I don’t know about you guys, but the only thing harder than being in middle school myself is watching my kids go through it. It’s painful enough watching my sweet Martha Stewart daughter deal with kids in the hall throwing curse words. Her Victorian sensibilities are under attack on a daily basis and she’s ready to throw up her parasol in despair.
“It’s just too much, Mom!” she cried the other day, fanning herself with yet another tween novel about pioneers and progress. “This is why I refused to go on the nature trip. Why would I deal with the insanity of boy crazy girls and bad food when I could be at home with a book and a cup of tea in front of a warm cozy fire?”
I wish I were joking.
Then there’s my son. He’s about as far a cry from Jane Eyre as Snickers is to junk food. Bring on the hump day tee shirts. Bring on the Pokemon hats with the bright yellow balls and the Pikachu-themed Nintendo DS’s. No skateboards and skinny jeans for this kid. Add in some tics and you’ve got yourself about as far out of the social circle as one can get.
A friend of mine, whose son has Asperger’s, told me that her son really began to shine when she put him in an alternative school.
“My kid was a duck trying to fit into a swan pond,” she told me, with nary a hint of frustration or defeat. (Apparently going through cancer can cure you of a lot of things that once would bring you down. But I digress.) “Now he goes to a school that’s only full of ducks. He can waddle to his heart’s content.”
This thinking seems completely reasonable. Why should a kid suffer for being who he is? I 100% applaud her decision.
But for my kids and my situation, here’s the real sticky mess – the Oreo filling in the center of two very logical crackers: “What if a little bit of suffering is what my kids need to grow and become strong?”
In her book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, Jessica Lahey talks about how we, as parents, can let our kids fight their own battles to become self-sufficient adults who don’t crumble at the first sign of adversity.
The Amazon description reads:
“In the tradition of Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed and Wendy Mogel’s The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, this groundbreaking manifesto focuses on the critical school years when parents must learn to allow their children to experience the disappointment and frustration that occur from life’s inevitable problems so that they can grow up to be successful, resilient, and self-reliant adults.
Modern parenting is defined by an unprecedented level of overprotectiveness: parents who rush to school at the whim of a phone call to deliver forgotten assignments, who challenge teachers on report card disappointments, mastermind children’s friendships, and interfere on the playing field. As teacher and writer Jessica Lahey explains, even though these parents see themselves as being highly responsive to their children’s well being, they aren’t giving them the chance to experience failure—or the opportunity to learn to solve their own problems.
Overparenting has the potential to ruin a child’s confidence and undermine their education.”
It’s tough. On one hand, I don’t want to hover. But where is that fine line between letting a kid learn his part to avoid feeling like a victim, and when is a kid truly a victim? If you’re like me, you know only too well your child’s short comings. “I can tell my kid that his new hair do makes him look like a candidate for the short bus, but if that punk with the flat top makes fun of his bowl cut he’s going to hear it from mama’s best side!”
Bottom line, like this picture of me (taken by said wacky son), life can sometimes feel sideways. It’s tough to stand back and watch my kids get hurt. But when I’m truly being honest – who is getting hurt more? Them or me?
Trying to keep mean children and sadness away from them is like trying to stop the ocean. On good days I surf those choppy waves like a pro. On bad days I go under. But most days, I aim to sit on the beach and remember that my kids have had their swim lessons. It’s time to let them go a bit deeper into the water. And when they need a breath, I’ll be right on the shore – warm towel in hand.
(But not for that mean kid in seventh grade whose name will go unnamed. That kid can be freezing and suck it.)