Years ago when I wrote my very first book, someone read it and was quite dismissive. I didn't mind that the person didn't like it. That's life, and I don't begrudge anyone their opinion. I did, however, bristle a bit at what I thought was a patronizing response. This was especially true because this person didn't have any particular credentials or expertise other than that they considered their opinion to be that of an expert.
Some time later, this person published a book. I was a judge in a competition in which the book was entered. I read it and thought it was pretty good. Not great, but good. But there were some very basic mistakes I thought this author had made--the kind of things many first time authors (myself included) do early on.
Other works in that contest were stronger and so I honestly voted for one of them.
Still, it reminded me of a basic lesson in life that applies to parenting. Be kind to others. Don't judge too quickly. You may well be in the same situation someday.
One of the points I try to make often is that middle school kids are kids. By definition, they are not very mature or experienced.
Adults have experience to draw on. They have perspective and what I call emotional depth perception. Kids have none of these things. They are currently making the mistakes that will give them experience and help them learn perspective.
That process is much like walking. You simply have to learn on your own. No one can do it for you. There are no short-cuts.
So, it is important to remember that children, yours and others, will do stupid things. They will act in ways that hurt others. They will embarrass you. They will do things that will be totally in opposition to what you have taught them. They will.
They will go to school with others who are in this same phase. Other children who will do stupid, mean, ill-advised, thoughtless, careless things that will mortify their parents too.
It is easy to sit and judge another person's child as being deficient, malevolent, or poorly brought up. Resist that urge and show the forbearance you would like when your child does the same thing.
I say "when" and not "if" on purpose. If your child never messes up then something is seriously wrong and he or she is not progressing or maturing in a normal way.
Sometimes being tolerant is easy. Perhaps another person's child just does something immature or silly, but no harm is done. That's easy.
However, what if that child does something that hurts your child's feelings? Or causes them to lose an important ball game? Or get a bad grade on a project? Or any number of other things.
Now it's harder. Anytime our children experience difficulty, those incidents trigger the mama/papa bear instincts in us all. However, I strongly suggest resisting the urges to get involved. Absorb the drama, don't feed it.
Don't talk about it with other parents, don't form a negative opinion. Just let it go--and give your child the gift of learning how to let go as well.
Life tends to change the roles we play often. It's best to establish a merciful standard of judgement, not knowing when we will need it applied to ourselves or our children.
Note: I'm not talking about allowing your child to be in danger. I'm not talking about bullying. But don't conflate bullying with garden-variety, plain old immaturity. Bullying generally involves a few criteria: 1) A power imbalance; 2) An element of intentionality, and 3) A continued, consistent pattern. Bullying is a real problem and it needs to be dealt with as it has harmful complications. But it's important to make sure that it's really bullying. Most of unkind, hurtful, immature things I see are not bullying.
Assuming we are not talking about bullying, show the same forbearance that you would hope someone will show your child when s/he does something stupid or mean--as they most assuredly will.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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