A recent article I came across got me thinking about the culture of bullying, helicopter moms, and the social engineering that is going on in young children’s lives.
With an elementary school-aged child, I am right in the middle of this. What I’m wondering is: What if the bullies aren’t the problem at all? Maybe it’s about what is driving this crazy out-of-control bus. I’m talking about the entire construction around the idealistic view that:
A: Life is fair.
B: Everyone should always be included in everything.
C: If we work really, really hard, we can keep our children safe from experiencing any discomfort.
Recently, I’ve done a lot of inner work on finally learning how to deal with my discomfort. That discomfort manifested itself often as anxiety, sometimes as depression, but really as some horrible feeling that surfaced whenever my cage was rattled.
My perfectly constructed cage that I engineered to keep me “safe” from whatever was “out there.” My comfort level was truly a razor’s edge. I learned how to do anything possible to avoid these unpleasant feelings. And when they did hit, I was a master of finding distraction in many different forms.
The work I’ve done, mainly through my meditation practice, has shown me that going into the discomfort is the only way to live my life with freedom. The discomfort is my great teacher. Because when I can go straight into the pain, breath my breath, it passes. It really is a beautiful thing.
Just as things sometimes do, I had a moment where everything aligned. I realized when I overly insert myself in my son’s life at school or with friends, I’ve taken this desire to protect myself from discomfort now beyond myself and applied it to him. I’m trying to soften his edges.
Notice how this feels:
What if I’m not accepted?
What if the other moms don’t like me?
What if I don’t drive the right car or wear the right clothes or get invited to the right parties?
In my role as a parent, what if I’m not good enough?
What I learned on working on myself pretty vigilantly is that everything I do to avoid feeling my discomfort, to avoid brushing up against those sharper edges when they appear, ends up harming me more and prolonging my suffering.
When I reflect on my childhood, I have vivid memories of not feeling included, in yearning to be a part of some group that I felt I wasn’t good enough for. I didn’t perceive myself as worthy of being at the top (not of social circles, but at the top of my game), so I wasn’t. Even though I was a strong student, what held me back from doing even better in school and going even further was my limited belief in myself.
Eventually, when I entered into college, this limited belief led to a lot of struggle and indecision. I majored in what I felt was the safe route, although I had burning passions and dreams that were being ignored. I felt a strong sense of not belonging, of not being worthy enough of playing in the arena, of really putting myself out there.
And the truth is, looking back, these moments were all my teachers until I was finally ready to see that I didn’t, and don’t, need any validation in my worth outside of myself. My beliefs now in who I am have expanded and continue to expand.
The article that really got me going read like a rally call to moms and kids everywhere to be super vigilant and on the lookout to include any poor, forgotten child that might be in any way, shape or form left out. The author was a proponent of not having any parties unless the entire class could be invited. It was as though she was pleading that if we just work a little bit harder, no one will feel bad about themselves. If we all work together, we can stand up to the bullies. This is the war cry I’ve heard over and over.
But what if this is not the right message?
It’s not about the mean kids, or the helicopter moms. It’s about empowering your kid to believe in themselves, get to know themselves, love themselves, and trust themselves.
What if I teach my kid to be resilient? What if I teach my kid that his self-worth is not reliant on group-acceptance or whether or not he gets invited to every party? What if I teach my kid to continue to challenge his limited beliefs?
I stress over and over to my son that the best gift he has to give the world is to be himself. If, above all, I teach him to be strong, confident, and embrace his uniqueness, then what? If I teach him that life can be horrible, ugly, unfair and unjust, but he can stand back up on his own strong feet, what can he not overcome?
Surely not getting invited to a party won’t shatter his world then. Or maybe a kid that decides to bully him at school won’t totally break his spirit (rock it a bit, yes). He will have something stronger inside of himself that is unbreakable.
Maybe we all want to acknowledge as parents the extreme discomfort in knowing that life is hard and it will knock our children down. That is certain. And it’s terrifying. We cannot engineer any house of cards that will protect them from that. No matter how much we insert ourselves, they will make bad decisions and fall down. They will struggle and fail at things. They will not get things they really want, even things they work hard for. And I need to remind myself that it’s not my job to solve or fix, but to continue to offer the tools so that he can become stronger and more resilient.
Last night my son and I were eating dinner together and he said, out of a long silence, “Mom, you know what is the most important thing to you that you love the most?”
“What?” I asked.
I was waiting for him to tell me what he thinks I value most in my life. We had just been talking about the dreaded Christmas wish list so I was afraid he would tell me it was some possession of mine….my computer, my car.
I told him he nailed it. Sometimes I do have to smile and acknowledge that he’s getting it.
I think, I pray, that he values himself most in the world. I sure can love him, that’s easy, but I can’t possibly give him his value to the world. I can do the best I can to teach him how to feed that. If he keeps feeding that, I can’t imagine where he’ll go. Anywhere he chooses.
Author: Anna Versaci
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s Own