Sometimes with parenting it’s hard to know where the lines are. It’s hard to decide where you draw your lines, how moveable they are, and what warrants that movement. It’s hard to know when a line can be blurred or when it needs to be jet black and sharp. When I’m dealing with putting kids to bed, my lines are solid and virtually immovable. When I’m dealing with emotional turmoil the line bleeds out a little.
Building resilience in my children is a high priority. Possibly the highest. However, in times where my children are struggling I question how much empathy and how much authority is the right balance to instil resilience. Where is the line between compassion and providing perspective? Your children need compassion in tough times. They also need to be aware that tough times happen to everyone at some stage. Sometimes they happen in quick succession and you feel like you can’t catch a break. Sometimes tough times continue because you’re not standing up for yourself and taking appropriate action to force the tough times to end.
For the first time in my 13 years of parenting, one of my four sons arrived home distraught after feeling attacked by his peers throughout the day. Some of this was blatant name calling, some I’m sure was an underlying anxiety about this day being out of the regular routine. He was a mess. I began with empathy and compassion; with seeking to understand. Gradually I began to provide a different perspective and introduce some potential strategies. I was quickly met with frustration, a mind that did not yet want to be opened to new perspective, and accusations of a lack of appreciation for what he had experienced. He expressed this rather inappropriately, by yelling at me. I was asking him to stand up for himself and demand self-respect; now was my chance to model just that. I calmly explained that I do not deserve to be treated in such a way. I added that I will not allow myself to be treated like that. I explained that I was doing my very best to be there for him in the most helpful way. I reiterated that he too does not deserve to be treated with disrespect and that it is important that he find appropriate ways not to stand for it. And with that, I walked out of his bedroom and shut the door behind me. I walked out pretty proud of how measured my response was. Especially considering the intensity of his emotions and how he chose to express them.
Sharing this story with a few family members and friends I was met with mixed responses. Some thinking I was too callous and some thinking kids need more of this appropriate teaching of resilience. Who knows what’s ‘right’? I know that how I responded that day was the right thing for my child. I know this because very quickly he emerged from his room. He emerged happy. He managed to find positives from the day to share with me, which was in stark contrast to his earlier proclamation that ‘you can’t understand because you don’t know what it’s like to be surrounded by people who hate you all day!’ I know it was the right thing because when he had to attend a similar day the following week he went in with a positive frame of mind and returned home with healthy stories of how he appropriately responded to belittling comments and feelings of anxiety.
As my children get older and I am dealing with both toddlers and teenagers, it is clear that parenting only gets more complex as children grow up. With the exception of new borns who are their own category, in more ways than not, little kids are much more simple than older ones. Yes, there’s the nappies and the tantrums and the inability to communicate effectively. But they are simple. You can decide your course of action to manage them, and provided it’s logical and you’re committed to it, you’ll succeed. It’s worked for me. When I’m considered and logical, provided I have the determination and energy to persist, I’m successful. The older they get the more multifaceted they become and so your responses must be. My course of action remains to be considered, logical and persistent, but doing so is more complicated. My lines are blurred. There’s a whole lot of grey.
Based on my most recent success, for now I will always first seek to understand and then seek to teach or enlighten.