Shades of Gray

A Special Saturday Blog posting on Parenting.

Parenting, without a doubt, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  It is getting more difficult with each passing year, but also more rewarding.  As my children (Bailey, age eleven, Sydney age eight) grow, they are becoming my favorite dinner dates – I love discussing what they’re thinking, how they’re managing and how they see things.  I help them negotiate the ups and downs of school, learning, homework, everything. Their world-view is emerging right before my eyes and I’m fascinated.

We have made some choices for our kids regarding our lifestyle and their school that have affected their experience.  (As I write that sentence, I am thinking, yes, but doesn’t everyone?)  We live in Tokyo.  We have sent them to a very small Montessori school (which we have all loved) for the past four years.  We associate with people of all nationalities.  These are things that make Bailey and Sydney unique from an American standpoint, but where we live, they are just like every other kid they know.  Again – this is a common theme in parenting.  The parents make choices but the kids don’t know anything else – this is their complete reality.  It’s only the parents, not the kids, who stress the choices.

In the past year, Bailey has had a lot of trouble at school.  It started mostly last spring before the end of his fifth grade year.  The class he’s in at the Montessori is mixed-age, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders – twenty-eight kids all together.  Unfortunately, the school is so small, that the class is the ONLY group of fourth, fifth and sixth graders.  If he was in a bigger place, he might not have had the trouble because he’d have exposure to more children.  But at this point, I can’t look back, only forward.

The trouble is that Bailey is out to impress the kids in his class. He wants to show them that he is as good as they are, as strong as they are, as fast as they are.  Most of his competitiveness comes outside of the classroom academics, but it’s still there.  We are still working on why he needs to do it.

Outside of school, Bailey has friends on his soccer team, and his basketball team, and his summer camp (American) counselors tell us he’s a delightful, easy kid.  Bailey is figuring out how to be a friend and how to make a friend, and I’m still working on guiding him in that fashion.  To be a friend, he needs to listen and relax, and to have a friend, he needs to listen and relax.  No need to be hyper and prove himself and request acceptance.

Recently, after a three-day ski trip with his class, Bailey came home and was aggrieved at the way he was treated by some of the kids.  He thought some of the kids were mean to him and he was isolated by them.  My husband and I talked to him and talked to him about why it happened and he said a few things, but not much.

Later, after emailing a few parents, I found out their point of view: that Bailey was doing his usual things of trying to impress the kids and it came off as bragging, so the kids were not happy with him, which is what led to the comments.

Here’s the issue: Bailey insists that he didn’t do or say all of the things the other kids are accusing him of doing.  What am I to do as his mother?

Well, frankly, my job is to love and support my kids as much as I possibly can and to believe them if they say they’re telling the truth.  My challenge is to help Bailey see that he probably did brag too much for these other kids – he may not realize what he is doing.  To repeat myself, I have to show Bailey that this is not the way to win friends or influence people.  Then I need to step out of the relationships and let him make his own mistakes, no matter how painful.  I can’t protect him from the pain of learning and growing no matter how much I want to.

The other kids don’t like my child very much and most likely, the other parents are not too fond of me at this moment either.  At the end of the day, though, I’m doing the best I can for my child, and my child is doing the best he can.  If others can’t see that, then I’m very sorry.

Kids do not come with instruction manuals and the best we can do is make decisions with the information we have available at the moment.  In September both of my kids will go to a much bigger school.  There’s still no guarantee that they will be any happier or have fewer issues.  But at least they’ll have a bigger pool of children from whom to choose as friends.  Bailey will find a like-minded kid who wants to shoot baskets for hours on end and then he will hopefully know the joys of an easy, relaxed friendship like he does at summer camp.  The next three and a half months are going to be a test for all of us, but we will be okay.  And the reason we will be okay is because we, the kids and my husband and I, know that we are doing our very best and we are good people with good things ahead of us.  We are going to keep our eyes on the prize, and come out smiling.  Most days.

Parenting: A Journey

Marc, Aimee, Bailey and Sydney at New Year's

I’ve learned quite a bit about parenting this week.  Maybe it doesn’t have a lot to do with writing, but frankly, anything that has to do with me has to do with writing.

This week, my husband, my daughter and I are off skiing.  Where is my son, you might ask?  Well, he’s with his classmates doing work on a project and skiing elsewhere.  Bailey has been away from us many times in the past – heck, he goes to sleepaway camp for a few weeks every summer. But this is the first time we are taking a family vacation with ¼ of our family missing.

Bailey is going to have an excellent time!  He’s with his 5 best friends in his principal’s ski house in Nagano.  They have papers to write ahead of their big trip to New York to the United Nations in April and the teachers and principal thought this would be the best use of the 4-day weekend.  They will work and ski and work and ski.  Bailey was wildly excited to go.

So what I learned this week is that the hardest part of parenting is doing what’s best for the child when all you want to do really is to hold on tight.  This is his time; he is growing his wings.  I’m so proud of him.  A bit sad for me, but still very proud and excited for him.  This is just the beginning of the process for all of us, but we’ll take it one step at a time and like I’ve said before, enjoy the journey.