Ever have that weird situation where to an uninformed observer you appear to be doing something completely unreasonable or even cruel, but you’re actually doing the good and right thing?
-Facebook status for a father of many children, some of whom have special issues
My answer is yes. Particularly today my answer is yes, because I have a fresh-in-my-memory example. Gleek melted down at the end of church today in very visible location. So I stood in the hallway, watching my child exhibit behaviors which are more typical of toddlers than third graders. I could see how her behavior (and my minimal reaction to it) look like poor parenting. In fact I’ve had people say “Well, I wouldn’t put up with that.” As if I had a choice. As if a stern scolding and time in a chair would teach her not to make a public scene.
The thing is, the scene was caused by an application of discipline. I informed her that she had to carry her own coat home, as I’m tired of being a pack mule. I informed her of it prior to church when she could decide whether or not to bring the coat. She brought the coat and then was very angry with me that I would not carry it. I did not back down, despite the public scene. Had I backed down, I would have purchased peace for today, not by solving a problem, but by delaying it. The battle would have come again a different day, unless I resigned myself to schlepping home bags and coats for 3 people every Sunday. I won my point in today’s scene and I won’t have to fight this one again. Gleek will know that she has to carry her own things.
This has always been the way with Gleek. She pushes against boundaries by instinct. I have to stand firm and not give way. It sounds clear cut, except for the fact that her heart and soul are sensitive. She sees that she is in conflict far more often that people around her. She worries that this is because she is a bad person. It is hard for a person to grow and flourish in conflict, and so I not only have to stand up to her, I also have to give way. I have to help her find peaceful resolutions. She probably would be better behaved if I never let her bend the rules, but I think it would either kill her lively spirit that I love, or she would explode into major rebellion in her teen years. This is what I have to remember: sometimes it is important to lose a battle for the sake of the campaign. Other times a battle must be won even at costs that look out of proportion.
It all sounds very adversarial, but Gleek and I are not enemies. In fact she feels closest to the people who will stand up to her. She is most secure with people who take whatever she can dish out and still love her. And it is not always pushing on limits. More and more often, she is taking the reins of her own life and choosing the kind of person she wants to be. She is quelling feelings of loneliness by serving others. She is directing her energies into building games for younger kids. She is learning self respect through responsibility. But these things are quiet, while the battles are noisy. They feel particularly noisy in the hallway at church where I know people are politely not staring.
The good news is that I know the people at church. The majority of them were feeling sympathy, not passing judgment. It is the quiet sympathy of being glad that someone else’s child is the one with the issue today. I would run out of fingers before I stopped enumerating the number of loving adults who understand Gleek and who like her. My sister was told by a child psychologist that some people will assume bad parenting no matter how the situation is explained. I am glad that there are also people who will look on with sympathy because they have been there too.