The Art of Not Parentingby Risa Green
There are lots of difficult things you have to figure out when you’re a parent. For example, how do you clean puke out of a shag carpet? What do you do with a pee-soaked mattress? Also, is it possible to get marbles out of a toilet? But oh, if only all of the problems of parenthood could be easily solved with a quick search of ehow, or a frantic call to Roto Rooter.
Unfortunately, it seems that the older your kids get, the more difficult the problems of parenting become. When they’re babies, the problems tend to be concrete and easily remedied by ointments, a tighter swaddle, or prunes. But once they start to become people, the problems become less physical and more abstract.
For example, your daughter comes home from school hysterically crying because her brand new orthodontia is making her talk funny and some boys on the bus teased her about it. Or, your son’s feelings were hurt when his best friend told him that he doesn’t understand sarcasm. How are you supposed to know what to say? Um, don’t worry honey, some people find lisps to be charming? Or, actually, sweetie, you always have been kind of a literal person?
The hardest thing that I’ve found, however, is knowing when NOT to try to solve your kids problems. Because it can be a fine line. As parents, we desperately want to protect our kids. But we can’t shield them from every little hurt, and if we did, we’d be doing them a huge disservice. I think we all want our kids to have some level of resilience and some ability to fight their own battles. Otherwise, you’ll be calling your kid’s college roommate every time she does something inconsiderate. But still, it’s one thing when your child fights a battle and wins. It’s something else entirely when he fights it and loses, especially if the losses seem to pile up like dirty laundry.
So the question becomes, when, as a parent, do you step in?
If my kid complains that he’s getting bossed around at school every day, and he’s stood up for himself and told Mr. Bossy Pants that he’s not going to do whatever he says, yet Mr. Bossy Pants persists, do I call Mr. Bossy Pants’ mom? Or do I tell my kid that this is life, and sometimes you’re just going to have to deal with a Mr. Bossy Pants situation?
I’m a big believer in bucking up and dealing, but does there come a point where my reluctance to act is actually making my child feel like I don’t have his back? I think we can all agree that we’d be on the phone in seconds if we found out that our child was repeatedly being physically hurt by another kid. But when it comes to emotional hurts, the water seems murkier.
We want our kids to be tough, to develop a thick skin, to let insults roll off of their backs. Sticks and stones, etc., etc. We want our kids to be able to advocate for themselves, to tell a teacher when they don’t understand something, or when they’re getting bullied at recess. But what about when there’s no teacher to tell? What about when the insults don’t roll off, but sink in? Do I step in then? Or do I just sit back and tell him there’s nothing I can do, and hope that he’ll thank me later, when he sees the value in knowing that he can survive a tough situation. I honestly don’t know. But do you think that Roto Rooter might be able to tell me?