To Interfere or Not Interfere — That is the Question

I once wrote an article about Five BS Excuses Parents Give for Mean Girls. While most of the feedback was extremely positive, there was a very vocal group that basically called my article, well, BS.

Normally negative feedback gives me anxiety. It rips my heart to shreds and grows the pocket of insecurity that steeps deep in my veins. But these comments — some polite and articulate and some calling me a fool — well, it just made me think. And I can’t shake it off.

There seems to be a major divide when it comes to interfering on your child’s behalf when it comes to their relationships. Some people look at it in a positive way — tweens and young teens do not have the emotional intelligence to deal with some of these issues, so when possible, it can be effective for all involved to sit down together and hash things out. And even when the issue is a misunderstanding — and especially if there was an established friendship between families — you let the other person know that their feelings matter and you exemplify how two people can resolve conflict in a peaceful and mature way. If your child was the one doing something wrong, you also could make them accountable for their behavior.

Other people think I am smoking the crack pipe. Kids need to work things out on their own. Calling another mom is a ridiculous notion and borderlines on helicopter parenting. We can only control our own responses to abhorrent behavior, and we cannot get involved in the way other people raise their kids. Meanness is a part of life, and we need to prepare our kids for it early and often.

I am having a real internal struggle with this one. On one hand, I agree that as parents we have to resist the urge to “fix” all our kids’ problems. We have to prepare them for the big, ugly world out there. It’s my job to both toughen my kid up while also teaching them how to address problems and resolve conflict — two very important life skills.

On the other hand, I think of the tweens and young teens I know and the emotional range of these kids is vast. Some are full of empathy and maturity and kindness, and others are completely egocentric or obtuse or just plain clueless.

The kids under my roof have all the aforementioned characteristics. Even with my guidance, I am not sure how well they could get a relationship they care about back on track — whether it was their fault or not.

To interfere or not to interfere, that is the question.

I loved this recent article on Scary Mommy entitled: “I Want to Know if My Kid is Being an Asshole.” Most parents chimed in that they, too, would want to know, but the underlying problem is how we react when someone approaches us about the unflattering behavior of our children.

We may think we want to know, but how we choose to handle that information, and how we treat the messenger, is what makes the difference.

Of course, a lot of how this type of conversation goes depends on things like how well you already know the other parent. Calling up someone you’ve never shared more than a parking lot greeting with is a whole lot harder than sitting down over a cozy cup of tea with a friend, especially if what you’re saying is likely to make them uncomfortable or defensive.

But there are ways to approach other parents without making it a hostile situation. Most of these are related to not what you say, but how you say it. For example, it’s important to ensure the other person knows that you’re sharing information and not calling them out on what a crappy parent they are; not participating in a tit for tat war on who has done the most  dubious acts; and that the goal is to figure out how to get everyone back on track. And it’s important to remember that everyone will always be looking out for their own kid’s best interests.

In my mind, it might seem like interfering — or perhaps even tattling — but when you talk to another parent, you’re modeling grown-up behavior for your child. Kids today often rely on texting or social media for communication. By attempting to have a conversation with another parent about an issue that occurred between adolescents, you are actually demonstrating what mature adults do. If two people have a problem, no one should have to suffer in silence. If the other parent does not cooperate or takes the conversation to a bad place, then you can model that sometimes it is okay to walk away from a bad situation. When kids have a problem, it’s still important to think of other parents as allies, not enemies.

If you are on the receiving end of a parent who is informing you of a problem between your kids, or maybe even some illicit behaviors your chid may be involved with, then how you react is even more important. In the first instance, taking the other person’s feelings into consideration — no matter how irrational or inconsequential they may seem to you — models empathy and compassion.  Justifying your child’s actions away or belittling someone’s opinion is not parenting. It’s enabling.

In the second instance, if another parent approaches you about your child doing something unhealthy, unsafe, or perhaps even illegal, the first thing you need to realize is how difficult it is for one parent to approach another about a topic like this. Force yourself to believe the other person is operating with a positive intent, even if you believe they may be experiencing some satisfaction out of your parenting woes. Then, it’s up to you to do some recon on the situation, either by confronting your child or increasing the supervision of your child.

Perspective is in the eye of the beholder. Since my kids are in their young tweens, I plan on first giving them the tools to help them solve a problem on their own, and then stepping in if it spirals out of control. I know it won’t be easy, but if I can’t show my girls how to repair a relationship, how can I expect them to learn?

To interfere or not to interfere. The answer lies only with you.

 

We All Face the Same Parenting Potholes

This picture continuously shows up in my Facebook news feed. Every time I see it, I feel depressed, and then relieved I had my kids before Facebook was the norm.

I never truly experienced the mom shaming that is so prevalent in today’s culture when I had my kids nearly eleven years ago. After facing infertility for three years, and then experiencing a challenging pregnancy that resulted in twins born five weeks early, most people in my circle rejoiced in the mere fact my babies were healthy. When I had my third daughter sixteen months later, people were more interested in how we survived through a day as opposed to the specifics of my parenting regimen.

This is not the case for new moms today, however. Now, most people highlight the ways in which they choose to parent, wearing it like a badge of honor. To me, sometimes it is like wearing your gang colors on social media.  Some moms post pictures of baby wearing and breastfeeding in the hopes to “normalize” these parenting choices; other parents post pictures of their messy houses or children sleeping on top of a laundry machine in a car seat to show others that they are not alone facing the challenges of raising kids.

I believe that everyone who posts these types of commentary do it with the best of intentions, but sometimes it backfires. When it turns into mom shaming, like in the photo above, we all lose.

A funny thing happened the other night when I went out to dinner with a group of moms, all of whom had children in elementary school or older. We talked proudly of our kids’ accomplishments, but also shared some of our fears.

When one mom confided that her son was having difficulty making friends, no one asked if she let him cry-it-out as an infant or if she responded on-demand. Instead, we nodded our heads ,because it was a fear we all shared at one time.

Another mom described how her daughter continues being a picky eater. No one pummeled her with accusations on whether she was bottle or breastfed as each of us had felt frustration with our kids’ eating habits.

When I shared that my nine-year old, once my best sleeper, was now waking up several times a night, not one single mother asked if I co-slept with her or put her in a crib as an infant. In fact, many of the parents went through a similar stage with their children.

I suspect the six of us moms all chose different parenting paths in the beginning. Somehow, despite our different starts, we all ended up in the same place, facing the same problems.

I was a combination of the above photo, breastfeeding and formula feeding all three, and baby-wearing my third, but my first two were always contained in a double stroller when ever we went anywhere. Letting one of my twins cry it out was the best parenting decision I ever made, and co-sleeping would have been a disaster in my house; yet I have friends who loved the experience.

These first decisions we make as moms are important. It sets the tone for the type of parent you will be and gives you an opportunity to provide your child with the best start possible —whatever that may be in your eyes.

But it is also important to remember that these decisions — these personal choices — are all okay.

What I learned that evening, is that as parents we’re all headed to the same destination, but we take different vehicles to get there.  And no matter what we drive, we’re all going to face the same parenting pot holes.

I doubt that picture will stop making the rounds on Facebook, and I’m sure there will be a meme retaliation from the rival “gangs”.

For me, I am no longer interested if you bottle or breast feed; carry your infant in a sack made from a tribe in Africa or use the latest in car seat technology; or, if you respond to your child’s every whimper or let them cry it out. I know that any of these decisions can turn out a great kid.

I am interested in those delicious, naked newborn photos that show the most adorable little butt cheeks. I am giddy when seeing chubby thighs and round bellies that only babies can pull off so well. And you will make me ugly cry when I see that first picture of you holding your new son or daughter.

I hope we learn to rejoice again each time a new baby is born into this world, instead of grilling the mom on every parenting decision. Our choices should be viewed just as that — choices — and certainly not used as weapons to shame new mothers.

There is a reason why raising a child is often called a journey, not a race.  No matter what you drive, we all need some help in getting there.

I Am Sad Before It Even Begins

I watch the two girls ride away on their bikes, and I am surprised when tears fill my eyes like raindrops in a bucket.

“They look so big,” I think to myself.

I am unsure why this particular outing causes me to choke back tears, paralyzing me in the moment. I have watched my twin daughters ride to their various friends’ houses all summer without significance.

But this Friday is the last one before fifth grade starts. It is their last summer weekend as elementary students. Next year the pair will be middle schoolers.

I swallow hard trying to control the rush of emotions surging through my body like an electric volt. It all went so fast.

I am sad about the end of this chapter. I am sad before it even begins.

Memories flood my brain like a slide show on fast forward. I see images of the first day they rode the bus, school parties, and Christmas mornings. I see snapshots of them with their tiny arms wrapped around their friends, playing dress up or walking in their father’s work boots around the kitchen floor.

Next year, they may go to their first dance, have a crush, or get embarrassed when I show up at school. Playdates will get replaced with “get-togethers” and the pressures of academics and social status will increase. They will need me less and more all at the same time.

I already miss our walks to school. I miss their excited little faces as they run through the door to tell me about their day. I long to hold them in my arms, squeeze them both tight and tell them one more time how lucky I feel that I am their mom.

The sound of my daughter’s cackling laughter startles me, pushing me back into reality. I shake my head side to side quickly to clear my mind and turn to wipe a tear before she sees.

“Mom, I totally forgot to put the sunscreen in my bag,” she says, cracking herself up. Her long leg easily goes over the side of the bike, an adult-sized one we bought this summer since she now stands five feet tall at age ten.  She sheepishly smiles at me and my heart grows a little bigger as I watch the beautiful young lady standing before me. This girl who is self-conscious but with a wicked sense of humor, sensitive yet resilient, routine-oriented, but an individual to her core.

As she runs into the house, her sister shouts good-naturedly after her,“Yeah, mom only reminded you like fifty-seven times!” I am always surprised at the loud voice that comes out of that little body. My other daughter proves that great things do come in small packages. This petite powerhouse has never met a challenge she didn’t believe she could win. While life comes pretty easy for her, she soaks up every experience to the fullest, and I smile, knowing  it was she who reminded her twin of the sunscreen and then did not get angry at her forgetfulness.

In a flash, I feel gangly arms around my body and kisses on my cheeks. We shout our I love you’s again and I yell out, “Be careful” just one more time as I see tiny hands wave straight up in the air so their pink and purple backpacks don’t slip off their narrow shoulders.

And then they are gone.

I miss them already. I miss this time filled with innocence and wonder and imagination, already.

I have no regrets. I know I live in the moment with my kids, relishing every experience and celebrating every first. I will continue to do so.

But, I also know we are at the beginning of the end of an era. It reminds me of reading the last chapter in a great book that I don’t want to finish. I want to know the ending, yet I don’t want it to be done.

I am sad before it even begins.

I finally turn away from the empty road and walk slowly back into the house.  Before I even shut the garage door, my phone beeps with a text message from my friend. “They are here!” it says across my screen.

I smile, feeling happy they are enjoying the last moments of summer, as they should at this age. Happy they are old enough to go places by themselves, but still want to climb trees; happy when we eat frozen yogurt with their friends they still want me to sit next to me; happy they want to shower me with hugs and kisses one more time if only because they forgot their sunscreen.

Although I can feel the tears stinging my eyes yet again, this time it is with joy. Because although I am sad knowing it is the beginning of an end, I am grateful to be a part of it, a voracious reader in the story of their lives.

And I sigh, thankful that although this is the last chapter of their elementary years, the next book in the series will be right at my fingertips.

I Thought I Would Be Better At This

Recently, one of my daughters and I were in the car together driving to the dermatologist’s office for an appointment to check out some pre-pubescent acne. It is a rare occurrence that her sisters aren’t tagging along, so I relished the opportunity to chat with her about the upcoming school year, and other things we don’t have nearly enough time to discuss, like her love of Pitbull and new skins on Minecraft, whatever that means.

As we rode along, she meekly asked, “Mom, why do I have to go to the dermatologist?”

“Oh, it’s no big deal,” I responded off-handedly. “You’ve inherited Dad’s genes, and we just want a doctor to look at your skin to see what we can do to clear it up. And we want to make sure we do whatever we can to make you feel good about yourself.”

“But I already feel good about myself,” she replied quickly.

The words stabbed me right in the heart. Did I just tell my daughter that the way she looked right at that moment wasn’t good enough? Did I inadvertently slam her body image? Why didn’t we discuss this more and let the choice be hers?

I decided to slam the brakes on the conversation and take a different route.

“No, honey,” I stammered. “That’s not what I meant. You are perfect just the way you are. We just want a doctor to look at your skin to make sure you don’t have an allergy or infection or something like that. It has nothing to do with how you look.”

Phew. That was close to being a body image fail.

“So these pimples mean I’m sick?” she nervously asked.

Crap, I’m right back in it. Now I’m scaring her. Way to go, Mom.

“No no, no. It doesn’t mean that at all! I just meant when you have a reaction to something going on in your body, it’s good to have a doctor check it out,” I said too quickly, hearing my voice get higher as I tried to dig myself out of the hole.

“Like when dad had the wart on his foot?”

“Um, yeah, just like that.”

And then radio silence until we pulled into the parking space. In real-time, I think it was two minutes, but in awkward-parenting moments it felt like three days.

I put my arm around her shoulder as we walked through the office building door, and all I could think was I thought I would be better at this.

I thought I would be better at talking to my kids about the difficult stuff — the stuff that made me die of embarrassment when my mom tried to discuss it with me. I read books about discussing sex and articles about promoting health body image and blog posts about getting through puberty. I listened to my girlfriends as they talked about issues with their daughters and took mental notes. I even bought the American Girl series on puberty — all three books!

I wanted to be my daughters’ source for information. Although my mom swears she had “the talk” with me, I think I blocked it out like a traumatic experience. Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret was my go-to source for getting through puberty.

Most importantly, however,  I wanted to make sure my girls felt comfortable enough to come to me with questions before they put themselves in a risky situation — or after if they ever found themselves in trouble.

I wanted to be a boss at awkward conversations with my daughters.

Well, not so much.

When we talked about bras, one daughter was most interested in knowing if she could get one of the thick, squishy bras, like mommy has. Apparently I’m raising a future Victoria’as Secret model.

When I tried to explain sexting after a friend caught her daughter just a year older than mine sending inappropriate photos, the conversation yielded a series of giggles about how disgusting boy’s “private parts” are. Despite my best efforts at a serious conversation, all I got was: “Who would want to see that?”

And my personal favorite is when I tackled the topic of menstruation with my girls, and one of them ended up bawling because apparently I made her believe that you get pregnant every single month. “I don’t want to have a baby every month,” she wailed. Epic fail.

I sucked at this. None of these difficult conversations went according to plan despite my best efforts.

I thought I would be better at this.

Or so I thought.

The other day I took my daughters to Claire’s to spend some gift card money. While there, a young girl sat screaming in the ear-piercing chair, begging her mother to let her out. For ten agonizing minutes, the child screamed while the mom negotiated with her to go through with the piercing, but she continued to cry and stuck her head between her knees.

Listening to them broke my heart. I unknowingly shook my head as I helped my daughter pick out some earrings. That’s when she turned to me and said, “Mom, no one should make you do anything to your ears that you don’t want them to.”

Yes! Yes! We had a conversation about respecting bodies sometime in the past. We talked about that.

And then this summer, my daughter hastily jumped out of the pool. I asked if she was okay and she told me a little boy, a four year-old friend of ours, was touching her inappropriately. “He keeps grabbing my butt, Mom. I know he is little, but he’s not listening, so I thought I would just get out of the pool.”

We talked about that too! Taking yourself out of difficult situations and not allowing others to touch us in ways that make us uncomfortable. We talked about that.

And then my youngest burst into tears one night for no apparent reason. I suggested that maybe she was tired, and she replied: “Maybe. Or maybe it’s those moaning things you talked to us about.”

“Hormones?” I said to my 9 year-old. “I don’t think that’s what it is. But I’m glad you are listening.”

Even the conversation on the way to the dermatologist, the one that broke my heart, demonstrated my daughter is doing okay, even when I flub it up. She confidently told me she feels good about herself no matter what —and I can’t ask for more than that.

Puberty, sex, drugs, alcohol, driving, bullying, boyfriends, body image, guns. etc. The list of things we need to discuss with our kids is long and never seems to end. I’m going to keep tackling these issues, as awkward and painful as it may be for all involved.

And although I thought I would be better at this.

It will be better because I tried.

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