Monday, March 14, 2011

Friendly Advice, part I of II

I am watching my big kid form relationships, and I'm staying the hell out of the way. She will have to navigate for herself her boundaries and expectations. I just shut up and mind my own bee's wax. Yep, I don't say a word, not a word.

Are you as fascinated by the origins of that clever expression as I am?
Okay, okay, I am full of CRAP. I can't shut the frick up. It is tough not to park the ol' helicopter on hover and interject all manners of wisdom into her interactions. I am like a deranged mom who thinks big kid's entire social life is a movie set and I am the perfectionist director (Mom-tin Scorsese-- ha ha).

"CUT, CUT. The line was, 'May I please have the ball when you are finished?' You totally left off the 'when you are finished' and you sounded a touch whiny. Remember that your character is a very patient, well-rounded and wise child who is not at all impulsive and never physical.

Got that? Okay, ACTION!"

In addition to the fact that I want to perfect each of her foibles, I also want to protect her from the kids running wild on the set. Some have no director, or even a stage mom, so far as I can see.

And trust me, she needs the protection. After being physically terrorized by another child at the park one day, we then went to Target. While wandering the aisles with our coffee and free cookie, respectively, big kid mused, "that Rachel from the park sure was nice."

"WHAT?!?" I gasped, I then recounted the events and loudly insisted that, in fact, Rachel was NOT nice. We were so deep in conversation that I didn't notice that someone was openly gaping at us (me).

I sounded like a total nut job (talking smack on the under 5 crowd is the surest way to look like a lunatic). WTF? What was I thinking?  Am I actively trying to make my daughter guarded and cynical? The world can't corrupt her if I beat them to it. Geesh! I am pretty sure that destroying her spirit is not in my job description.

So, what is my job description? This is where you come in, gentle reader. You can give a calming voice-over or be the benevolent off-scene narrator in this botched film. This blog has been waxing super-existential the last few months, but what I need right now is some pretty straight-forward, friendly advice. What is our role in their relationships? I want to hear about your own take on friendship and how and when you step-in with your kiddos.

      End Scene.


  1. Oh my. Parenting is so hard. Gayle gave me a photo album with pictures of Anna from days gone by. It really might be my fault that she has her own sense of "style". Loosely referred to as style. Ok, she never wears matching socks! Not even at 19. I'm not sure she will ever be hired as an accountant even after she gets her degree. (Yes, MY daughter wants to be an accountant. She's says liberal arts have not served our family well.)

    Down to the nitty gritty of parenting and relationship navigation. Anna, with her mismatched socks and loyalty to the dollar will be fine. She resisted ALL my attempts to navigate her relationships. My son, however, under my influence, is actually concerned about these things and sometimes, I feel, under cuts his own self-confidence by worrying about the minutia of relationships and networking. Just tonight he was concerned that an email I sent might have undue consequences in his own life. And maybe...but probably not.

    None-the-less, as parents, WE ARE the best and only real influence, model, authority that is available to suggest that there are right ways and wrong ways to navigate relationships of any kind. It remains a balancing act of doing our best, knowing OUR OWN foibles and being able to NOT have our kids act, and more important, react like we do when circumstances are perhaps anxiety provoking. A sort of “do as I say, not as I do”, kind of deal. My best parenting line might be “I may not have done it the right way so you should think about.…” In any case, effort frequently succeeds more than talent. So, onward in your parenting duties. It seems to me like you are doing pretty darn well.

  2. Carrie,
    Thanks, but keep in mind it has been years since you have seen my girls. You might rethink the "darn well" if you took a gander at the hooligans.

    I LOVE that Anna is the Alex P Keaton of your family. I had no idea about that development.

    Do you remember feeling concerned about their friendships when they were kids? I hadn't really thought about it but I am sure an over-focus could lead to worrying about minutia and lack of self confidence (in fact that kind of sounds like, ahem, me). Over-focus is such a beast but you are SO right, we are their best and only real influence. I want to help them get it right but WITHOUT being a huge butt-insky.

    Also, love your idea on the reflections portion. "I may not have done it you should think about..." The ethics model I was trained in grad school taught us the final step of any decision making process should always be reflection and asking yourself what went well and what you would do differently next time. This is obviously the most over-looked and frequently neglected step. One only has to look at our political stage to see that the reflection piece is largely absent.

    And I am pretty sure that if you can get hired in bare feet, Anna should have no trouble in mis-matched socks.

    Thank you!

  3. Oh, gosh. I'm not in your shoes quite yet and I'm really happy about that. Have you ever thought about - when she says things like, "That girl sure was nice," when the girl surely wasn't - asking her why she thinks so? It might be interesting to see what she's thinking and you may find that, on some points, you agree with her.
    While I don't agree with helicopter parenting, I do think that we do have a responsibility to our children to let them know when a "friend" is mistreating them. My mom usually did, but left me to make my own decision regarding the relationship. I learned a lot about relationships that way and also that listening to my mother usually saved me a lot of heartache. =)
    Good luck - I hope I don't have to deal with this for a while more.

  4. Megan,
    Asking open-ended questions instead of giving lots of loud directions? Hmmmm, that is so smart sounding I might have to consider it. The whole point is to get them to think for themselves, after all. I am compulsive about parenting and guidance and one of my biggest tendencies is to over-direct. I have good intentions, but alas. Maybe the secret to your mom's success was letting you know but allowing you to make your own choices. It's hard when they are little and we want to protect them, but that choice making is the ultimate goal, certainly.

    If either of my girls ever utters the sentence, "listening to my mother usually saved me a lot of heartache", I will feel unbelievably lucky--sounds like you had a pretty good mom! Thanks Megan.

  5. Oh, ain't seen nothin' yet! Wait until big kid goes to school. I am CONSTANTLY amazed at how kids behave even in Kindergarten! We have already dealt with SO many things I didn't think we'd have to even consider until Middle School.

    I don't think this facet of parenting is any different than any other. I think we have to let them make their own mistakes and learn from them. Sure, we need to guide and protect them when necessary, but unless they are in REAL danger we need to let them experience what we all experienced (the heartache of a "friend" lost, the joy of an unexpected friend). When their hearts get broken, they learn. They learn that people will break their hearts, but more importantly, they learn how to pick themselves up and brush themselves off, and they learn that we are NOT defined by others. With our guidance, they also learn we learn something about ourselves and others with every relationship we have.

    I agree with Megan that it would be more appropriate to ask why she thought Rachel was nice, and then have a conversation about it. Not only ask why she thought she was nice, but what she thought about the "naughty"things she did (I would keep the judgmental "naughty" out of the conversation, however).

    Of course, this is coming from the woman who totally FREAKED out about 2 hours ago because my daughter came out of art covered in oil pastels...on picture day...before pictures were taken.

    I love, love, love Carrie's line: "I may not have done it the right way..." I was just talking about using a similar lead-in in later years when we discuss drinking, drugs, etc, yet it hadn't crossed my mind to use it now. I am totes going to use it today, though, when I apologize for the pastel picture-day freak out.

    Truth is, we can't be perfect, and if we were, our kids would be super weird. They have to see us mess up and they have to see us overcome.

    I do kinda like how I sound so poised and composed in a blog post, but in real life I'm the lunatic yelling at my child in the office because it's picture day. Sometime I'll have to tell you about the time I basically through a temper tantrum while I was helping with a game at a classroom party. Your Target melt down pales in comparison, I promise.

    I love the movie metaphor's perfect!

  6. Shellody,
    Oh I know! The shocks and heart break that kindergarten has in store...kind of makes me want to home school. But then I remember that I am really disorganized and bad at math.

    I worked for our school district up until big kid's birth and I have to say that the experience was VERY eye opening. I was surprised at the "maturity" of the relationships and situations but on the other hand there are those same, enduring things of childhood that don't change. Working at the school brought back memories I might otherwise have totally forgotten. Including the memories of me treating others unkindly at times. In retrospect, I probably learned just as much from those experiences.

    One of my friends described school age as a time when they "try on" different characteristics and actions and that can sometimes feel shocking to a parent.

    Model, guide, teach by our actions, ask open ended questions....all SO much better than screeching,and shouting directives. My investment in my children is just so high, I know it fuels my compulsive "guidance". Pause, remember, reflect. Hey, are these posts and comments actually building on each other?

    Can't wait to hear a story that makes my Target one pale. Lunatics of a feather.


  7. One key piece of parenting advice I put into practice almost daily is this: do not validate what the other kids say. If we (over) react when our child comes home and says, "Colton said I was stupid." then we are validating that comment. If we dismiss the comment (without dismissing our child's feelings, which can be difficult), we reinforce that it's REALLY not important. Inside, we might be dying because they called my baby a name, but never let on to that!

    Just for you "good" moms out there, I do explain that sometimes kids are mean because people are mean to them, so we might be growing a little compassion while we're at it.

    I don't even want to THINK about high school. Middle school is scary enough. High school, well, I just can't imagine it. I just hope that by then, my daughter has a reasonably firm grasp on who she is. I struggled with that for so many years.

  8. Shellody,

    LOVE that. Big reactions are almost always bad. Maybe I should make some kind of a note of that...anywho, what you said reminds of this really great lesson I did in classrooms. My boss wrote it and it was based on some ancient Suffi principles for relationships. It is kind of long for this section, but it is basically about teaching kids to be a screener (as opposed to a wall or a sponge) and sort, sift, and choose the information that gets "in". I love that and it really resonated with kids. I added a little part of my own about another persons words and how they aren't magic, someone saying it doesn't make it true and we get to decide what to do with it. I loved it when I would hear kids around the school saying, "You're NOT magic" in response to an insult. Kids translating my attempts at wisdom would at least make good bumper stickers or t-shirts if nothing else. Thank you for the good (and friendly) advice.

  9. That lesson sounds awesome. We are on Spring Break next week, so why don't you come on back West and give my daughter (and me!) a lesson! If you feel so inclined to bring a cleaning person with you, I won't be offended.

    So, it's the Friday before Spring Break, and I'm feeling motivationally challenged. Lucky for you, that means I'll tell my classroom party story!

    It was Halloween 2010, and it was time for the 2nd grade Halloween party. The room mom (whom I just so happened to graduate from high school with) had planned a fantastic game where the kids had to put on overalls and flannel shirts to look like a scare crow and do a relay race. I was helping one of the teams, the room mom was helping another, and a reasonably good friend of mine was helping another.

    Well, when it was my daughter's turn, she didn't really get the RACE concept. So, she was buttoning every button, and actually getting fully dressed rather than throwing stuff on in a hurry. Well, the kids were yelling "hurry, hurry" and I was trying to help her get buckled "enough". She was not cooperating at all, and eventually, I threw a temper tantrum. I was scolding her for not hurrying, for not playing for the team, and for not listening. All of this in front of everyone...

    Why in the heck did I even care? It was a silly game! The room mom finally said, "Hey, it's ok. It's just a game. It's supposed to be fun!" I was so embarrassed. My actions were way worse than hers, and I acted that way in front of my friend, an ex-classmate, and my daughter's entire class!

    As odd as it is, my motivation was what this very post is about. I was worried that they would treat her badly for slowing them down, so I was trying to "help" her by getting her to hurry up. She is a bit awkward anyway, slightly overweight, and she's a foot taller than all the other kids. She is often the target for being teased. So I was just desperately trying to save her from that, and in reality I was the one being "mean." It was so ridiculous! I mean, I tell her it doesn't matter what the other kids say, but when I'm worried they'll be mean I turn into the bully? I'm sure she has never thought another thing about it, but I think about it all the time. I'm so ashamed of how I behaved!

    See, Target wasn't so bad....

    In a previous post I talked about how my child will grow up and laugh and laugh about how crazy I was/am. My new plan is to actually PLAN the crazy (and subsequent stories about the crazy) instead of letting it surprise the both of us. My first task is an entire April Fool's Day filled with pranks. I'm so excited! I figure if I do enough fun, silly things her brain will let go of the crazy silly things. That will work, right?

  10. That story is funny, touching, and sort of painful all at the same time. Very David Sedaris-esque. It is all such a great example of why my "protection", "direction", and "advice" needs all of those quotation marks, because they aren't "really" protective, directive, or at all helpful. They are probably just confounding.

    Please don't be ashamed. It doesn't matter what those people of think of you, maybe a good way to model to your daughter that it REALLY doesn't matter is to let it go and forgive yourself for just doing your best. Hey, who isn't guilty of getting periodically blinded by our desires, and what desire is more ardent than the well being of our child?

    Anyway, I have a rough draft of a contest for best melt down post going, so keep this story at the ready...but maybe you will have a better one after April 1st.

    Happy Spring Break!

  11. I really enjoyed this post and the comments after!

    Have you seen the British slogan from WWII on T-shirts and posters: "Keep Calm and Carry On." Well, this is the motto I have sort of unofficially adopted when it comes to parenting. Because most of the time when an "issue" arrises for my kids it activitates an issue for me that causes anxiety, anger, or just a general gearing up of the Mom Hovercraft. So although I have no real plan, when I can stay calm things just seem to go better (whatever I choose to do or not to do).

    For example, instead of trying to pound out a life lesson, I have found myself just letting the situation continue. I mean, I'm aware of what's going on and I'm ready to step in if bodily harm comes into play. If it's a conversation after the fact, sometimes I've found myself remembering and then sharing, "you know, something like that happened to me once when I was in second grade." And you know what? My daugther has actually asked me, more than once now, "What did YOU do, mom?" This might sound weird, but I was both shocked and deeply moved the first time she asked me this! I realize now that most of the time I never gave her a chance to participate when these topics came up. It was all about me telling her what to think and nothing about her own questions, thoughts, or experiences. I hope to keep changing this so we can grow our own relationship. And I think somehow this will help her with the other relationships, too. At least, that is my hope.

  12. Wendy,
    I just read a little thing about how the Japanese seem to have adopted that same motto but I did realize it was a British thing. Leave it to the brits, they are such an orderly people. It's hard to imagine a ranting mom with an English accent. Maybe I could just try out the accent when I am escalating.

    I really loved your feedback on this. I find your daughter's question so motivating. I will shut up in hopes of one day being asked the same question. You are SO right, there is just no room for participation in a monologue...but a conversation opens up all kinds of possibilities. The biggest of which is that your kid will be able to put something together for themselves, making it that much more likely to stick. Thanks Wendy! Mind the gap, cheerio, and God Save the Queen.

  13. Ha! Okay LOVE the movie analogy!

    This is a tough one. Protecting your child is such a HUGE component of being a mom. Whether it is from words or weather or illness---we are always in "protection mode." So when it comes to another kid mistreating your baby, it is a tough pill to swallow. I don't have a good answer for how to deal with this, but when you find out please send me the memo! :)



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