Making Friends

“Hi. I’m Willow. A moth landed on me, right on my arm. Let’s be friends, ok? Let’s play chase and pretend we’re birds. Follow me!” -Willow Mei, on making friends.

Willow met a lovely little girl at the splash pad today. The two chased each other and played in the water. They exchanged silly faces and noises, hugged, made up stories about imaginary creatures, and shared facts about insects and birds of prey (Did you know that an insect only has six legs? Did you know that a mommy eagle chews up food and feeds it to her baby because the baby can’t eat the food on its own?).

The grandmother of the little girl that Willow befriended today looked over at me and commented wistfully, “It’s so simple when you’re that young”. We shared a knowing nod and smile, then continued to watch the girls play together.

As I reflect on the simplicity of this summer playground moment, I find that I am relieved that Willow is able to introduce herself to others and to engage them in play. I am thrilled that she has the social skills to make fast friends wherever she goes, and I am happy that she is learning to negotiate and solve problems through her play with others. I know that she will not be the child about whom teachers worry in terms of making friends. The ability to seek out new friends is a real blessing, and an important survival instinct for many only children who do not have built-in playmates.

I am also saddened by the realization that it truly isn’t this easy to make and maintain friendships when girls get a bit older, and that Willow will one day feel the bitter sting of rejection and exclusion.

I know that I have to work hard to heal my own wounds around rejection and “mean girl” trauma before I can be fully present to witness and help Willow cope with her own relational aggression issues as they arise. We also have to work hard to build up Willow’s own self-esteem, compassion, kindness, and empathy in order to ensure that she does not end up being the “mean girl” herself.

There is much work to be done. I am exhausted just thinking about it.

Just for today, I will remember to take the time to breathe and focus on the present. I will cherish the innocent and loving child that we have, and appreciate the ease with which this sweet girl connects with other human beings of all ages. I will enjoy experiencing this stage with her and watching her enjoy these easy times while they last, and try not to wait for the other shoe to drop.

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Summer

Summer is slowing down and living for today. Summer is exploring and playing with no rushing. Summer is finger painting. Summer is washing the same bike over and over with water and a sponge. Summer is a sidewalk chalk masterpiece. Summer is splashing. Summer is running though a sprinkler. Summer is barefoot sand sculpting. Summer is rolling down a grassy hill. Summer is cloud-watching. Summer is an intricate block tower that doesn’t have to be tidied right away. Summer is a fort built from blankets and sticks. Summer is fish-watching. Summer is tomato-growing. Summer is popsicle-licking. Summer is not having to share Momma with her “other kids” at school. Summer is being in the Now. Happy Summer.

Parenting With Authenticity

A boy was climbing on top of a structure in the Museum. His father was telling the boy to get down, as it was not meant for climbing. The father looked as though he was about to follow through by physically helping the boy to get down, when my family walked into the room. Suddenly, this father seemed to become unsure of his parenting choices. He now had an audience. Having another parent watching him made him stop in his tracks. Instead of following through with his original assertion that his son come down, he instead mumbled something along the lines of “well… just be careful up there”.

Part of me wanted to go up to the dad and say “Hey, I’m behind you 100%. Go right ahead and follow through with what you were doing. If he melts down, I promise not to judge. We’ve all been there.” I didn’t, but I kind of wish I had. I wanted to give this dad permission to continue to be the good parent he was, and to apologize for breaking his flow.

Although it is possible that the father suddenly had a change of heart about the safety of his son or the rules of being in a Museum, it is more likely that he decided not to follow through with his child in this moment because he feared judgement, and didn’t want to have a “scene” with his son. Having an audience can make even the most confident of parents doubt their parenting choices.

I see this happen frequently, and have definitely had my own moments when I adapted my own parenting style to better match the expectations of others in a public setting. Parents can fear the judgement of other parents so much that we feel pressured to adopt a completely different set of rules in front of others in order to avoid a confrontation and hide the fact that our child or family is not perfect.

This can send really confusing messages to our children when we switch gears half way through a problem that we are working through with our child. Consistency is one of the best gifts we can give to our children, even when it means feeling embarrassed, ashamed, or anxious in front of others. When we parent according to who is watching instead of who we are raising, we are essentially putting the opinion of other parents ahead of our own child’s needs.

Being a parent means being vulnerable. Being laid open to criticism and commentary by well-meaning strangers. Being open to judgement from others who are covering up their own wounds and insecurities by pointing out our mistakes and differences. It’s incredibly brave work to be an authentic parent, and it can be hard to do what we know is right for our own child, when we are surrounded by those with different beliefs or values.

The good news is that there truly is no such thing as a perfect parent, despite what we might assume based on polished social media posts. The discomfort that we feel now as we struggle to parent authentically under the lens of judgement from others will be rewarded with a generation who will know how to stand up for the things they believe in, and who will live fully because they were parented with consistency and fairness.