Sunday, September 29, 2013

Helping Kids Negotiate Their Own Relationships

“Don’t touch my butt, Mary Louise!” Claire says, as I hold her in my arms in solidarity.

“All I did was go like this,” Claire’s cousin says, patting her backside gently.

“I know, ML. You didn’t do anything wrong," I say. "Claire’s just telling you what she needs."

I’m completely down with helping my two year old advocate for herself in the face of her nine-year-old cousin. It's part of learning how to negotiate relationships in life. But it’s hard not to laugh at the content of the conversation. I haven’t taken butts so seriously since I was a kid myself.


But, today, I’m in the role of referee and spirit guide. It’s about the fifth time in an hour that Claire’s raced up from the downstairs playroom to scream bloody murder about some indignity that one of the two of her much older cousins has done to her.

A few times, Claire couldn’t keep up with them and they were too rough for her two-year-old tastes. Other times, Claire was doing something typically toddler, and the cousins decided she was completely wrong and needed to be strong-armed into reconsidering the error of her ways.

Let’s call it a mini-generation gap.

The adults sit in the living room, sipping wine. Each time Claire runs upstairs, her Grammy worries that she’s going to get pummeled and/or will have an existential crisis about not having anyone her own age to play with. Grammy wants someone to go downstairs and supervise.

I get it. It was much easier when Claire was a baby and social negotiations only happened between her and adults.

But navigating relationships is a lifelong occupation. Claire might as well get started learning social dynamics now. The reality is that I won't always be there to help her, so it's best that I teach her how to speak her mind when she needs to.

And she’s doing a great job so far, in my eyes. Today, the pupil did well, regards butts and such.

Plus, I’m happy to have a few moments sans child to converse with adults about things other than butts, while a couple of ersatz babysitters watch Claire. They might be a little rough around the edges, but, as the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.”

The bigger issue is that Claire's going to have a lifetime of being the much younger cousin. That’s her lot in life. There’s no way to predict the outcome – good or bad. Actually, it’s probably more likely that her relationship with her cousins will result in both good and bad.

Claire’s older cousins will probably push her in ways that will teach her resilience and make her stronger. Sometimes, they will just plain push her.

It’s hard to sit back, and wait to see whether Claire will blossom or falter in her relationships -- cousin or otherwise. But it’s part of that inevitable mom process of letting go. Just like I can’t predict what’s going to happen, I have a limited ability to control it too.

Hopefully, Claire will read this post one day when she’s older, and let me know how it all turned out. I anxiously await hearing about it. My fingers are crossed that her journey is filled with more blossoming than faltering. Only time will tell.

One thing's for sure...I will be here to celebrate the triumphs and to catch her when she falls.

I'll be here in case she needs to have more conversations about butts too.

Photo Source: Tups Wanders, Flickr This photo has been adapted and does not suggest that the licenser endorses me, its use or this blog. License


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Jen, My Skewed View: Wimpy Babysitters Need Not Apply


  1. On my dad's side, I have two older first cousins from my uncle (my dad's brother). Their son has done a lot of questionable things and married a crazy woman (literally), but their daughter and I couldn't be closer now that we are older (she is 5 years older then me) and we hang often and out kids play together. So, I am prove that being the younger cousin doesn't always have negatives in the end. So, I think Claire has real shot at having relationships with her older cousins as they age and that is my two cents on this :)

  2. My son's cousins are older than he is as well. The second time they visited, I wanted to throttle his cousin Julia when she came up to me and said "Tucker makes this face (INSERT BIG O MOUTH) when you stand on his legs." Tucker was one. Now though, he's bigger than one of his cousins who is a couple years older and rough. I'm secretly glad he's bigger.
    I love how you did this - and your view on motherhood. We are SO alike in hoping that our children learn to navigate their own relationships. Celebrating triumphs, catching falls, and talking about butts when we need to. Also, here's to a grown-up day sipping wine with family!

  3. Aww ... thank you for the feature Rachel. I'm so excited. You have no idea how much I admire you and your writings and the way you love Claire. And Reagan -- Lord help me, is totally obsessed with her butt right now!? Ugh ...

    (¸¤ Lanaya | xoxo

  4. My kids will be the older cousins. I'd like to think I'm raising two kids who won't do a lot of butt touching... but who knows. They probably will. Or, like they do now, nose picking. :)

  5. It's nice that she's branching out with family too, because they instantly love her regardless of any strongholding that may or may not be going on. ;) You have a really healthy attitude about it all too (tipping my hat).

    Have a great week! Oh, and I had to look up 'ersatz,' lol! Good word!! :)

  6. Rachel Isaiah's cousin is his only "sibling" and letting them navigate and negotiate is one of the constant struggles my sister and I have. In the beginning the onus was always on Isaiah to be gentler, nicer, more patient. But as time goes on Josie has learned she has power because Isaiah will always be blamed. We are catching on.... but the whole thing has been a very interesting study in familial social development.

  7. In our family, each cousin has 11 others to contend/play/fight with, ranging in age from almost-eleven down to two months. And all of them live in the same town, so interaction is frequent. I agree, it is the perfect training for life!

  8. I am the oldest. I think I pushed my brother the most (six years younger than me) but with such a wide age gap between most of my cousins and me, was not that girl to them. I was always more in the adult party. Being the oldest and only for a long time and born to young parents, I was treated more like an adult from the get go.

  9. Allie is the much younger cousin. There is a little over a decade between them, the much older boy (horror) cousins. I will say, though, it does get easier. Eventually those cheap babysitters will become confidants.

  10. I think it's crazy how cousin's play such a vital role in our existence. It can either be for the very, very best or the horrific. I had a couple of each in my own life and I watch my children develop their relationships with their's fascinating!

  11. Ha! I like this. I was always the older cousin of the three of us, but we were all close in age. I always wanted older siblings and cousins to teach me the ropes. I have a feeling Claire is going to be just fine. Especially since she already knows what she wants for dang sure!

  12. Oh, you are such a conscious parent! Though amusing, that friend and family boundary stuff can be tricky! Sophie has certainly barked her fair share of, "No Izzy! No touch my hiney!" And yes, it is hard not to laugh. You are such a good mama. :)

  13. I was the much younger cousin, and I turned out OK. Maybe. OK, maybe we shouldn't use me as an example, but I did love playing with my cousins! And the letting go... oh, that's the hard part. I am slowly breaking myself of the helicopter parent-ness. Good for you for enjoying your alcoholic beverage!


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