My parenting philosophy (on friendships*)
Like many mothers, when I was pregnant, I received a lot of advice about what it is like to be a mother. Some information I found useful, some less so. I also read a lot. I’m someone who likes to be prepared.
However, I couldn’t completely prepare for the emotions that I feel as a parent. Talk about a roller coaster! The reasons for the emotions change, depending on the circumstances and particular issues occurring at the time. Currently, I am struggling with my children and their friendships (not who they are friends with, but how those friendships are playing out).
Mostly, I am believe in trying to provide a good example to our children, teach them kindness and compassion, and then let them try to find their own way. This is very much my husband’s approach too.
Sometimes this works and things sort themselves out. But sometimes we find we are debating whether we need to become involved – and if so, how.
When the philosophy doesn’t work
We’re currently in one of those stages at the moment. One of our children has been upset, and consequently very emotional and challenging at home as well, since the beginning of the year. This week has been a little better, but I am not sure we are out of the woods yet.
Tempting as it is to provide more details so you can better understand why it it is difficult, I’m going to resist. It involves other kids, for one thing. I’m also under no illusions that my child is faultless in the situation. We hear one side only so we are not getting the full picture. It’s probably enough to say that, while unpleasant, it hasn’t been violent or aggressive. So I am talking about emotional and relationship issues rather than anything else. But I am trying not to indicate which child I am referring to (hopefully I’ve managed that).
Instead, what I do want to talk about is the role of parents in the midst of emotional difficulties. I find it a very difficult place to be (more so than my husband, who is pretty confident that it will work itself out in some form). I’d love some wise words from fellow travellers, so I thought I’d put out there some the reasons I find this area challenging.
Am I reacting due to my children’s suffering, or mine?
I hate seeing either of my children suffer. If I am honest with myself, this is partly a desire to protect my children but it is also a desire to protect myself.
Seeing them in pain, I feel a knot in my stomach, a fear that comes from memories and emotions from my childhood which have never quite healed. I feel like there is too much going on for me to start analysing and making peace with events from 30 or more years ago (who knows what might happen if I open that particular pandora’s box), but I do need to work out a way to make peace with the past.
I don’t need these past experiences colour my reactions, or lead me to jump to conclusions based what may be very different circumstances. I also don’t need to project my fears of my child being excluded, or being the instigator of the problem, get in the way of the needs of all the children involved. But it is so hard not to.
And of course, I would love them to have a blissful life. I know this would not be good for them in the long run – we need to build up resilience, empathy, and so on. But still … that desire is there.
How much to take at face value and how much requires exploration?
Wouldn’t it be great if every word or explanation from our children could be taken as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Then we could suggest a complete solution, and all would be good in the world.
Unfortunately, although I think my children are generally pretty good kids, they are by no means perfect. They don’t always speak of problems they are struggling with (stereotype alert – my son will often keep matters to myself while my daughter will talk a lot about what she thinks is the problem, from a self interested perspective). Even when they do talk, they don’t always disclose all the details. Plus, they haven’t necessarily been aware of influences on their friends’ reactions – things said prior to their involvement for instance – which have impacted the situation.
How much should I take as truth? How much do I need to probe further, and when I am getting into the territory of too much digging (which can blow the matter out of proportion), or implying I don’t fully believe them. I don’t know – I am continuing to try and learn, and feel my way.
The need to equip, the need to comfort, to step back vs the need to get involved
I know that navigating relationships is a key element of children’s development, and they need to be able to develop the skills to do this themselves. Parents stepping in to sort out problems:
a) often doesn’t teach them the necessary skills. Children will grow used to others to resolve their issues, potentially in a way which is unclear to our children.
b) can be counter productive – it can create a superficial resolution that can mask the underlying issue.
However, my children are still in primary school. They are still learning how to articulate how they feel. In many cases, their vocabulary may be beyond their understanding of the concept they are articulating. As an example, justification for excluding someone from an activity was explained to me as ‘I was making a wise choice’. Hmmm – selective use of principles from the classroom – forgetting other principles such as ‘we are always kind to one another’).
Both my kids are continuing to build their emotional intelligence – hey, so am I because of course it’s a lifetime process. And while there is a lot we can explain to them, such as looking at things from other perspectives, these explanations need to be used judiciously. I know it’s not always appropriate to use painful times as a ‘learning opportunity’ to improve their emotional skills. Yet – when they are calm, should we talk then or do we risk reopening wounds?
Is it better to stop the talking, and instead ensure we demonstrate ‘better’ approaches to addressing conflict? Actions always do speak louder than words, but will they see or understand these actions? I don’t want to start sharing interactions over the past week that could have hurt me, for instance, just to demonstrate how I handled them. But maybe I need to share some aspects, sometimes? – I don’t know.
Finally, in some cases, they could be the one who is wronged (yes, I need to stop feeling guilt about my children and what they might be responsible for). Again, when is it best to focus on comforting them, to suggest and practice some emotional resilience, and when it is good for them to see you ‘have their back’ in trying to actively sort the matter out?
When to let the situation take its course?
Some times in our lives can feel really hard – again, I am projecting back to childhood. But these times pass. And that scar that remains is part of the process of toughening up, becoming resilient, and also, hopefully, empathetic to others who may be struggling with similar.
I know we are a generation which, in the main, can make the mistake of hovering over our children, and interfering too much in their lives. Working out whether something is serious enough to become involved – due to who was involved, how long it has been going on, how serious the impact is – is challenging,
Where to now?
I imagine these are the sorts of challenges most parents face at some stage – they are run of the mill, and we are fortunate that we don’t have bigger issues to deal with. But they are challenges nonetheless. And they raise so many questions on parenting (as you can see!)
As I try to work out how to support my child, I have resorted to my standard approach of reading parenting books, as well as talking with the other parents (who, currently, share similar views to ours. Fortunately. I know this is not always the case). And hoping this current couple of emotionally stable days last – that would be lovely!
Have you been in similar circumstances with any of your children? Do you have any suggestions for me?
* I have many parenting philosophies and theories – in fact, they are not just limited to parenting. My theories also extend to topics which I have no actual understanding about. My husband thinks I should write a book (not so much because he agrees with them all but because he thinks many are quite amusing. I think they are mostly well founded). Who knows? – maybe I will one day.