One of the biggest challenges I’ve found as a parent is wishing I could do more and not knowing where to stop. There’s a pull between wanting to help your kids out as much as possible, and wanting to let them be self-sufficient. In some cases, the choice is clear, and you don’t really need to debate too much about whether to help or stand back. Cleaning their room, for example, is a task best left to the kid. I’ve stepped in to help my kids clean their rooms over the years, and I’m discovering in hindsight that was only enabling their “live in sloth” habits. Now that we have the newly made chore sheet, I haven’t had to do any room cleaning, and the kid rooms stay much cleaner.
On the flip side, there are times it’s definitely worth it as a parent to step in and help. When they’re struggling with homework, for example. A case in point has been my efforts with DC to improve her reading this year. (Proud Dad moment: DC has been reading books on her own for a while now, and entered in a “Bikes for Books” program at school. You got one entry for every book you read, and she did six or seven, telling us she wasn’t taking to too seriously. She won a bike. I know compared to Tomas 6 or 7 books read isn’t a huge accomplishment, but I also know that the DC from the beginning of the year would never have voluntarily read through 6 or 7 chapter books on her own. She’s come a long way, and as we read in the evenings (We’re up to Castle of Llyr now in Prydain), I’m consistently impressed by how much her reading has improved. I’m not saying that’s all due to me reading with her, but I know I’ve helped, and that feels great.)
But not every decision has an easy answer, and I think that’s where the whole Helicopter Parent route becomes an easy trap to fall into.
You want your child to succeed. You want to do everything in your power to make sure they do, because heaven forbid twenty years down the line, when they’re struggling with finding a job, you wonder if you’d only pushed them harder in school in second grade if this all could have been avoided. That’s partly a joke, but there have definitely been times when I’ve felt like the failures I make as a parent now are messing up things for the future, and that’s a bad feeling to have. (Interestingly, I don’t blame my parents for any of my screw ups as an adult, though I do credit them for many of my successes. Is that called “paying it backward”?)
But it’s more than just schoolwork. Fact: middle school is hard stuff. I remember living through it, and it wasn’t an easy ride. I went into Junior High with one group of friends and came out with an entirely different set. The friends I’d had before pretty much turned their backs on me, and I had to flounder a bit to find my place. My old friends stopped being interested in the same things I was. They started being meaner. Or maybe it was just to me. I know not everyone goes through that, but I certainly did, and I see my kids going through rough times at school as well. Times that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, the same way I still remember those times way back when.
And I want to step in. I want to shield them from insults and bullying. And Denisa and I do step in from time to time, emailing the school and making sure they’re aware what’s going on. But it’s Lord of the Flies in there sometimes. Teachers can’t watch kids the whole time they’re at school. There’s recess and gym and lunch, and you should never underestimate the ability of kids to find a way to make their opinions known. I hear what’s been said to my child or about one of my child’s friends, and I just want to run into the school and Hulk out on the people saying it. At the same time, I think back on the careless things I said in school, and I try to assume the same thing is what’s happening now. It’s so easy to focus just on yourself as a child. To not realize the words you say have real impact on other people. Kids can be so set on proving how normal or cool they are they that they’re willing to stomp on just about anyone or anything to get there.
That said, if any of you have experience helping your kids through bullying at any age, I’d love to hear how you handled it. I learn a lot from others, and I’d definitely like to crowdsource this one. Thanks in advance.