Monday, July 29, 2013

Making Amends Outside the Family

One of the most heartbreaking things a parent has to go through is watching their child's sad face when it's time to pay the piper. 

It's one thing when our children cause a problem for us; we feel our frustration at the situation and call on them to fix the mess they've made. We may even feel angry at our child for doing that very thing we asked them not to do, or angry at them if they present a poor attitude when it's time to fix the problem. That old saying "familiarity breeds contempt" sometimes feels a little too true when we are asking our children to wipe their mud from the floor or clean up their arts table full of paper cuttings or (egad!) go flush the toilet please, now and instead of a cheerful "yes, Mom" we are met with sighs and gallumphing and the despised eye roll. 

Yet it's a whole other story when someone else calls on our child to take care of a problem they have caused. Instead of eye rolls, there are tears. There are passionate declarations~ "I won't do it if they are watching" or "I'm going to go hide in my room forever and not come out until they are gone" or something else which is sadly unreasonable but a real reflection of our child's fear and embarrassment at the situation they have--unwittingly or not--created. It's one thing to make a mistake, but it's completely another to do something you were told not to do, and then to get called on it by someone who is not in that safe realm of unconditional love which parents offer. And if that person gets a little cross and wants you to fix it, which is an extremely reasonable consequence.... well, that's the worst, right? 

It is the worst if you are a kid and this adult isn't one of your nurturers, not a caregiver or teacher, but someone you think is kind of cool. Especially hard. There's no way to save face and boy, do little egos get crushed. 

And it's the worst to watch as a parent, but it's also so important that we don't step in too much if we see that the adult in question is relatively judicious and a good person.  (Of course we intervene if that adult is not judicious or showing those honorable characteristics which indicate that they are a person who does want what is best for our child.) Sometimes, we have to allow those moments to continue to invite that adult to be important in our child's world. Should we stymie that adult's proposed reasonable consequence, this will impact the future relationship between our child and that important person in their lives. 

We count on other adults to be loving, caring people in our children's lives. Our kids need to know that they are important to other people besides their parents and peers. That there are adults who are looking out for them, even when those moments of correction are emotionally difficult. These adults care enough to be willing to be uncomfortable with our children. Let's face it--what adult wouldn't be a bit disconcerted at having to help another person's kid make things right after that sort of conflict? It's not a pleasant task, yet it is an investment in keeping their relationship square with each other and it helps teach the child that it was important enough of an error to fix it. 

I'm grateful to have these sorts of adults in our lives-- people who love our child enough to want to help him fix his mistakes. I am so very blessed to have this level of investment in my son by people who do care about him. And it does break my heart to have to see the hurt and embarrassment, the anger the child has at themselves for making the mistake, even when that anger is misdirected. This is when I have to take a step back and not intervene, but to let those other teachers have their moment of teaching. To allow them to get their relationship back on track in real-life terms. Parents love you unconditionally, but others ask you to play fair with them. This is a hard, good part of real life. To let others help our children, even when we want to protect our children from those harsh feelings they might have about themselves in those moments. 

Sometimes, it's really hard to be a parent. It takes real guts, and it is gut-wrenching. But it is never boring and I will be grateful, too, for that as well. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Future Advice for My Son: No Crying Selfies

Hello dear Kiddo, this is your mother. 

Sometimes, in this wacky world of ours, I see something that is so deeply disturbing--and far too trendy-- that I feel it must be discussed at all costs, lest you make the same miserable mistake I see so many young people making these days. 

Now, before you start off by saying "now, Mom, I know-- I know... even if everyone jumped off the Burnside Bridge, I will have the smarts and common sense not to. I know how to be cool by NOT being a follower", consider this-- I'm sure that the people who have made the mistake I'm about to mention also thought of themselves as individuals. Individuals with their own unique feelings on their own unique path...

...yet, that path is one of humiliation and regret. That path will likely only lead to public mockery at worst, severe eye-rolling at the very least. 

I know that you are growing up in an age of unprecedented self-absorption and increasing (like, off the charts!) narcissism, so it's natural that you might want to post your every feeling and experience online. You are a kid in a new world, I get it. These days, it's not enough to just call your one good friend and share your heartache like a more dignified, gray-haired older person might have done back in their day. You know, using those antique telephones- hey, we used to have outrageously long extension cords for those so you could take it into your room... or the wall-mounted ones had super-long spiral cords so you could hide behind the island in the kitchen to talk with some pretense of privacy. We all did this when Dad and I were kids. We'd call a friend and talk when we had something to share.

Now, your words can reach so many people at one time. An image can go out to the masses in as much time as it takes for me to blink. Which is why I feel I must, must caution you against one of the most stomach-twisting trends of self-expression possible:

The crying selfie.

I'm sorry, young man, but there is nothing that screams "not ready for technology" more than this horrid misuse of social media. Please, if you are upset, come talk to myself or your father. We will likely be sympathetic, we will try not to point out the lesson within your disappointment too, too hard, and I can nearly guarantee that there could be some ice cream in it for you if you look sad enough. Come talk to us, or call up a friend if you need to talk.  We won't hover, we will let you talk without interruption, even if it is on the landline. We have progressed to the cordless phone, so you can take it into your room. Yippee!

Non-judgmental listening, ice cream, the promise of unlimited phone use on the landline... all of that. So long as you promise us-- please promise us-- not to go posting sad pictures of yourself online. Because every time I see one, I have to wonder: why the hell is this kid's parents letting them post these horrible pictures of themselves in all their pain and woe? Who forgot to teach that kid to have enough regard and respect for themselves so as not to make a spectacle out of a hard moment? This is akin to the sad sack girl at a party, crying in the corner to get attention. Young son of mine, we all see through that girl. Let me be blunt: if she really, truly felt like such shit about something so gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking that she has to be sobbing at someone else's event, she should have stayed home. Instead of using good social judgment (not to mention manners) and staying home, she brought her need for a pity party along and is now going to be the downer in the corner whom everyone 'checks on' but no one really has much empathy for. 

Truthfully, when we see attention-crying in a social situation, it's all just ugly and awkward and we wish that it would Just Go Away. 

This is what I want you to think about if you are ever tempted to post a crying selfie pic:

1. Did you do the necessary problem-solving that was available? In short, are you crying over spilt milk when you have a clean-up rag in your hand? 

2. Are you making a mountain out of a molehill?  That is to say, have you zoomed in on your sad moment to the point that you are magnifying the situation all out of proportion?

3. Did you check your pulse before you send that weepie picture of yourself? That means two things: First,you are still alive and therefore this is not the end of the world as you might, in your youth, perceive it to be. Second, it means that you are still among the living and will therefore be alive as your peers mock you for it. 

4. Whatever it is that is hurts so bad for you now is probably going to be small potatoes compared to the pain and loss you will experience as an adult. Not that adult upset is superior, but it usually has more catastrophic consequences. (Unless the adult is a Drama Queen, then of course all bets are off.) The heartbreaks and disappointments of today are practice to make you stronger for the stomach-lurching future disasters of adulthood. Learning to cope with them in a dignified manner as a young person will be of benefit in the future when the stakes are higher and the degree of maturity in how you handle disappointment will have far more impact on how things shake out than then do now.

All that to say, son, no crying selfie pictures. None. This will only show a lack of character, lack of good judgment, and result in my saying "Well, why don't you just put it on a billboard in the middle of town?" before I take away every possible access to social media  you might have. Seriously, sweetie, don't mess with me on this one. No Crying Selfies. Period. If I have to explain any further why the Crying Selfie is so bad, we'll also be discussing the virtues of having a shred of dignity and a modicum of self-respect. And likely finding a therapist who will be able to teach you how to deal with disappointment old-school style, like crying in your room, slamming doors and screaming "My life is over! OVER!" at the top of your lungs the way we did back in the day. Real, authentic teenage anger. Dad and I can deal with this. We can even deal with few expletives if you are detailing why life isn't 'fair' at that moment. 

That's the deal: you get to scream and curse if it's truly necessary. Be undignified at home, with us. We've even seen you do some pretty embarrassing stuff when you were little, so this is really not going to phase us. (Oh, and we didn't take a picture of it and send it to everyone. We have practice in preserving your dignity.) No crying selfies, 'kay?

We love you or we wouldn't care enough to say no. 
Mama