Last week my son gave me a performance review and I don’t remember reading the bit in the parenting book that said that there would be a time in your life that your child might complain about your parenting techniques.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the receiving end of a performance review so this meeting with the nine-year-old Head of HR was unexpected and seemed unnecessary.
I’m not entirely sure what inspired him, I hadn’t requested any professional development opportunities and I wasn’t aware I needed performance management. But I know the value of constructive feedback, so I sat down on his bed, because this all conveniently played out at bedtime which for him was a perfectly acceptable time to discuss my shortcomings.
Here’s how it went down.
- He kicked off by telling me he doesn’t like it when I make him do jobs when he is tired (insert dramatic eye roll) It was as if an internet meme came to life when he said that he doesn’t think it is fair that I make him set the table/feed Arnold the cat/put his socks in the laundry when he’s been at school all day. He said, and I am not kidding, ‘when I get home from school, I just need to rest.’ Righto. I nod, not because I agree, but because I want to keep the conversation moving, I’m trying to keep a straight face and also, I want to go downstairs and watch Ted Lasso.
- He does not like that he is the ONLY child in his class that does not get lollies in his lunch box. He then specified further and said he was the ONLY child in grade three that did not get lollies in his lunch box. Eva gets natural confectionary snakes every day and it’s not fair that he does not. I am certain that this is a giant embellishment and patently untrue. I attempt a polite debate on the matter, but he is unrelenting and evidently this is not a collaborative meeting.
- Whilst on the subject of food, his dissatisfaction with his lunch box reminds him of dinner times and he is annoyed that I’m always getting him to try new foods. He wants to eat what he wants to eat.
- It dawns on me that he has assumed all along that as his mother I know what I’m doing. I’m not sure I should admit to him that if he thinks this, then he is deeply misguided because I am, for the most part just making it up as I go along because isn’t that what we are all doing? I am partly amused by all of this, his face bares a seriousness to it as he earnestly talks to me, I’m making listening noises and it’s clear that he is encouraged that I’m taking this all on board. I’m reminding myself that it is good that he is expressing his feelings and communicating to me. But the guilt is real and tangible and the feeling of inadequacy ebbs and flows inside me.
- His next point comes as no surprise; I’ve heard it before. Not only does EVERY child in his class get lollies, but they ALL get to watch M rated movies. I am deeply suspicious but also a tiny bit curious. I’m informed that Henry got to watch Skull Island on the weekend, and he doesn’t understand why he isn’t allowed to watch it. This coming from my sensitive child who last weekend set up a ‘restaurant’ in the backyard so that the ants had something to eat.
- I make a mental note to watch the Skull Island trailer.
- I am always rushing him. This is harsh but also reasonable. Again and again, I am reminded to ‘enjoy this time, it goes so fast’. But how to reconcile this with the practicalities of life is not yet something I have figured out.
- We are 20 minutes in, and I am compelled to interrupt him with some advice on delivering performance appraisals, you know, the feedback sandwich method, cushioning all the negative with something positive. I choose not to, but I’m silently willing him to throw me a bone.
- He is on such a roll that he’s decided to bring up a past transgression. Apparently when he was six years old, he wanted Tom to come over for a sleep over. Allegedly I told him he could have one when he was seven. Well now he is nine and he still hasn’t had the sleepover and HE HAS NOT FORGOTTEN THIS.
- At school drop off and pick up, I kiss him and call him sweetie, and this is annoying and embarrassing.
- It’s fine, I’m fine.
- And finally, I am too controlling, and he wants to just be able to live his life the way he wants to. I am inclined to altogether dismiss this as just ridiculous. He is nine and his capacity to put his socks in the laundry instead of watching Preston on YouTube play Minecraft means that if he was able to live life the way he wants to then he’d never have clean socks. I also worry that the cat will starve. But there is profoundness to what he has said, and I feel vulnerable and conflicted. I have to look inside myself to find out why. He is growing up. There will come a time when he won’t need me the way he needs me now. Right now, he is around every day but one day he won’t be.
I’m reminded to pay attention to the now.
He’s finished now, and though it all seems wildly subjective, I thank him. Because I am thankful that he wants to talk to me, I’m thankful that he feels safe to do so.