Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How to Parent Kids about Life When You’re Still Trying to Figure It Out

How to Parent Kids about Life When You’re Still Trying to Figure It Out

A mother and son try to make friends.
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Going into parenthood, you have somewhat of an idea of the types of hurdles you might meet along the way—potty training, teaching your kid how to read, or navigating peer pressure. You know that there are some areas in which you’re fairly competent, and others in which you could use the help of a book or an expert.
Then there are some situations that arise that completely paralyze you—because the subject matter hurls you back in time to your own youth. And it can be difficult to keep a level head when your child is struggling with matters you never quite found the solution to, but somehow managed to survive.
Like disappointing friends. Like cliques. Like bullies. Like mean girls. Like…how unfair and confusing the social arena can be.
We’ve been fortunate that since my oldest son left the womb, he’s been able to navigate social situations with a fair amount of ease. He’s the kid at the park that circles your kid a few times before he finally gets the nerve up to ask him to play. He’s the kid who always leaves vacations with a few pen pals. He’s a natural born leader and, overall for an eight-year-old, a good friend.
However, whether it’s the cultural differences, the inability to yet speak the language, or his insecurity about both, my eight-year-old is having a bit of a rough patch settling in the social scene here. Since we moved from New Jersey to Israel six weeks ago, we’ve already had a number of conversations with him about “making and keeping friends,” “how to recognize a good friend,” and “how it’s important to have more than one friend.” Along with my husband, I’m doing my best to guide him. But the truth of the matter is, I am no expert on these matters.
A grown woman with half a lifetime of experiences, I am also trying to figure out how to make and keep friends. I, too, am trying to figure out how to be less of a stranger in a strange land; how to share of myself with the natives here; and how to summon up my inner leader when I’m too afraid to even say, “Hello.”
So when he comes to me crying and tells me the story of some injustice done to him on the playground or at his friend’s house, my inner thoughts progress swiftly from “Those little sh...!” to “What did he do to provoke them?” to  “How can I protect him?” to “What does this mean about him?” to “What does this mean about me?”
It seems a bit of a conflict of interest to parent our children on matters that still carry so much meaning for us, doesn’t it? And, yet we must: For whom else will counsel them with as much love and compassion as we will?
Hopefully, my kids will seek and receive guidance from others along the way—their teachers, their grandparents, their friends’ parents—but, for now, my children look to their parents for the answers. Some of which I got and some of which I don’t.
As with this journey in general, though—the one in which I take a deep breath and hope my kids end up normal and happy—I know I can’t make life any easier for him. I know that there are a hundred or so life lessons to be learned through the process of making, keeping, and losing friends.
Fortunately, for him and for me, I am able to cull from my own emotional baggage a considerable supply of compassion and understanding, as well as the evidence to show that as rough as it might seem now, it always gets better.

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