As parents, we spend most of our time doing for our kids. We cook for them, drive them around, help with their homework, teach them how to tie their shoes, tie a tie, answer their ever-changing but not always pertinent questions, clean their wounds, and ice their aches and pains. We feel competent and good about ourselves when we can solve a problem for them, teaching them a skill that they can carry through their lives. It’s the bonus check we get from this under-paid job — that internal feeling that we got something right. This is why we became parents–for the shiny, happy moments when our kids are happy and we in turn are happy knowing we had something to do with that.
But what happens when we notice our kids are not happy? What about the things we can’t fix? What about when your child tells you that the group of friends he hangs with, his best friends since kindergarten have suddenly shunned him? That they have decided for some reason, that your kid is no longer cool and that he should be not called or texted to go anywhere or hang out anymore?
After a week of seeing my son’s face walk through the door at 2:45, it finally dawned on me. He never used to come home after school. He would go off with his friends–either to someone’s house, or out to the local pizza joint. I realized that I had started seeing him come home, plop in front of the TV and stay there through dinner. There were no invitations coming at night or on the weekends either. This was not normal. This was my very social child, the one I never had to worry about.
This is the part of parenting that makes me want to run back to bed and throw the pillow over my head. Here is a problem that as a parent I can’t fix. Of course my first reaction is to go beat the crap out of this kid, the one who decided to use my son as a scapegoat to his own insecurities, to stoop to the middle school level and tell him what I think of him making sure I throw in a few choice adjectives that will wreck his self-esteem for the rest of his life; but I obviously realize that is out of the question, if for no other reason as it would ruin my son’s chances of EVER getting back in with his group of friends.
My kid is no saint, trust me. I went through this a few years ago only I was on the other end and received the call from the crying parent that my son was being a jerk. I did the appropriate thing–made him feel like crap and drove his sorry teasing ass over to the kids house to apologize. Did he become friends with this kid, no, but I did need to show my son that his behavior was not acceptable. I believe he did learn his lesson as his apology to the kid in front of his friends was quite humbling, but now he sits on the other side of it. And he is older–so the rules have changed,
So what is a parent to do? Call Channel 7 and report that my son is being bullied so he can be on TV and be made fun of for the REST of his life? Call the parents and cry and plead my case so they can feel bad and make their kid feel bad–until they get to school and pull him around back to beat the shit out of him? No. Unfortunately my role here as a parent has to be like the therapist. Listen, nod, say things like “How does that make you feel?” I need to control my urge to ride in on a white horse and fix it, because I know that it wouldn’t fix anything. I can joke with him and ask him if he wants me to beat these kids up–if only to make him smile a little–but ultimately it is up to him to figure it out.
As parents this breaks our hearts because we have all been through it at some point. I moved five times between 6th and 10th grades, believe me, I had my share of teasing and torture from kids in Wellesley, New York, and Florida. It didn’t help that the humidity in Florida made my acne rage and my parents didn’t believe in dermatologists, and honestly some of the slurs slung in my direction still stick in my mind after all these years. So I know what it’s like. But I had to figure it out myself and unfortunately so do my kids. And that sucks.
This problem had actually been going on for a while before I finally got my son to admit it to me. After he finally told me, he explained that he already had a plan in effect. He had already moved to a different lunch table with some kids that he had never hung out with. He told me he just hadn’t “established the friendship enough yet” to warrant hanging out with them after school but that he was “working on it”. So it seems that he is already handling it. Left to their own devices kids usually do. It’s just the impatience of us, the parents , that can sometimes make the situation worse.
It would have been easier for me not to know what was going on. I could easily have turned a blind eye and not pressed him for details –then my heart wouldn’t break for him and I wouldn’t have to worry about things I have no control over. But the bonus check will come here when he does work this situation out and my knowledge of the fact that he has learned a coping skill for the rest of his life. With that I also learn a lesson in patience and trusting that sometimes what we don’t do for our kids is just as important as what we do.