Sadly, There is No Handbook
I think possibly, the worst feeling as a parent is when your child is hurting and you can’t fix it. The kind of pain that a band-aid or a kiss on the boo-boo doesn’t fix. Offering words of comfort, advice and encouragement are the only tools available and the only ones that hopefully provide some resolution to the pain and heartache. Other than that, your hands are tied and you are forced to watch your child endure the hurt, uncertainty and confusion. There is no handbook out there that will stand in for you. Not really.
My son is 9 as many of you know. I suspect we are experiencing some pre-pubescent hormonal changes. I also suspect that we are entering a phase in which my son is beginning to compare himself to others both physically and mentally. Recently we had a day that from the moment I picked him up from school it was meltdown city until bedtime. At bedtime, amidst my words of comfort, encouragement and advice, he cried himself to sleep. It went from full on sobbing to a small cry, eventually a whimper and then sleep came.
When he woke up the next morning he was in a much better mood and thanked me for our talk before bed. I was grateful for that. The advice I gave him and the words I spoke brought him some peace. I think that is all I could really hope or ask for. My husband had a conversation with him on the way to school which also helped. Sure there are self help books out there on parenting, but let’s face it…they’re not all that great and every family dynamic and every child is different. So we are, in fact, left to write our own handbook.
So What Happened?
When I picked my son up from school that day we discussed his homework assignments and our plan of action for when we get home. Something we do everyday. This way we both have an understanding of the expectations and what needs to be done. When I mentioned one of his assignments, a writing assignment, he got very upset because he apparently misunderstood what was supposed to be done and didn’t realize it until we were headed home. Tears came, and they didn’t stop. This is when the handbook would be useful. Clearly he was over-reacting to the situation and so I stated he must have had a bad day. His response was that he had not. Okay, was my reply. I then explained that what he had done was good, just not what the assignment called for. No big deal. He eventually settled down.
We get home and things go as planned, sort of. When he finished his math I began to check it like I always do. He does well, but struggles, so we walk through his mistakes and I make sure that he understands what went wrong and we fix it together. As we were proceeding to make corrections, again, the tears came. I couldn’t figure out why he was being so sensitive. This was the norm, we always work through the problems. Then he came clean. He did have a bad day. Not just that day though. He had been bottling things up. Apparently, since the beginning of the school year and the events that day brought him to his breaking point.
The Breaking Point
To say your child has his breaking point sucks to begin with. I never want to think that my boy is experiencing things emotionally that he is bottling up and keeping inside. I mean in reality I know we all do it to some extent, even kids. But it hurts as a parent to realize it after the fact. It leaves you wondering if you missed the signs that they were struggling. He was. No handbook, I suppose could have prepared me for it. The flood of emotions that came out, the anguish, the tears and sheer evidence of a child feeling lost and overwhelmed and confused and hurt, almost overwhelmed me.
Most of the kids in his class I have known for more than a few years. They are all very good children. Their parents are good people. But kids being kids, growing up and developing their own personalities, likes, dislikes and individual behaviors, they can be…off the mark sometimes. They are young, and most of the time don’t even know it. They don’t realize their words or actions hurt another child. One of his classmates, during gym, in a game they were playing, got mad at my son for missing the ball. Now I know this boy, and he is a good boy, but…probably in the spirit of competitiveness, got a little ticked and let my son know it. My son explained that he ran to the corner of the gym, upset, and waited to be allowed back “in” the game, as missing the ball caused him to be “out”.
When I asked him why he ran to the corner instead of simply sitting on the sidelines he said he did it because he felt, ashamed. I sighed. Ashamed. Enter handbook that is nowhere to be found. I begin to get the picture, or so I thought.
My son is not overly attracted to sports. There are a few sports we are going to try out, but overall he is not a rough and tumble type of boy. We tried soccer and he didn’t really love it. Tennis and golf, these types of sports will probably suit him well. He seemed to enjoy the tennis lessons we had him do a few years ago. He is not the most comptetitive child when it comes to sports. In other areas he can be hyper-competitive but would be the first to “let” someone win to spare their feelings.
The Real Underlying Issues Come Out
This wasn’t the end of it though. He got upset when he found out that if he participated in the class Spelling Bee he would have to compete at the school level and so on. My son has such confidence that he will win, but doesn’t want to pursue the competition. He just wants to participate in the one Bee and was so upset that he would be “forced” to compete again when he wins. If only he had that same confidence in himself with other things.
More tears came. He then started to tell me that he didn’t feel like he had many friends. Real friends. He told me he felt like everyone changed over the summer. That it was like they had their personalities and brains sucked out of them, that they were different and not as kind anymore. They weren’t into the same things, except a few kids, he explained. I asked him how long he felt like this and he told me since the beginning of the school year. It’s December. This is when my heart started to truly break and I felt blindsided. How did I miss this? Is he over-reacting or exaggerating? Is this a misconception on his part? Could this be hormonal or is it truly the reality? I guess in the end, it’s his reality so that’s all that matters.
I stated that everyone seemed to play well together at the Halloween party and he said that was only because they were stuck in the same area. So I guess when they have recess, certain groups seem to flock together. This is all normal, I know that. But he doesn’t, it’s his first go at being a 9 yr. old. Again, a handbook to try and explain this would have been helpful. So I do the best I can as he is now sobbing. We manage to get through the rest of his homework as I also deal with the disaster that dinner became. It seems we were both having a bad day.
My Attempt at Explanations, Encouragement and Comfort
There were a number of other things my son stated, I won’t list them all here. It is obvious that he is reaching a point where he is comparing himself both physically and mentally to other children. Acknowledging differences and similarities. He is noticing things about himself physically and we are on that cusp of self discovery and coming of age stuff. He is realizing that he has grown apart from some but closer to others. It’s hard as a parent, I think, to recognize the signs sometimes. In my case I still see him as my little preemie baby. Sure I know he is growing up, but in my heart he is that vulnerable 3.3lb baby.
I explain to my son that not everyone is good at sports. His friend is probably very competitive and likely didn’t mean to hurt his feelings. Additionally, I told him I doubted his classmate was lying in bed thinking about how he dropped the ball. After asking him what he thought, he agreed, through thick tears, that he probably wasn’t.
He should NEVER feel ashamed because he missed a ball, or isn’t good at something. We all can’t be good at everything. I also told him the next time any classmate gives him a hard time about making a mistake or “missing the ball” he should stick up for himself and send it right back. Of course I gave him a few examples and told him he could respond with strength and not be mean. I told him that he shouldn’t be afraid to make a mistake or try to do something because he might not succeed. That most all of science is a history of mistakes until scientists finally get it right.
He listened while I told him how everyone changes, especially over the summer. We all have different experiences and discover new things and grow to dislike others. As I search for the right words he is searching my face for answers and comfort. (I am wishing that universal parenting handbook existed) I comforted him as best I could or knew how. He cried hard. Like the snot coming out of your nose hard. The “ugly cry”. This again, broke my heart even more. We hugged and I held him while he let it all out.
Trying to Raise a Good Human Without a Handbook
I am trying to raise my son to become a good man. Letting him know that he can be sensative, kind and loving, but still be strong. No one ever said parenting would be easy. I want to toughen him up and prepare him for the world without taking the kindness and gentleness away. What a fine line to walk. No matter how much advice is out there, and there is a lot of it, it will never be a one-size-fits-all scenario. It can’t be. That is the point of embracing our individuality. The hard lesson here is that people change, and sometimes we grow apart, and discover we don’t have as much in common anymore. The trick is to make sure our kids understand that they are no exception to this and teach them how to handle it with grace.
How do you handle heartache with grace? I am still working that one out. How do you use grace to get through your feelings of alienation, loneliness and uncertainty? Yep, still working on that as well. As a Mom, I did the best I could. All I can do now is hope my best was good enough. You may be thinking all of this isn’t that bad, right? It’s not like he’s getting beat up everyday after school or something like that. I know, but in my world, it is just as bad. Because of how it left my son feeling, plus trying to figure out why he felt he had to hold it all in. Emotional bruises can last a long time and these types can run deep, especially at this transitional age and so here we are.
My Contribution to the Handbook That Doesn’t Exist?
Teach your children to be kind. Teach them that they should never be afraid to reach for the stars. That they shouldn’t be afraid to fail. Teach them to be strong when they need to be, and gentle when it is called for. Tell them it’s okay to be different and learn to love their differences. Tell them to NEVER EVER feel ashamed of who they are or what they can or can’t do. Remind them to talk. Tell somone how they feel. Remind them that if we don’t know we can’t help. Explain that we are always here for them, unconditionally and especially without judgement. Feelings are as valid as facts and also fleeting sometimes, and that’s okay.
Remind them that we all make mistakes and struggle. But most importantly, remind them that they don’t have to do it alone.