The hardest part about parenting is that we have so little control. We can’t always protect them from boo boos or from catching a cold, we can’t choose which path they take or ensure all their decisions are right, and we can’t stop their hearts from breaking. We can guide them and encourage them and give them all the tools we’ve gathered from our years of experiencing life, but, ultimately, we don’t have the control.
I wish I could be around all the time. Not just a stay-at-home mother, but with them, 24 hours a day, seven days a week; however, I’m with mine for less than a quarter of their waking hours. Between working full-time and them at daycare and sleep, the control I have over their lives is minimal. Not even a passing grade. So when things go wrong, I have the overwhelming urge to drop everything and file them neatly into a protective bubble. If I can’t helicopter parent them, I can be damn sure this hamster ball will do it for me.
“Can I come out now?” “Get back in your ball before you lose an eye.”
Eirinn has had some trouble at school, off and on, and she only tells me about it when it has bothered her so much that it affects her at home. The days when she’s so upset by the most asinine things are the days that she’s come from school hurt and defeated. She’s six, and as six-year olds do, the kids in her class are sometimes mean to her. They refuse to let her join in their games, they snatch supplies from her hands, they spray her with water. Those she has been closest to throughout the year declare that they are no longer her friend. These things crush her heart into a million pieces and she reacts by acting out at home. A fit about the prospect of having to eat mashed potatoes that lasts 45 minutes, calling her sister “not pretty and not fancy and ugly,” feeble attempts at bossing me around, these are all indications that she’s had a tough day at school.
It’s after these days that I want to march down to her school the next day, approach those other kids, and shame them into treating everyone with kindness. I’d jersey them, or dump a mud pie on their head, or spread a rumour that they still pee the bed. But, unfortunately, I can’t do that because I’m a grown up. At school, it’s up to the teachers to encourage the children to play nice, and at home, it’s up to the other children’s parents to teach them how to behave like civilized human beings. It’s their job to raise fair-minded, respectful, generous future full-grown people, not just mine. Mine will be fine, I’m certain of it, because I do teach them to be inclusive and friendly and polite. They don’t always get it, and, in fact, rarely behave that way towards each other, but they’ve been taught and, Eirinn especially (because she has two years of socialization over Avery, who is basically still a Neanderthal, but we’re working on her) has seen and heard and lived how it feels to be treated with anything but respect.
I know kids will be kids and we can’t expect them to get it perfect when they’re so new at this whole “being around people” thing, but I can’t help but get my fur up when my sweet girl is crying on my shoulder because of something a schoolmate has done to her. I can teach her to stand up for herself and to never let anyone push her around, not even a friend, because a friend worth their salt wouldn’t be mean in the first place. I can tell her that no matter what, she needs to realize that she’s important and special and lovely, that anyone would be lucky to be her friend. If they don’t want to be her friend, then they’re the ones who are missing out on something great. But most of all I tell her that she needs to be strong. That from now until she’s an old lady, she needs to make sure she doesn’t let anyone, anyone, treat her with disrespect. She needs to say ‘no.’ She needs to take back what belongs to her. She needs to tell the teacher.
I think that when our children are hurt, physically or emotionally, we hurt right along with them and often times our hurt can be much more than theirs. To them, using Eirinn as an example, if a child in their class takes their yogurt and throws it on the ground (another thing that actually happened), they’re upset because their yogurt was ruined and that other kid was mean. To us, using me as an example, we’re upset because of the ruined yogurt, the mean kid, AND is this going to turn into a pattern? Does she know how to stand up for herself? Is this passive behaviour a result of something I’ve taught her? Has she done something to bring on this sort of reaction? Is my child going to be bullied and picked on her entire life? Will she accept this sort of treatment from a partner in her adult years? We over-think and, often times, over-react. But, if we fear over-reaction, do we risk under-reacting? Should I step in or realize that this is normal, typical six-year-old behaviour? What can I do to ensure this gets better? What can I do to avoid it from getting worse?
In reality, there is often nothing to be done. This too shall pass. We can confront every single parent of every single child who has done even one misdeed toward our children, no matter how passing and minor. Or we can deal with our own children, teach them how to react to adversity, strengthen them as much as we have the power to do so, and hope and pray that those other kids pass this phase of being mean to my baby. If it were serious enough, if it got even the slightest bit physical or if these incidents became a pattern from one particular child, I would absolutely step in. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, hurts my kid. But so far it hasn’t gotten there. It’s all been fairly innocent playground nonsense, it’s just that that stuff hurts, too.
For now, I’ll continue to help Eirinn grow strong and confident and teach her to rise above. For now, I’ll stay out of it. Even the littlest girls can be the bigger man.