Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Most Challenging Part Of Being A Parent

For me, the most challenging part of being a parent of a young child was when her friendships aren't going the way she wanted them to go. Especially heartbreaking were those teary car rides home from school when someone had rebuffed, insulted, or otherwise treated my baby badly. I suspect every parent knows the anguish of helpless pity and impotent rage; that objectless casting about for someone to blame or punish or at least be the deserving recipient of the whipsaw of karma, all of it made worse by the knowledge that no one deserves any of that; that these are just children with parents just like you who are all trying to figure it out as well.

We all have a vast pool of experience when it comes to being rejected. Researchers have found that even the most popular kids in elementary school are rejected 30 percent of the time when they seek to enter into play with others. Knowing this, of course, does nothing to reduce the sting, and in particular the special pain we suffer when it is experienced by proxy as it is when it's our own child.

I still have these feelings as the parent of a teenager, but they're now tempered by 18 years of what I'll call wisdom; the experience of having my child repeatedly come through on the other side where there really is friendship. We still, quite regularly, remind ourselves of the great genius of her classmate Katrina who I once overheard successfully comforting my then 6-year-old by saying, "She's mean to me too. When she's nice to me, I play with her. When she's mean, I don't play with her."

As a teacher in a cooperative, I am right there with parents as they see their child struggling with friendships, being rejected, but also, perhaps even more painful, rejecting others. I know how it's impossible to not drop to your knees and plead with your child to behave or feel differently, to accept, if only just this once, your advice and counsel. Or to tell them they must apologize or make amends or buck up or take it philosophically. I'm there as all of these efforts fail because we, as parents, really are helpless and impotent when we try to do anything other than hold them, and listen to them, and feel with them.

Learning about friendship, learning about how we make friends, is, in fact, a lonely road. Learning to populate that road with fellow travelers is something we have to do for ourselves, through the experience that comes from trial and error. "You just don't understand!" is a great truth our children shout at us when we try to do more than just let them finish their cry. We don't understand, even while we have a vast experience.

Friendship is a joy found quite often through pain, sometimes great pain. That's why it feels so good when we get there.

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1 comment:

Erin O. said...

I know this feeling too well. My four year old will tell me when a friend says "you're not my best friend anymore." It just makes me so sad for her, because that hurts. I liked your article because it really shows me all go through it (kids and parents) but what do to? I try to listen and be empathetic, and give a little guidance if she wants it. She likes when we role play and I'm "the mean friend" so she can practice saying nice things, or stand up for herself.

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