Frozen Pizza, Playground Friends, and Perfection
As my kids get older, I’m discovering what so many parents who are on this road before me must feel: school was hard enough the first time around. And I don’t particularly want to do it again.
Gus came home last week and asked if he could speak to me “privately in the back room.”
We shut the door and he said, “Something kind of bad happened at recess today.”
He cried a bit and I had to resist the urge to gather him up, take him back to the hospital and beg the labor and delivery staff, “Can’t you please just make him small again for a little bit longer?”
Instead, I asked what was up and he said that one of his closest friends at school had told another child to grab Gus’s arm and pull him in the mud.
When Gus tried to talk to his friend, she ran away. He felt frustrated and sad that he didn’t know why she did it.
He asked me if I could call his friend’s mom to talk to her about it.
I realized this was a big teaching moment. And like a lot of such parenting moments, also incredibly healing for me to be able to teach him what I had been trying for so many years to learn myself.
I held him a bit while he cried.
And then I told him I wouldn’t call his friend’s mom because I believed he could work it out.
I told him that people will hurt him – even close friends. And that that sucks. And it’s sad.
1. We get to decide how we respond. Every single time. We are not powerless. In most situations when someone hurts us, we have three options: we can do nothing, we can stop hanging out with the person, or we can try and talk to the person we love and see if we can work it out. I told him that this last option is always my preferred choice. (I also mentioned that some people retaliate, but that I don’t want him doing that unless he is in physical danger or it’s self-defense. That’s just how I roll cause I’m not a fan of making the world more peaceful through violent or nasty means.)
2. We get to decide which people we allow close to us. We can always decide not to let someone close if we don’t feel they will treat our hearts well. And we should choose well because our hearts are important.
I didn’t tell him these things because I’m a hippie.
I told him these things because I spent too many years feeling like a victim when bad things happened to me or people were mean to me. I never knew that I actually had power in such situations. Instead, I thought something was wrong with me. And I was really, really mean to myself as a result. I still am at times.
Gus listened to me as well as any six-year-old can listen to a mom who tends to go on a bit too long and then went into the other room. I began making dinner.
Five minutes later, he came to the kitchen and showed me an envelope. It had his friend’s name on it and said on the outside, “This is what happened to me.”
He explained that inside was a letter – with an accompanying illustration, of course – in which he told his friend what happened and how it made him feel. He planned on giving it to her the next day.
Instead, the next day at recess, he simply went over to her, and asked her why she did what she did.
She shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know.” But she listened to him and hugged him. And apparently this felt like enough for Gus, because he reported that “they were all good.”
And since it’s his story, I’m all good with that, too.
I’m barely into this parenting thing and I already feel like I’ve had to have the answers for so many big questions.
What I’m realizing now, though, is that I don’t have to have the answers for anyone, including my own children. Because at the end of the day, we simply can’t ever have the answers for someone else.
I’m learning that all I really have to do is listen and acknowledge my children’s feelings and be myself.
Often, being myself involves saying the stuff I wish I had heard more as a child. Or the stuff I wish I was able to give myself permission to do in my own life right now. Even – or especially – if it doesn’t match with “conventional wisdom”.
Sometimes this is going to help, sometimes it won’t. But I’m realizing that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. And that my children need me, not perfection.
The burden of perfection comes at way too high a price. It’s exhausting to try and enact and most importantly, it takes away my children’s right to suffer and grow as a result.
(Unless we’re talking about the fact that my kids ate frozen pizza four nights in a row this week. That might possibly might just be my laziness rather than a bucking of perfection.)
But you get my point. We’ve got this, imperfection and all. Promise.