[04:08] So for me to hear my child means that I have to abandon the idea that I am the all-seeing eye, that I am the beginning of the end of what is right and moral and correct in our home, and affirming that she is also a person with thoughts and ideas. And sometimes her thoughts and ideas make more sense than my own, or will inform the way that I operate going forward, if I simply take the time to hear them out. So instead of making a practice of berating her, or making her feel as though she’s fallen short because she has broken a rule, or doesn’t understand why we do things the way we do them, I take the time to explain to her. ‘Mommy tells you not to put your finger in the socket not because she doesn’t want you to enjoy yourself and all the magic that the house has to offer, but because you can harm yourself.’ Honestly, for most of my daughter’s life, I’ve operated from a place of knowing that I had to speak to her clearly and effectively and engage her, as opposed to simply talking to her or lecturing her. The times where I fell into that old habit of ‘because I said so’ or ‘I don’t feel like talking about this and so my word is the beginning and end and that’s it and you just do what I tell you to do’ — those are times in which I was tired, which I perhaps wasn’t meeting my own needs or tapping into the resources that I needed to be an effective parent to her. And I don’t have the luxury to not meet those needs if it’s going to impact how I show up for my child. So if I don’t have the energy to talk to her about why we can’t have a midweek sleepover, or candy for breakfast, or seeing an R-rated movie, then I have to address those issues so that I can return to my child as the person that she needs me to be — calm, patient, thoughtful and engaged.
[05:59] It’s taken a long time, but parenting has taught me a patience that I didn’t think was possible. I’ve always been high-strung. I have ADHD. I oftentimes want to get to the good part, or the end, or the next stage of any situation. And having a small child doesn’t always allow you to do that. Sometimes you have to stop and deal with the barely-untied shoe that is bothering her so greatly while we’re running to catch a flight. You have to stop and answer the question that is for her the question of the ages when you’re in the middle of something that feels a lot more urgent or serious at the moment. When you’re dealing with a really small child, one who doesn’t quite have all the language required to articulate what they may be feeling on any given day, that could mean sitting for a very long period of time, or what feels like a long period of time, and hearing them struggle to tell you about something that sounds very, very small to you, but could mean all the world to them.
[09:09] I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad kid. I think there are kids who have not received the sort of love, compassion, engagement, information and support that they deserve. And as a result, they tend to perhaps misbehave, mistreat other people. They don’t have the same academic outcomes perhaps as kids that have been better nurtured at times. But that lack of care, and that lack of their needs being met, shows up. It shows up in terms of how they treat other children. And at times it shows up in terms of how they treat the parents who have fallen short of providing that care.
[09:47] Now, that’s not a condemnation of all parents who are falling short. And to be clear, all parents fall short at some at some point or in some ways. But these parents could be dealing with issues of depression, economic insecurity, health issues, any number of challenges that make the difficult work of parenting even more difficult. But I think it’s important that we as a society, as communities, take the time to acknowledge that, to recognize it and to offer support to those parents and families so that they can be who they need to be in the lives of their children. It could be as simple as offering to come stay in the house and not babysit, but just simply being there, so that they can go spend 15 minutes organizing their closet without having to watch their little one like a hawk. That they can take a 30-minute nap. Or a walk to the grocery store without having to deal with a crying child asking for Skittles. It could be offering to do a couple of loads of laundry, or sending a gift certificate for a meal delivery service, or simply saying, ‘I see you and I hope that things get better.’ Parents — even the best resource parents — oftentimes could use moral support that they don’t receive from people around them.
[11:08] So many adults struggle with the idea of saying ‘I’m sorry’ to a kid, whether it’s a 5-year-old or a 15-year-old. They must learn by our example that no one is infallible and that they’re parents — they’re people who have more life experience than they do, but they’re not perfect, and they’re flawed. And as long as so many of us would prefer to keep up the facade of unflappable, of not being vulnerable, of not being willing to cry in front of our children, or letting them know, ‘hey, I’m tired, I don’t feel well. I had a bad day. The thing that you said to me, it really hurt me. And here is why.’ If we aren’t willing to be that sort of soft with our children, they are not going to be able to tap into that same softness in adulthood perhaps at times where they really ought to. On a few occasions in the past, my daughter has seen me cry with frustration, with anger and disappointment, that had nothing to do with her, anything that she did. And my immediate instinct was to shield her from that, for her not to know that her mom deals with chronic depression, or that she’s had career ups and downs over the years, or that she may be nervous or insecure about something. But instead, I chose to speak to her honestly and openly about what was going on in my life. And at times where what was going wrong with me, if it impacted how she was engaged, I acknowledged that and I apologized. ‘I’m sorry Mommy wasn’t in a good mood this morning. I’m having a really bad day. And here’s why. However, that does not excuse me for yelling at you. That is not give me a pass for not being willing to have a conversation with you or listening to you. My duty is to you first and foremost, and that duty means a lot to me. And I’m going to work on being better at honoring my commitments to you.’ Most times little people tell you it’s OK, I forgive you. You don’t, you know, you don’t have to apologize. But I think that it plant the seed that we should be accountable for the things that we do. Sometimes in real time, and other times once hours, minutes, days, weeks have passed.
[13:20] My daughter said to me recently, ‘I never mean my mistakes. Remember, mistakes are proof that you are trying.’ And I suspect that she heard a quote something like that, perhaps on the Disney Channel or in some other kids movie that she’s watched. But it means a lot to me that she’s already thinking that way, that she recognizes that mistakes are proof that you’re trying. And she has to understand that as she’s trying to be the best student, the best daughter, the best friend that she can be, her parents are also trying to be the best parents that we can be, the best adults, the best community members, the best example for her. And we’re going to fall short and it’s OK. And just as we forgive her for her mistakes and shortcomings, I hope that she’ll be willing to forgive us as well.
[14:10] What children understand is largely colored by what we take the time to explain to them, so if we don’t start having meaningful conversations about accountability, about kindness, about cruelty, about identity and self-autonomy — we don’t start that from a very young age, we can’t expect them to understand those concepts when they get older.
[14:31] I think that because we’ve spent a lot of time having meaningful conversation with our daughter about what growth means, what it means to really think about how you exist in the world, and how you treat people and how you’re treated, and not simply to feel sad that somebody treated you poorly, but to have a space to talk about it. Or to be disappointed in yourself in a moment where you weren’t as kind as you could have been, but to reflect on that. I see how that is manifesting in the way that she sees the world and speaks about it. A couple weeks ago she said, ‘when I was little and I tried to play with the big kids, they dissed me. In my life, that is what I had to go through.’ And it took everything in me not to crack up at the idea of a six-year-old talking about what she had to go through in her life, as if she’s reached some sort of major milestone in her development. That she’s sitting on a porch somewhere, you know, sipping iced tea and reflecting on the life that she’s lived. But she is. She has six years of experiences, of observations, of emotions, of good times and bad times. And they are to be affirmed and explored, much like those of somebody whose 16, or 26, or 60. Her experiences matter. Her feelings matter. And they don’t exist in a vacuum, you know, they are informed by what she saw and felt it, too, what she saw and felt it for. And she will reflect on what it felt like to be six when she’s eight. She’s certainly self-aware. She’s extremely self-aware. But also possesses above-average emotional intelligence so she can tap into not just what she needs to feel or experience to be her best self, but help other people tap into those things as well.
[16:28] Thanks for listening. I’m Jamilah Lemieux. You can keep up with my work by following me on Twitter @JamilahLemieux. You can visit my website at JamilahLemieux.com for occasional updates about things I may be working on. And you can check me out every week on Slate’s Mom and Dad are Fighting podcast.
[16:49] Good Kids is produced and edited by Samantha Gettsek. Our executive producer is Stephanie Wittels Wachs. Our music is by Dan Milad. Ad sales and distribution is by Westwood One. You can find more about us at LemonadaMedia.com, or on all the social platforms @LemonadaMedia. If you like what you heard, share the gospel with everyone you know and rate and review us on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever else you listen to podcasts.