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. 

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