“I Wasn’t Expecting a Ring Bear!”

A little boy was in a relative's wedding. As he was coming down the aisle he would take two steps, stop, and turn to the crowd (alternating between bride's side and groom's side). While facing the crowd, he would put his hands up like claws and roar… So it went, step, step, ROAR, step, step, ROAR all the way down the aisle.

As you can imagine, the crowd was near tears from laughing so hard by the time he reached the pulpit. The little boy, however, was getting more and more distressed from all the laughing, and was near tears by the time he reached the pulpit. When asked what he was doing, the child sniffed and said, “I was being the Ring Bear….”

When I read this story, like many of the wedding guests, I smiled at the thought of this young boy “roaring” because he thought he was the Ring Bear. However, the boy’s tears also left me with a sense of sadness. I could only imagine the young boy’s distress as he attempted to fulfill his role with perfection and people laughed in response. The crowd’s reaction wasn’t because of his shoddy attempt—the boy certainly gave his best effort. Unfortunately, he fundamentally misunderstood the role of a ring bearer. Without knowing the details surrounding this story, one can only speculate that no one explained, in detail, the expectations of a ring bearer.

Some people may roll their eyes and think, “Smalley…You’re making way too big of a deal out of a cute story.” Perhaps. But this story represents a much larger problem between parents and their children—one that can cause serious consequences in their relationships.

One problem that I see over and over again is the lack of clearly defined expectations between parents and their children. Often, parents will give their child a direction and the child hears something totally different. The boy in the story had a very different understanding of being a ring bearer.

On a practical level, I remember experiencing conflict with my mom around the issue of cleaning my room. “Greg,” she would say, “go clean your room.” The problem was that I would interpret “clean” very differently than how she was defining it. In her opinion, cleaning meant that you made the bed, put toys back into their proper place, carry dirty laundry into the hamper, properly dispose of the week-old pizza under the bed, and bury the floating goldfish I’d neglected for the past month, and so on. My definition of cleaning, however, was to take everything that wasn’t nailed down or was too big to move, place it all in one big pile and dump the whole thing into the closet. After all, why else would you need a walk-in closet?

Seriously, my mom and I had very different expectations surrounding cleaning. Unless she would clearly define her desire when I was cleaning my room, chances were that my efforts would fall short of her expectations.

The key to resolving this communication problem is to limit the use of vague or ambiguous words that are open to alternative interpretations. For example, instead of saying that your child needs to obey, carefully define the exact behaviors and meaning of the word “obey.” You might say, “Once mom or dad gives a direction, you are to immediately do it without complaining, arguing or nagging.”

Limiting the use of vague words can help clarify expectations between you and your child. As this happens, you will be limiting his need to “roar” at you by mistake or protest.

Greg Smalley, PsyD
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Dr. Smalley previously served as the director of Marriage Ministries for The Center for Healthy Relationships. He is the author or co-author of twelve books concerning marriages and families, and currently serves as the executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family.

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