When my son asks, ‘Mommy, do I suck?’, what should I say?
“Ng,” my younger sister nudged me. “Why is your son so bratty tonight?”
There he was, slumped across us on the restaurant table: arms crossed, brows furrowed, lips pouting, still extremely adorable.
I told her that he had actually just come from a really good mood. We watched a movie that he enjoyed (“except for the scary parts!”) and afterwards, he ran around the mall pretending to be the Black Power Ranger. Everything was going well, until we sat down at a coffee shop. I’d given him some paper and pens, and —
“Mommy, do I suck?”
He was drawing a rocket ship and a Minecraft Creeper and, just now, when I asked him to remind me what it was he was drawing again, he said, “Mine look horrible.”
My sister gasped then pointed at me accusingly: “DOMINANT INSECURE GENE! He got that from you!”
(“Excuse me, you also!” “Yeah, but I didn’t give birth to him!” Gee. Belated Happy Siblings’ Day to you, too.)
So when my son asked, “Mommy, do I suck?” I didn’t even have to look at him or his work to say,
“What? Of course not!”
Because what kind of mother would tell her child that his drawings are bad! What kind, I tell you! (Also, I thought his drawings were cool???)
But wait a minute. Was I doing my son a disservice by telling him he didn’t suck?
But Wait a Minute, The Second: does this mean I have to tell my son he does suck?
Because first of all, I honestly didn’t think he did. However 5-year-old-y those drawings look, they are cross my heart better than anything I could come up with myself.
But I could also see what he was seeing: that his drawings didn’t look like what he wanted them to look like. Baby boy had high standards, and high standards he didn’t feel he was meeting.
Man, I get that.
It’s one thing to pep talk myself. It’s another to pep talk this little child who is feeling bad and insecure and looking for reassurance but is also someone I need to raise into a capable and resilient person but also needs love because this is a vulnerable moment and a vulnerable question help.
He was disappointed in himself and already felt his work was subpar, so this was also kind of a lose-lose situation. Tell him he doesn’t suck, and invalidate how he’s feeling. Tell him he does suck and crush his little five-year-old heart and dreams maybe forever and also be An Awful Mother.
He asked me if he sucked many times that night and the next day, further solidifying my theory that I mitosis’d my baby out of me. That also gave me a chance to refine my answers, from
“What, of course not!”
“What do you mean?” (aka totally evading)
to what I finally came up with.
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