“Perhaps I shouldn’t even tell people about this because it’s probably bad, but I just felt I had to do it,” said a friend of mine shortly after a trip with her four-year-old son to the gas station.
My friend — we’ll call her Joanna — is a hip, young mother of two small children who is trying to make sure they receive the best upbringing possible. She relayed the following story to me:
“My four-year-old son has been really interested in how pumping gas works lately, so when I went to the gas station I told him he could pump the gas into our car. While he was pumping the gas, the gas station attendant came over to tell me that my child wasn’t allowed to pump gas. I probably shouldn’t have done this, but I just ignored him and let my son continue pumping the gas. He’s my child and I know what’s best for him. The gas station attendant was not respecting me as a parent.”
This story has caused me much thought.
I don’t know if the gas station or the state has a minimum-age rule about those who are allowed to pump gas, but Joanna didn’t think about that or try to understand the gas station attendant’s point of view. Nor did she consider his responsibility in keeping customers safe. I don’t know if Joanna was standing beside her son or not.
When I heard this story I immediately noticed a common conflict parents find themselves in. Parents rightly see their teacher/nurturer role as having a right to allow their child to experience whatever they determine is appropriate. The gas station attendant sees himself as the person in charge of the establishment and the person who must inform others of the rules in order to keep people safe. He has the right to create rules for the gas station and has the right to give people “no” answers. He even has the right to refuse service to someone if they don’t keep the rules. His role as gas station attendant needs to be respected, or chaos at the establishment will result.
In the situation above, the role of the parent deciding whatever he or she wants to decide is in direct conflict to the role of the gas station attendant giving a “no” answer. Likewise, each of these adults has a different perception of what the role of a four-year-old son should be at the gas station.
As much as some people would like to erase roles altogether because of popular gender role debates and selfish views of the purpose of life, it is impossible. From the very beginning we have had roles. God sent us here, so we have a role as a follower and child of God. Those are roles we can pretend don’t exist, but we cannot escape them. I am a woman, a wife and a mother. Those are roles, and I cannot escape them. I can live contrary to those roles by not respecting them or not feeling gratitude for them, but I really cannot escape them. I will never find peace ‑ unless I magnify the roles I have. Peace comes by knowing who I am and living according to that identity. Living contrary to my identity as mother, wife or woman will only bring frustration, depression and a selfish, unfulfilling view of life.
To be clear about roles (because it is the solution to this mother’s problem), roles are not a task list of responsibilities like cooking, cleaning, driving children places, or mowing the lawn. A role is much deeper than that. The role is the character we play in life. It is literally who we are and the impact we have. We can pick our list of duties once we determine what it really means to live the role we have. Some mothers cook; others don’t. Cooking has nothing to do with roles. Women often do cooking because it is a form of nurturing. Nurturer is their role. That role comes because of biology. The mother carried and birthed the child, which is the beginning of a nurturing relationship.
The word “role” was created inadvertently by playwrights. Role was originally “roll.” If you look in Webster’s 1828 dictionary, the word “role” doesn’t exist, but the word “roll” does. It means “to move in a circular direction; a mass made round; an official writing [such as a court roll].” In the theatre industry there was always a day called “roll day.” That was the day when the rolls of parchment containing the character assignment, as well as the lines the character was intended to say in the play, were distributed to the actors. This parchment was rolled up and tied with a piece of ribbon. After a while the contents of the parchment came to be called “roll,” and eventually the spelling was changed to “role.” I can just see the actors saying to each other, “What roll did you get?” “Oh, my roll is Benedick.”
When I read the definition of “moving in a circular direction,” combined with the origin of the word “role,” the meaning of the word became clearer. We are each given roles before we’re even born. God has special things for each of us to accomplish. Essentially, He was the playwright who gave us our rolls or parts to play. And like the definition of the word “roll,” we’re in a circular progression. We’re eternally moving through roles in the circle of our lives. The word “role” is beautiful!
What This Mother Could Have Done
If Joanna would have truly understood roles, I think the situation with her son would have played out differently. This is what could have happened…
When Joanna wanted to tell her four year old that he could pump the gas, she could have also thought, “I wonder if the gas station would be okay with my son pumping the gas? Out of respect for the gas station I will ask him if it’s okay.”
Joanna could have then gone with her son to the gas station attendant and said, “My son is really interested in how pumping gas works. Is it alright if I allow him to pump the gas in our car?” If the attendant had a problem she could have suggested that she help him or stand beside him while he does it. Most people, if approached assertively yet respectfully, will consent to the request. If the gas station attendant responded “no,” then Joanna could have taught her son by example how to accept a “no” answer.
Think of the respect Joanna could have taught her son! In a world full of feelings of personal entitlement, her son could have learned to not only respect the role of someone else, but also how to speak respectfully. A society crumbles if roles are not respected.
The book, “Roles: The Secret to Family, Business & Social Success” is now available.