Another Misguided Parenting Technique
The World Can Be Tough
The world can be tough. If you are soft or Pollyanna-ish, it can really do a number on you. I am beginning to believe that in our current days one of the most important things we can do as parents is to prepare, not shield, our children from the unfair and sometimes downright cruel things that take place whether worldly or locally, whether in families or with peers. Building an armor of awareness and teaching strategies for handling strife to our children, in my opinion, is paramount parenting. I just wish someone had told me this 17 years ago.
Raising my sons, I did nothing to prepare them for the inevitable hardships and the unjust. Instead when bad things happened, I wanted to spare them any negative emotions and so I sugar-coated, coddled and downplayed anything that might make them upset or uncomfortable or unhappy. Let me give you some examples:
- “Gannan, you should have won that baseball game. That umpire was blind! Little Johnny was safe!”
- “What do you mean the teacher yelled at you in front of the class? Just because you didn’t do your homework doesn’t mean it gives him the right to humiliate you!”
- “Oh Aidan, of course they like you. They probably just didn’t invite you to the birthday party because they could only choose a couple of people.”
- “I know you don’t like to read, so why don’t I read to you.” (Ugh. And I call myself a teacher?)
- “Just tell them I needed a little more time in the hospital. Don’t mention my heart failure.”
- “Just don’t talk to them anymore because they let you down.”
- “He didn’t really mean it when he called you that name.”
- “He didn’t really mean it when he made fun of you.”
- “You didn’t make the team? I’ll have your step-dad call the coach. He’s a friend of his.”
- “You are scared of not winning? Then you don’t have to compete.”
You get the idea. I spent the majority of those boys’ lives, trying to keep them from hurting. As if that is what a good mom does. (There’s that blasted phrase again! See previous column!)
Like so many other misguided parenting techniques, this one while it soothed in the moment has lasting consequences. My boys, you see, are absolutely, positively, and completely unprepared for anything bad to happen to them. The problem is that the older they get, the less natural it is for their mother to step in. Therefore that means that the consequences stay the consequences.
When this realization hits one or both of these boys, they crumble like a two-day old sand castle. Ummm….it’s much more dramatic than that. Let me try that again…They implode like a dynamited city building during a controlled demolition. There’s a lot of noise and all that is left is pieces after the dust settles. I realized a few years back that I had created this monster in the boys and have worked diligently to reverse it by slowly and gently introducing life skills that will help them with the old “life isn’t fair” adage. Trying to work against mindsets that expect things to go their way has been a difficult task, but one that I think is imperative if they are going to be successful human beings. So, like any other parent who has to right a wrong, I push along, hoping that through consistency even though they are ever so close to adulthood that a mind shift will take place. A perfect example happened a couple of weeks ago with Aidan. Believe me, it was excruciating for me not to try and fix the problem for him, but I dug in with nails and teeth and limbs and instead tried to teach him the necessary strategies to stand up for himself.
Aidan is working this summer at a very popular pub in a horse-racing town not too far from here. He was extremely lucky to get the job as bus-boy and food-runner. The pay is amazing, and I grew up with the owners so he is comfortable with his bosses. The first night was highly anticipated for its potential to earn a great amount of tips as this is THE pub that the racing clientele flock to after a long day at the track. Even I was excited for him as he left that first night, and I waited up to find out how he made out.
Hearing the car pull up in the driveway late that evening, I sat up a little straighter on the couch eager to give him my full attention. He opened the front door and I expected him to bound in with tales of cash, of tray carrying, of flirting with the waitresses and swearing with the cooks. (I know…I really need to reign in the imagining part of my brain.) But what came through the front door wasn’t at all what I expected. He was slumped shouldered and slammed the keys down on the table by the door. I immediately inquired why he was so sullen. He then relayed a story in which he had worked hard delivering food to 54 tables. For each tray he delivered he was given a dollar from the waitress in charge of that table. Fifty-four tables=fifty four dollars. As he was cashing out, an expediter (no clue what her job is…sorry) sidled up to him and said, “You know we split those tips.” And so, he handed her 27 dollars. A split second later a very nice sweet and righteous waitress, witnessing what had just happened, told Aidan that he was NOT supposed to share with the expediter and that she had just pulled a fast one on him. She then went to one of the owners (a childhood friend of mine) and told him what happened.
This all took place on the busiest night of the restaurant’s year. Not only was the pub filled to capacity but the large tent was rocking with hundreds of people drinking and dancing and celebrating their wins from the day. It is chaos there on a night like this to put it mildly, and so, not surprisingly the childhood friend told Aidan that he was sorry, but he was going home with 27 dollars that night. After relaying all of this to me, he punctuated it with, “Mom you have to call “insert childhood friend’s name here” and tell him that it’s not fair.
“It’s not fair.” There it was. And no, it wasn’t fair. It was beyond appalling and maddening that someone would take advantage of a hard working 17 year old like that. I wanted to rip her hair out. I wanted to get in the car and drive the 20 minutes and give her a piece of my mind. I wanted to reach in to my wallet and hand Aidan 27 dollars to take the sting away. But…but…I breathed through it. I pulled off my combat boots, and calmly said to Aidan, “Well it makes sense to me that “insert childhood friend’s name here” was unable to deal with a conflict like that given how busy it was. I am sorry that this happened to you, but it is a good reminder for you that in life not everyone is nice or ethical. That doesn’t mean however you have to just accept it. I know you have this in you, so the next time you work with this girl who stole your money, you need to say, ‘I know now that sharing my tips with you is not protocol here so you won’t be fooling me anymore. I won’t trust anything you say to me again.’”
Unfortunately, over the next few days, he was unable to bring himself to say that to the girl that stole from him. I guess I will have to work harder to teach him to stand up for himself. But it did end well. “Insert childhood friend’s name here” a few days later did return the 27 dollars to Aidan. Which of course taught him another valuable life lesson; there are bad people in the world, but there are also those who aren’t afraid to right a wrong.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.