“Dad, I want a cell phone.”
This was one of the scariest statements of my parenting career. Think about the implications of a preteen with a mobile phone, allowing her to access all the world has to offer, good and bad. So, I tried to stall by asking, “What do you want me to do about that?” Without hesitation, she swiftly responded, “Will you get me one?”
I couldn’t look at her, because I knew my answer was “NO!” but I didn’t want to deal with the emotional fallout of a preteen. “Well, Daddy?” she asked. ‘Daddy’ is sometimes what she calls me because that word is my kryptonite. I quickly shifted gears and experimented with something different…a better question.
So I asked, “What will a cell phone do for you?”
Then, the yelling happened.
What had I done? I tried to make out some of her statements and they sounded something like: “Because all my friends have them and I don’t and my life is boring and if you loved your daughter you would get me one!!!”
I told her, “I can’t do that for you.”
More yelling…”Why?!?!?!? You’re the one that has all the money and I don’t have any of the money so just get me one!”
(The heart wants what it wants, right?)
Again, my response, “I’m sorry, I just can’t give you what you want.”
On the surface, this moment seemed to be chaotic, but a holy moment was brewing. I chose not to scold or tell my daughter “that’s no way to treat your father!” Instead, I sat with her in her sadness, something I hadn’t tried before.
After a few moments of silence, I did my best to help sift and sort out her emotions. “When your friends are all on their mobile phones laughing and passing messages back and forth, it makes you feel left out, doesn’t it?”
Nodding. More tears.
Then, the question she couldn’t answer, “Where did you get the idea that a cell phone will help you feel included?”
A friend of mine once told me that humans would rather do anything than to reckon with reality. My daughter didn’t really want a cell phone. She was feeling left out. This is a hard reality for a kid…and for me as a parent. How do I love my kids, but not allow society to discretely shape their desires and wants? How do I “battle” and “manage” all these external influences on my children? How do I say ‘No’ in a way that doesn’t make my kids hate me, but actually strengthens our relationship?
Good news…there is hope…but it’s hard work.
I learned 3 things from this experience:
- Sitting with her in her sadness let her know that she wasn’t alone.
- Asking *better* questions invited my daughter into relationship with me, and uncovered the relationship with her wants.
- Mirroring her emotional state back to her gave her permission to be present to what was really going on.
John Coe of Talbott Seminary stated that “Feelings: They are lousy leaders but excellent windows.” My daughter’s feelings, once safely brought into the light, gave her an opportunity to reckon with them. This was, and still is, a gift to her.
Yes, my daughter got her cell phone. And yes, she pays for her bill. She did the hard work of redefining the purpose of a cell phone instead of letting the cell phone define her.
How about you? How can you trust that what you want is really what you want? If you have children, how are you learning to navigate their requests and demands?
(Yes, my daughter was the first to read/edit before it was posted. She said, “I want to help people who might be going through the same thing.”)