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When our oldest daughter, Hannah, was in middle school I had my first totally gut wrenching experience of watching her be truly hurt by friends. She had been invited to a house for a birthday party with a group of girls from school. When I dropped her off she was all smiles, bouncing up to the door with a polka-dotted gift bag. I remember feeling all warm and fuzzy about the new friends my daughter was making—all was well in the universe.
About four hours later she texted that she was ready to be picked up. When I arrived, she walked out to the car, absent of all bounce. “How was the party hon?” I asked. “It was okay,” she responded sliding into the passenger seat. “Is everything all-right?” I continued, noticing her flat tone. “Not really, Everyone is sleeping over except me. I didn’t get invited to.”
And then she burst into tears.
I can’t begin to explain the flood of intense emotions that rolled over me. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me by a bunch of pimply snap chatting middle schoolers. But I don’t need to explain, Moms, you know exactly what I am talking about.
Not only did I desperately want to hug my child until all the pain was squeezed out of her, but I found myself instantly remembering long locked away feelings of being left out when I was a child…which is always fun.
It. Felt. Awful.
“I am so so sorry honey.” I softly said. “I just don’t know why they don’t like me enough to see me as one of their group,” she sobbed. I had no words to explain…who knows?
We drove home in silence. Both of us hurting and confused.
Now I know some of you moms out there would be making a phone call the next day to the mom who hosted the party, or crossing those girls off your child’s friend list permanently and believe me, I understand. Our mama bear comes out in those situations like a dog chasing a cat. I just didn’t have the fight in me for that one. Hannah and I talked about security in God and not in friends and how much we loved and accepted her in our family. But the pain was still there, and to make it worse it happened a few more times that year. More fun.
I actually think in that situation I did the right thing. This was part of Hannah’s friend story. I didn’t rescue her. I just sat in the pain with her. But I didn’t always choose that option. Over the years with our three kids I found other (unhealthy) ways to deal with my pain and theirs.
For example, sometimes after our children experienced particularly painful encounters, I would make secret plans in my head to move my family to a remote country where we would raise chickens and help orphans because of course there would be only rainbows and no pain there.
Other times, I would react, like the time I stormed out of our back door and told off a group of boys that were teasing my son (this had been a repeated event and I just lost all my cool). And then I calmed down. And got the full story. And realized I could have asked more questions and talked to them in a reasonable way about how this behavior was really hurting my son instead of as a freaking out suburban crazy bear mom. And then I called to apologize to all the moms for my overreaction. And then felt even more terrible because one of the moms had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and I didn’t know. Geez.
A couple of times I sent emails to moms to try to work out the problems and both times that exploded into an awful exchange of misunderstood tones and meanings. (Important note; DO NOT EMAIL OR TEXT IN THESE SITUATIONS. Resist your inner millennial and pick up the phone).
But most often, I didn’t do anything except brew mean thoughts about those kids who were hurting our kids. How they were just plotting and planning ways to leave our daughter out (which I realize sometimes is the case, but not usually) or how they relished the pain it was causing my son to not get invited to high school social events (ok, relish is probably too strong of a word). I would make up stories about how if I could only give them a taste of their own medicine then they would stop, or that maybe I needed to intercept my child’s phone and send a nasty text back.
So…just so you know I’m not very proud of these thoughts… I’m extremely proud.
Note that what I didn’t at all account for in this inner mental tirade was that our child MIGHT have POSSIBLY contributed to the situation. Which as moms we need to admit is very often the case.
And the problem is that when the next day my child is full of smiles and pep because they are now best friends again with that child that hurt them (AND sent me into an emotional nosedive just twenty four hours before) I was not over it. And would have to drive this child to an activity in a carpool or feed them a snack at my kitchen counter. With a smile pasted to my face.
I was sharing all of this with a close, wise friend few years ago and she (as good friends should do) said, “Amy. You need to get off this emotional roller coaster. You are riding it right along with your child and they don’t want or need that. They need you to be waiting at the end of the ride, calmly, sanely, with a hug and and ice cream cone. (Well I added that part about the ice cream but I could imagine her saying that.)
And when you watch them get back on the coaster (which they inevitably will), just sit on the bench and breathe and pray.”
In essence she was telling me to get a grip.
She was sooo right and her words were incredibly freeing.
Moms, our kids don’t need a mom who joins in on the railing and complaining against the perpetrator, or a mom who grabs the phone or sends a scathing email. (Been there…not scathing per say, but it got the point across), or runs out the back door yelling and pointing fingers. Ahem.
No. They need stable, calm, sane mom. Solid in her foundation as a secure adult who is not rocked by the misdeeds of others (mere children for gosh sake!). Who is confident of her God who loves her and her child…who takes a moment to calculate what time of the month it is before responding like a crazy person.
Our child needs a mom who assures them that everything is going to be okay and asks empowering questions like, “Wow. That must really hurt. What do you think you should do about this?”
Believe me I know this is hard. When our kids are hurt it causes us moms to go a little let’s say…bat you know what crazy. Just ask our husbands. We lose rationality and clear thought. We are out for blood. We are mad. Like a little insane mad. Because these are our flesh and blood and our primal instinct as moms is to protect them from pain at all costs.
The problem is in those moments we are totally focused on the now. Not the tomorrow or the years ahead. Not our child’s long term maturing process. Not our relationships with other moms…like when you will see that other mom at the bus stop or show up for the same volunteer time at your kid’s classroom, or sit down the row from each other at the middle school band performance. Awkward. Not that that has ever happened to me…
In those moments we are not understanding the long term perspective. That our kids really end up being okay. They figure it out. It becomes part of their story, they learn from it how to be a better friend to others and who to choose as future friends. We forget that that child that we are so mad at will possibly be in our home for years to come and really do we want to be harboring ugly feelings for an eight year old mistake when they are fourteen?
So, slowly, I got off the roller coaster of our child’s friendships. I got a grip. Those friendships were brutal sometimes; still are. Just last year my daughter had a incredibly painful friend situation her first year in college. I listened. I prayed for her. I hung up and prayed for my heart which was killing me as I sat over a thousand miles away from her.
But you know what? She got through it. That is the same child who was not invited to the sleepover? She’s amazing. And secure. And has good boundaries. And has an incredible group of friends this year who all flew to our home for a weekend stay and some mountain skiing just last month.
Just last week our seventeen year old son shared that he had been left out of something his whole group did together. They just didn’t want him there. The pain is still very powerful and real. Those mean thoughts wanted to take root. But I just handle it differently now. I pray. I ask God to give me wisdom and peace and to shut my mouth. I listen to my son and if he doesn’t want to talk about it I don’t pry. He will be okay.
They survive. We survive.
The pain…if we can wrap our brains around it moms, is not this evil ugly monster trying to devour our child. If they have a safe and sane place to land at home, the pain turns into strength and learning about how to treat others, and perseverance, and healthy boundaries, and maturity.
I don’t think those girls at the birthday party were intentionally trying to be mean. They were just clueless. Can we give those who hurt our children the benefit of the doubt? And can we acknowledge that our children aren’t perfect and also will cause hurt to others in their eighteen years of childhood? Can we demonstrate grace and forgiveness to those in our home and those outside of our home?
What an incredible example of Christ’s love we can be.
Moms, you are amazing! Press on!
(Shared with permission from our son who is an amazing kid and I will be buying him a large Blizzard from D.Q. for letting me pick on him in this post)
A few months back my husband, son and I stood in our family room in the midst of a tense discussion. Our fifteen year-old had just responded in a not-so-stellar way to the idea that he would have to be dropped off at work a half an hour early to accommodate our schedules.
Since we had been working on respectful responses with our son for a few months now, and it had cropped up again, my husband decided enough was enough. He proceeded to tell our son that instead of getting a ride to Chick-Fil-A that day for work, he would need to ride his bike the three miles to get there…and he better get a move on to make it in time.
Now a teenager riding his bike to work may not seem like a big deal, but it was for me. Our kids just haven’t ridden their bikes much outside of our neighborhood before. We live in a semi-remote neighborhood where it takes riding a distance to get anywhere other than a gas station.
So as my husband stood his ground and told our son to hurry up and make sure the tires were full of air, I sat a little stunned on the couch. Here’s what was going on inside my head:
“He’s never ridden his bike to work, can he do it?” (that sounds silly even as I write it but I really asked myself that question). “Is it too far? What about the busy roads? How will my directionally challenged son know how to get there?”
Even though my protective mom instinct was sounding off full volume, I kept my mouth shut. I needed to let my husband take the reigns on this one because this was a recurring issue lately and an important one. We clearly needed something tougher to use as a consequence than taking his phone away (which is what we had been doing).
Our son immediately went into sorry mode, which made staying quiet even harder. He pleaded and then realizing he was getting nowhere got mad, stormed into the garage and rode away.
I fought all sorts of urges to stop the whole scene. But why? Why was it so hard for me to accept that our son needed to have a hard consequence?
I’ve given this some thought…a lot of thought actually. And I have three main ideas about why it is so difficult for those of us who are parents to give hard consequences to our kids.
ONE: It Causes Us Pain
I feel pain when my kids are struggling and darn it, I don’t want to feel pain. And I don’t only feel pain, but I worry and stress and doubt about the decision. As loving parents, we carry a fierce instinct to protect our children, and I think we feel like we’re leaving them outside to weather the storm alone when we dole out the tough love.
I’ve noticed I am mostly unaffected when grounding our kids or taking their phones away or making them do chores for misbehavior. But the truth is while those things are challenging for our kids, they often do not produce long term-results.
Sometimes we need to be brave enough to raise the bar on the discipline. In our trying to “protect” them and soften the consequence, we ultimately fail at protecting them from turning into self-indulgent, self-centered, “me” focused children.
TWO: We Don’t Like Our Kids Being Upset With Us
I don’t know about your family, but when we set a boundary or say no to something, especially something that is a “big deal” to our kids, they aren’t all lovey dovey with us.
In fact, we may experience some anger or aloofness or distance from our kids. We feel disconnected with them. Doesn’t this go against everything we normally fight for as moms–feeling connected with our children?
We work so hard to create harmony and unity in our homes, between siblings, in our marriage, and with our relationship with our children, that the break in harmony really feels… yucky (that’s the most accurate word I can come up with). It makes me sad, and my day harder, and adds to the tension in every conversation I need to have with that child…so I avoid it, even if it’s unintentional.
THREE: We Are Little Picture Responders Instead of Big Picture Fighters
Ultimately, we are so close to and emotionally involved in the situation that it is often difficult for us to step back and see that the misbehavior is actually derailing our great intentions for our kids’ character.
I think we all can agree that we want to raise respectful, kind, considerate, grateful kids. It is often when our kids are disrespectful, unkind, inconsiderate and ungrateful that we are faced with the discipline decision. Yet at that crucial moment we often make excuses for them or soften the discipline because of the previous two reasons.
We need to circle back to the kind of little/big people we want to raise. The consequence, however painful for all involved, works toward that goal. It is for their own good, and we need to fight for what is best for them.
The story wraps up like this. Our son made it to work, and on the way there he was pulled over by a police officer who kindly told him that he couldn’t ride his bike across the bridge over the highway (no we didn’t bribe an officer to add a little extra shake up to the situation, but not bad timing).
After work our son texted me for a ride home since he would have to ride back over the highway to get home and didn’t want to have a second conversation with a police officer in one day.
I fully expected to pick up an angry child who didn’t want to speak to me. My husband had left out of town for work so I braced myself emotionally for the evening ahead.
Instead, a humble and respectful young man got in the car and thanked me for picking him up.
This was a lesson for our son, but it was a bigger lesson for me. I learned that the hard consequences work, and more importantly that I could handle the pain they caused my mom-heart. As our children continue to go through their teen years I often think about this day. I remember that it is okay for our kids to sweat it out (literally) in order to experience changed behavior.
The truth is, our kids can handle hard consequences. We are the ones that often can’t.
God is the perfect parent. He does not cushion our life-lessons. No, He let’s us fall hard, mess up, struggle and even suffer the consequences of our actions. But He never leaves us, always is there to love us and care for us in the midst of our pain. May I continue to look heavenward for the best parenting example ever.
Please love on another mom today and share this post with her–let’s encourage each other to be the best parents we can be.
PS: If you are wanting to hear a whole lot of great parenting advice, you can attend the online MOM CONFERENCE next week, October 11, 12th and 13th. It is FREE and you will get access to amazing speakers, and hopefully feel strengthened and encouraged in your mothering journey.
Here’s a short video sharing more:
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