Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Joy Found Through Pain

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. Research finds 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 your child.

I still have these feelings as the parent of a teenager, but they're now tempered by 16 years of what I'll call wisdom; the experience by proxy 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. 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 you, as a parent, really are helpless and impotent if you 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 damn good when we get there.

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1 comment:

Cave Momma said...

Thank you for this post. My daughter, who turned 5 last September, is a very outgoing and loving child. She loves everyone and wants everyone to be her best friend FOREVER! Unfortunately, some of these very sweet girls seem a bit overwhelmed and turned off by her personality and she just doesn't understand why they don't love her like she loves them. It's been very difficult for her and me. I never found someone to connect with but I'm confident she will. I just hope it is sooner rather than later.