I typically stay off of the “community” Facebook page for our little town. I find it mostly uplifting, but also find the complaining and lack of compassion at times too much to deal with. After all, I shouldn’t walk away from reading my news feed irritated at random strangers for their narrow minded views, or their disagreement with my sensibilities. So, I usually stay away.
The other day though, a post caught my eye. It was written by a father who had witnessed (with his daughter) the rather unkind taunting of a girl his daughter’s age by a group of three same-aged girls in a public restaurant. The point of the post was to draw attention to bullying, to draw parent’s attention to their children’s behavior — as it seemed during the interaction that the trio of girls were with an adult who seemed unaware of what was transpiring. It was a well-meaning, well-intentioned post — and as I skimmed the comments waiting to pick up Aiden after school I remembered why I usually do not read these.
The comments from the adults on the post ranged from empathy to sympathy to anger to disgust to meanness. I read many people claiming, “I would have never stood by and let that happen!” while others wrote “I have been there before, I hope the little girl keeps her head up!” While I do take issue with so many people claiming they would never stand by (I think we are far less likely to speak up than we would like to believe), it was the comments such as these that really made me think: “It’s usually the popular girls who end up fat and working at 7-11 anyway!” or “I hope those girls get treated like that by somebody else!” I am paraphrasing here … but the ideas are the same. The anger and lashing out was real.
I understand the anger, I really do. If you have a child, you feel their pain. You want to protect them and keep them safe. I wasn’t comfortable with the lash out toward the girls — they were, after all, reported to be 13 years of age or so. They are children also. I was also not comfortable with the demeaning light in which the word “fat” was thrown around, or even the insinuation that someone working at 7/11 isn’t a hard working, productive person in our society. But I understood those responses. I get where they are coming from.I wished there was a better way to communicate our hurt and frustration for this girl than more meanness — but I understand it. The desire to protect our children is as innate as our desire to breathe. As a momma, it has been one of the largest beasts I have had to tame.
It was the few responses like this that that really worried me, the ones that made me think: “My daughter never acts like this, thank God.” My first thought was … how do you know this? The writer of the original post was urging parents to become engaged, to pay attention, to notice small cues our kids may be giving us, that we may be missing as we rush through life — on both sides of the bullying coin. He wanted us to keep our eyes open, his intent was to inform, to remind us to stay vigilant. If everyone is busy claiming — if not out loud at least in their minds — that their daughter/son/child never acts that way — then whose kids are doing it? As much as I love my sons, I have no doubt that they have treated other people unkindly … that they have treated people in ways I would not approve of. I call them on it when I see it, and I appreciate the poster’s intent to encourage me to continue to stay plugged in. To continue to listen and be observant and to talk. To really talk with them about how their words, actions and behaviors affect other people. Perspective check. I get it, thank you!
A very good friend of mine — whose advice I refer to often — says, “I believe, ultimately, our children will do something to disappoint us. I believe they will make life choices that we will not agree with.” She told me that years ago — and I have leaned on that sage piece of advice many times. The truth doesn’t lie in our children’s inherent goodness, or in their desire to please or their kind hearts. The truth lies in the fact that they are human. They are not capable of navigating life without mistake, without error, without … disappointing us as much as we are not capable of the same. Mistakes are part of our humanness. To let go of the notion that my children had to be perfect, to let go of the idea that if they were not perfect I had failed, was one of the greatest gifts of friendship I have ever received. Her words did that for me — and her openness with which she talks about her own children’s mistakes. There is so much comfort in truth and honesty. So much to be learned and to grow from.
I was substitute teaching last week and was asked to read a book about “Mistakes That Worked”. There were small vignettes telling the stories of mishaps in life that turned out to open doors, provide new knowledge and ultimately do good. While I can’t truly compare the accidental discovery of penicillin to girls treating each other poorly — I think the underlying idea is what gets me thru parenting and is part of what hurt me as I read those comments. They are going to screw up. They are going to fail. They are going to disappoint us. They are going to do things we don’t approve of and make choices we disagree with. The proof is in the pudding — I know for certain I have done things that did not follow the moral compass my parents instilled in me. It’s not a flaw in their parenting — it was my humanness that lead me to fail. It’s my desire to see my boys without rose colored glasses — and I admit that I fail at that at times as well — that allows me to truly see who they are. To see the person who is evolving in front of me — not the perfect version I have decided they are.
I find, on any given day, that the fine line between loving who my children are becoming and striving to learn who they really are — warts and all — is one of my life’s greatest challenges. It is also one of my life’s greatest rewards. By seeing what needs to be learned, by acknowledging what needs to change, by communicating and talking with them about what I see that I don’t like — we provide an opportunity for the two of us to grow. For us to see each other’s points of view and really love each other for who we really are. Making mistakes is human. Hurting people — intentionally or not — is human. Ignoring those mistakes and those hurts is where the danger lies. I am so grateful, every day, for my dear friend and her empowering advice. Without it, I would have (if I didn’t post it “out loud”) been the person who wrote, “My boys do not act like that.” And I would have been wrong at least somewhere along the way.