And Don’t Forget to Act Out, My Love


May 1, 2014 by Katia


I have absolutely no interest in rule breaking. I’ve lived my life trying to abide by a set of unwritten rules. Constantly spinning my wheels in an attempt to identify The Rule, always fearful of being outed as the one who didn’t know that we’re not supposed to do That – whatever That may be – in a new workplace, country or simply with a new group of friends.  Most certainly not driven by conformism and being a fairly tactful person who very rarely puts their foot in their mouth, I am not sure where this fear of doing the wrong thing derives from, but I do know that what lies underneath it all is a very basic need for acceptance.

I’ve been watching my son, Four Year Old, trying to similarly identify rules, relying on us, his parents, as mediators between him and World. World comes with SO many rules: behavioral, physical, legal, religious and he’s trying to construct a replica of that, complete with explanations, in his head. While my own search for unwritten rules where they don’t even necessarily exist is often restricting and de-liberating, my son’s represents a stage in his development. It is not my son’s search for rules which I’m concerned about, but rather the search for acceptance through learning them, or to be even more exact – him often putting acceptance above other values.

I love watching my son interact with other children during play dates. He is respectful, playful and engaging. Ever the gracious host, he usually won’t let his friends leave without gifting them one of his toys. As a play date guest he is polite and while he usually has a pretty good idea of what it is that he wants to play, he will never argue or “go on strike” if the host is on a different page. His friends’ parents often praise him for his manners and his teachers comment on his level of maturity. While my heart overflows with pride, love and appreciation for the little man I’m raising it also burns with pain.

His teachers get to see the shiny and appealing external manifestations of something I get to see the darker insides of, raw fear. Fear of not being loved.

Last summer we visited our older family friends in their home. The water sprinkler and hose were switched on for Four Year Old and he was having the time of his life pretending to try and spray the owners of the house. Until he succeeded. From the porch overlooking the garden one of the grownups noticed that something was wrong. I looked down and saw the hunched over figure of my four-year-old. I rushed to comfort him as he was weeping uncontrollably. He thought the owner of the house, one of the most delicate and pleasant people I’ve ever met, was mad at him for spraying her by mistake and he wasn’t going to come upstairs with me and talk to her because he was scared. Despite my son’s talk of fear of punishment, I knew it was actually something else that was holding him back. We never practice punishments at home nor was he exposed to them in school as yet. The punishment he was fearful of was losing love, or worse yet losing love to his one-year-old brother, his number one rival at the time.

You may argue that other kids would react the exact same way in a perceived altercation with an adult and you are absolutely right. I use this as an example of an extreme manifestation of something  I see occurring on his play dates on a much smaller scale. While Four Year Old’s friends will allow themselves to occasionally act out, sometimes be grumpy and very rarely plain rude – usually toward whoever occupies the non-coveted younger sibling guest spot – Four Year Old is always controlled and I just wish he wasn’t. I wish he’d just let himself be. I wish he knew what I understand now. In putting acceptance above anything else you surrender control over your feelings, sometimes even over your self-definition to others. But how do I explain this to you, mature as you may be, my wonderful Four Year Old? Let this be my birthday wish to you on the (almost) eve of your fifth birthday, wonderful Ben. May you share many playful, intense, imagination-filled, thrilling, roll-on-the-floor-laughing moments with your friends. And every once in a while don’t forget to act out, apologize, forgive yourself and let go, my love.



This post is a Finish The Sentence Friday post on the topic “I have absolutely no interest in…”.

Please visit our lovely hosts, some of the best writers out there:

Stephanie at Mommy, For Real

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66 thoughts on “And Don’t Forget to Act Out, My Love

  1. Aww, I totally pictured my 4 year old (almost 5 year old now) and will say she has had moments similar to these and does break my heart, too. I am with you on wishing for them to just be kids and to enjoy themselves in the moment and definitely not to punish, but forgive themselves in times such as these.

  2. Yup. This is what I went through ever so often with my daughter – my oldest. She is an old soul. Hated getting in trouble, breaking the rules and always wanted to be in control of her emotions. “Come on M! Live a little. Break the rules.” It helped. Not all the time but sometimes. At 20 she is able to talk about it and is conciously making an effort to ease up on herself. Hang in there.

    • Katia says:

      It’s great advice that you gave your daughter and I think it’s so important for kids like that to feel supported by their parents. I wrote this post a couple of months ago but haven’t published and then added the bit that had to do with his birthday and thankfully I’m already noticing a slight shift in how he interacts. He is still respectful and giving but has a newly gained confidence (or so I hope) in his own rights and the fact that he HAS them. Thank you so much for the topic, I was so glad to finally use this post.

  3. JeniQ says:

    your son sounds like quite the gentleman 🙂

  4. Karen says:

    wiping my tears away…what a great post. Dino is such a great boy, full of manners, thoughtful, empathetic towards others….but he also has NO control of his energy and body and times. He sometimes feels that HE is bad rather than just having a bad moment.

    • Katia says:

      That’s such a great distinction, my son does the same and I think it’s so typical of kids to assume that THEY’RE bad and not that they’re just having a bad moment. Thank you so much for your heartfelt comment!

  5. Sarah says:

    I’ve always been a good girl, too. But it’s been mostly from a lack of desire to act out. I had no good reason not to follow the rules, so why bother? Of course there have been some exceptions in which I thought it was appropriate and warranted to break the rules.
    But I have a daughter who is like your son. It is a part of her identity that she is a good girl, and when I scold her (rarely), she usually responds, “But you still love me, right?” Heartbreak.

    • Katia says:

      My son always says that “but you still love me, right?” sometimes he cries if I scold him and he thinks I don’t… 😦 Heartbreak is right. And the same goes for me as far as rule breaking, no need, not interested, thanks bye. 😛

  6. My son is the “perfect” student and classmate at preschool, which actually bothers me because I can already see the pressure he puts on himself to win approval. On the flip side, I think it’s a good sign that he’s not afraid to let it all out and be a tyrant with me because it shows he trusts me to not withdraw love if he misbehaves. I tell my kids that I’m going to get mad at them but that I still love them no matter what. And I don’t get bent out of shape when they get mad at me. I know it’s going to be hard for my kids the first time they get in trouble with a teacher but I also think it’s going to be good for them to see it’s not the end of the world. I’m still learning that lesson!

    • Katia says:

      I’m sorry to keep repeating myself in the comments, but not sure if anyone but me reads all of them so I’m sure no one would mind the repetitiveness. It’s funny, but I do see a change in him since originally writing (but not publishing) this post a couple of months ago. The other day I found out, and it was completely casually mentioned and waaaay after the fact, that he was punished by a teacher for following an older friend, getting up and leaving the circle that they were seated in during phys ed and running around the gym yelling something in celebration of something (mommy brain, sorry). I was so GLAD. 😀

  7. What a wonderful portrait of a great moment in your child’s life! I admire that you were able to figure out what was happening with him so quickly and help him to grow.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, Anna! As much as I would love to take credit for helping him grow, I’m not sure I did that. I do see some changes in his behaviour since I wrote the post (two months before I published it for his birthday) but I think he’s been doing some work on himself, taking our comments in and eventually applying them. Thank you, though, so much again for your very very kind comment 🙂

  8. Kerri says:

    I’m a rule follower and am raising one. My husband on the other hand? Loves to see the “gray”. Even my daughter’s teacher will say she is so funny because when kids don’t follow rules in class my kid gets more upset than the teacher!

    • Katia says:

      I love that your little girl’s teacher said! That is SO awesome! (oh, and I totally picture my son doing the same…)

  9. Oh, you have me in tears. I’m doing the trying to type through blurry vision thing. This post really tore me up, Katia, and I think you know that I very much relate to this preoccupation with The Rules and what nuances I’m missing. The desire for acceptance is so much more heartbreaking through the lens of our children.

    • Katia says:

      I know, my dear friend, that’s why I felt that I could so deeply relate to your post last week. I totally get that feeling. I live that feeling! Thank you for your kind words. I always look forward to your comments!

  10. Natalie DeYoung says:

    Aw, he reminds myself as a kid. And what a perceptive mama to see it, and hopefully, lovingly guide him in the right direction. 🙂

  11. Loved reading about your family. Kids at that age are just adorable 🙂 relish these moments, katia cause rules are actually made to be broken 😉

  12. I have two boys the same. One I am convinced is a highly sensitive person, like myself; and the other, not sure about yet. Wanting to fit in, following rules and fear of not being liked are all HSP traits 🙂

  13. I loved this. So much. I have a complicated love-hate relationship with “acting out” as you say. I’m curious to see if it gets transmitted to my son. I hope not.

    • Katia says:

      I know, my friend, I’m curious too as I am to read your post about the same! I remember reading one where you were wondering if Henry would inherit any of your traits but this was back when he was a baby, I think.

  14. What a beautiful, and sad, post. I was also a rule-follower, a seeker of acceptance, and a people-pleaser as a child, and have only recently broken out of that and really let go of some of my issues. What’s challenging for me as a parent is that my daughters, my sweet three-year-old twins, are much more strong-willed than I ever was. They are constantly testing limits and refusing to do what I ask and, basically, making me crazy. They don’t mind getting in trouble, which is so foreign to me. Parenting is just never smooth or uncomplicated is it?

    • Katia says:

      I know! I think my second son is about to teach me a lesson on being a people pleaser – how not to. Both my kids are strong willed and Four Year Old (now Five Year Old) does allow himself to act out with me, but his regret is immediate and intense when he’s done something wrong. 20 Month Old? Not so much…

  15. Lisa @ The Golden Spoons says:

    I never quite thought about it that way, but what excellent advice! I, too, am a strict rule follower, an introvert. What a wonderful thought to, once in a while, give ourselves permission to break the rules and act out.

    • Katia says:

      I think so. As a friend of mine commented on Facebook, she told her son the same. He was upset for getting into trouble for the first time ever with a teacher at school. She said to him that it’s ok to act out every once in a while as long as you stay kind and don’t hurt anyone. I think she put it perfectly.

  16. Sarah says:

    It’s such a delicate balance between teaching them manners and respect, and letting them be themselves. I guess I see it more in terms of looking at intention — are you acting this way because you want to, out of kindness and a desire to honor the other person and treat them with compassion, or are you doing it to be accepted, even if it’s not “you”? Is it about fitting in, or belonging? Thoughtful post, Katia!

    • Katia says:

      Yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s definitely a delicate balance. There are so many contradictions and mixed signals that we give our kids, like “be polite to grownups” but “stranger danger”. It’s so confusing for us, for them.

  17. Dana says:

    As someone who never acted out, I wished that for my kids. A little, not too much. It’s been interesting to watch them grow and become a little less concerned about being perfectly behaved. I’m sad to say I have trouble remembering how they were at Ben’s age. But you’ve documented it, and you can look back as he grows. One of the wonderful things about blogging!

    • Katia says:

      I know, it’s incredible how quickly we forget, isn’t it? There are certain things I can’t remember about Daniel, milestones, and mind you, he will be turning two in August, so it’s not like it’s been years…

  18. bethteliho says:

    Lovely post, Katia. You’re SUCH a great momma!

    My sons don’t care about getting in trouble. At all. Not at home anyway. At school they’re angels. I guess that’s good. Better to act out at home than in school. It’s a bit worrisome. The opposite of your problem. My eldest (almost 10yo) wrote a report for school titled, “How To Be A Pain In The Bum”. He covered topics such as, “Talk your mom into things she usually says no to” and “sneak the ipad in your room at night” and my favorite: “Never clean up your messes”.

    We saw it for the first time displayed ON THE WALL at Open House.

    Yeah. Proud moment.

    • Katia says:

      I absolutely ADORE your son’s essay (duh, it’s adorable when it’s someone else’s kid, right?). You described this hilariously and I believe it merits a post (if there isn’t one that I’ve missed during my temporary retirement…). xoxo you’re hilarious.

  19. “always fearful of being outed as the one who didn’t know that we’re not supposed to do That – whatever That may be”
    (smiles) (I would say, ‘hello clark’ if it didn’t look so odd and lacking of a recognizable context…here in a Comment box).
    Nevertheless, your post speaks to all clarks, knowing that we are Outsiders, fearing being recognized as such and working to appear ‘just like everyone else’. Of course, that darn creative streak we have tends to crop up at the most inconvenient of times… (there is a saying at the Doctrine about clarks, ‘clarks do not enjoy being the center of attention, but will not tolerate being ignored’.

    hey thanks for the Post, enjoyed it!

  20. This is a lesson I’m still trying to learn, he is a lucky little guy to have a parent who is watching out for him! My little gal has a similar issue. She is only 2 but when playing with her peers she is often passive and not active in getting what she wants. She will often wait and wait and wait until there is absolutely going down or climbing up the slide- which is as close to never as you can get! I often find myself urging her to go, in my mind willing the courage to speak up for herself upon her. And in the end I have to realize that I too have to deal with this issue- I have to be the role model for her. Who knew parenting would make you dive so deep into your own issues!?!

    • Katia says:

      Oh, that’s such an excellent excellent observation! I may even write a post about this some day, if you don’t beat me to it! (It’s your idea, you should go for it, really 🙂 ). Yes, 2 seems like ancient history now, but I feel like my son may have behaved the same way on the slide. It’s true that they will model our behaviour and we constantly have to keep that in mind. Again, I just love your closing sentence, thank you so much for this comment!

      • Oh go for it! It’s a great topic that has so many view points. I’m glad my child isn’t the only one hesitating on the jungle gym! 😉 (Today at the park she put her hand on on a kids tummy and said “No thank you” I was a proud Mama!)

      • Katia says:

        That’s terrific about your little girl! I’m overjoyed to hear this! 🙂

  21. Candid Mama says:

    I have never thought about our difficulties forgiving ourselves as a need for acceptance. An insightful post. As someone who is harder on herself than anyone could ever be, perhaps I should reflect on the source of these feelings. Little Ben sounds like such a sweet boy. Happy birthday to him.

    • Katia says:

      Oh, I can so relate to this – being harder on yourself than anyone else. That’s why I struggled in one of my jobs. One of my supervisors was very blatant and demanding. If I’d done something that I wasn’t thrilled with I already knew I should correct it next time and when they’d criticize me I remember thinking “been there, done there, criticized myself much harder”.

      Thank you so much for what you said about Ben. Yes, I have to agree, he’s very sweet 🙂

  22. Oh! Poor baby! I feel so bad that he feels that way! He seriously reminds me of me when I was young! People will love him! He sounds like such a sweet boy and I bet you’re really proud of him. I hope that your strength and the positive feedback he gets from you and his peers and their parents shows him that it’s okay to be who he is. He sounds like such a sweet and sensitive boy.

    It took me a long time to get over my insecurities (and I’m still kind of quirky.) People see me as really confident (why?) and describe me as being like Zooey Deschanel (she’s awesome, so I’ll take it.) I’m still insecure, but I’m over feeling bad. I figure, if I say something stupid — which is my MO–, I’ll apologize and then if the person still harbors ill will, then it’s on them.

    This was actually a really thought provoking post. It sounds like you have such an amazing child (even if sometimes your heart really has to go out to him.)

    • Katia says:

      Oh, Melanie, I can’t thank you enough for this comment and for sharing such personal stuff with me. I really really appreciate this. I’m not a confident person myself and I know what it feels like. To me it feels like being constantly watched by someone who is expecting me to fail. I find great comfort and reassurance in what you wrote here. He IS a sweet boy and I know he’ll be okay. Thank you so much!

  23. Yvonne says:

    Oh Katia, I wish that I could transport you 10 – 12 years into the future just for a few moments. I feel sure you’d find that your son would be doing just fine. Why do I feel so sure? Because when my elder daughter was your son’s age I worried the way you do now, and she’s doing just fine. And so is Ben. You care, you love, you treat him with respect – if he doesn’t act out that’s okay. He’ll find his own way, and hard as it is for us mothers, sometimes we don’t know what’s best. Can you believe that when my first daughter was a baby I worried that maybe she wasn’t crying enough?! Yes, I had a baby that didn’t cry and I thought I was doing something wrong!

    You have inspired me to write a post about this…

    • Katia says:

      Amazing to have inspired you to write something about this. I hold your comments and opinions and views in general in such high esteem. I am so thankful for this comment and I know you’re right. I think that thinking that everything that has to do with our children, including how they feel, is something we control, is a pretty common parent syndrome, but reading your wise and sensitive words open my eyes, as usual, to a different way of doing things. And yes, of course I believe you thought that about your baby and I’m pretty sure I would have too! 🙂

  24. EpiHackr says:

    This post is wonderful. It is something that I have been thinking regarding my children and I for a long time. Thanks! Where it doesn’t exactly fix the problem, having others express similar fear makes me feel as if I am not alone …

    • Katia says:

      I completely agree. Reading the comments here from people who feel the same way about themselves or their children is oddly encouraging 🙂 Thank you so much for your comment!

  25. nikkifrankhamilton says:

    I empathize! I still, at 46, watch to see how others act and act accordingly most times. Especially with people I don’t know very well. I will never get to know them well if I do not act like myself. It pains me at times to realize I may have missed out on some great friendships, but I am so afraid of not being accepted that I find it hard to change. It is so cool that you see this, recognize it, and are on top of it. Your son is incredibly lucky to have such a perceptive mom! Kudos!

    • Katia says:

      I am painfully familiar with what you describe. I behave the same way, more so when I’m with new company. It took me a year to let loose in my last job and start feeling more like myself, if you can believe that! Thank you so much for this comment, there’s great comfort and knowing that others feel like that too!

  26. chew says:

    Wow! Well done to you for your kindness and patience. I have always been rule obsessed and my first and third son’s (11 & 6yrs) have this also. It seems to be related to sensitive, over-thinkers in my family and it is through this obsession that we can become incredibly passionate with the potential to change the world. I struggle on a daily basis to find the fine line between encouraging rule breaking and being forceful with following rules to maintain order. I have two other sons (second and fourth sons) that are the complete opposite, which in a strange way helps my Rule Following two to understand that even when we make mistakes we are still loved and that if forgiveness is required then you need to ask for it and respect that enough to try better next time. My eldest really found his confidence at about 9 years old when he did something at school that made him face THAT fear (he tried to cheat on a test to be cool & I made him admit and apologise to his teacher). His teacher was great about it and showed him that acceptance and forgiveness can come even out in the big wide world. You seem to be much better at this parenting gig than me with how much love and acceptance you show to your kids, I hope you show that to yourself too, I’m still learning!!

    • Katia says:

      Oh my goodness, what a kind comment and I was actually thinking the opposite when reading it – YOU are so much better at this than me. I think that in my writing I come across infinitely more patient than I actually am. My now five year old has, since I’ve written the post (I waited for two months before publishing it), developed a knack for completely ignoring my voice when it speaks rules… Somehow magically he cannot hear me say “please don’t” and all of its derivatives. 🙂 I am not at all patient when he ignores rules that concern his safety, well being and just proper behaviour. I do feel like I completely understand where he is coming from when it comes to his insecurities and can relate to them, but that leap of faith you took by telling your son to confess to the teacher? WOW. I’m in awe. That’s some great parenting right there!

  27. Kerith Stull says:

    Great take on this sentence! We all need to break out a little once in a while and definitely apologize and get over when we do something unintentionally. My parents tell the tale of when I was in preschool. I did something bad (I don’t even know what it was) and when the teacher asked why I did such a blatantly wrong thing, the story goes that I said , “I wanted to know what it felt like to be bad.” Luckily, I now have a lot of experience at being bad. (Visiting from FTSF)

    • Katia says:

      That’s a wonderful story (and comment to go with it)! I think I may have gotten what I wished for in a playdate yesterday, although Ben was acting out toward the house rules at his friend’s house, which was not what I was hoping for, but it’s a start… 😛 Thank you so much for visiting and commenting!

  28. Jean says:

    I eagerly await a story about Ben and his mother acting out.

    Katia, when you write about your children, I’m always struck by how sensitive you are to their needs and how well you know them. Just that is such a huge gift that you hold and that they are receiving on a daily basis. Even when you’re sleep deprived.

    • Katia says:

      I heart you for saying this. I feel humbled and I’d say even like a bit of a fraud with everyone thinking I’m such a great parent. I’ve lost my patience a lot this week. I know that I do mostly understand where my kids are coming from but it doesn’t always instantly translate into empathy or knowledge what to do.

  29. momsranting says:

    You worded this beautifully, bringing to mind all those painful moments of parenthood as we watch our children deal with their own vulnerabilities. Those moments make me want to grab them, hug them, and never let them go. It’s a painful process, growing up. Sometimes more for us, as we watch and remember all these moments that usually are forgotten on their part.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, what a wonderful comment. Yes, all you can think about is just grabbing them and hugging stuff away… And so true that watching them stirs some of our own emotional baggage and its blown out of proportion and becomes so much bigger in our heads than it actually is while they completely forget and move on 🙂

  30. […] few days ago Katia, who blogs at iamthemilk, wrote a post after noticing how polite her young son is with other kids. She expressed concern that in putting […]

  31. My heart hurts every time I see my son learning that the world isn’t always loving. I watch him learn when he smiles and a little girl runs away or he says hello to an older person and they just keep walking. It’s crushing as a momma to see them receive anything but love. My son is caring. Yesterday he was too busy sharing his paci with Elmo to notice I was putting him to bed. But he’s testing his limits at play dates. Pushing for a toy if someone takes something he has or worse yet momma’s attention. I’m trying very hard to get comfortable with him learning limits and not pushing him to behave at the sake of his own feelings. It is so very hard.

    • Katia says:

      This whole gig is excruciatingly hard sometimes. Especially watching them not put themselves out there and not receiving love in response. Thank you for this wonderful comment!

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