Parenting is hard, am I right?
Before I had children, I felt that I was a much more confident parent. I knew how I would handle every possible situation that would eventually come my way. Parenting may not have seemed easy but I was secure enough in my own overconfidence to naively think I would know what to do when confronted with a difficult choice or awkward conversation.
Nearly a decade later, and I now understand that becoming a parent is an ongoing process.
It started with a simple sentence:
The boys were being strange today at school.
My third grader usually rehashes her day on our half-mile walk home from school. Sometimes she writes little notes on her hand so she doesn’t forget everything that she needs to say. Today was different. No notes were needed.
She went on to tell me that two boys in her class kept coming up to her pretending they were babies and acting like they were going to breastfeed…on her. One went on to comment on the three pins she wears on one side of her school uniform saying that she had three nipples on one side. At that point, a handful of other boys started to laugh.
I asked her if she said anything to her teacher. She hadn’t.
it was embarrassing. I get it. Listening to a group of people discuss your body like you aren’t there is humiliating. She asked if I could be the one to say something to her teacher.
My initial reaction was to storm into the school and replay the story that I heard. It isn’t appropriate for many reasons, and these boys should know they can’t act like that to the girls in their class.
However, I stopped and thought about it. She needs to be confident enough that she can tell those boys to stop in their tracks because, sadly, things like this are going to happen again and again.
I want her to be able to say, “No, you can’t say that to me” and “No, I don’t want to do that.”
I want to teach her how to say NO now.
Boys shouldn’t do things like that, but girls need to learn the importance of standing up for themselves.
The more the boys from her class hear this in third grade, the more opportunities they have to learn that this behavior is not right.
The more chances girls have to assert their rights, the better armed they will be in the future to do it again.
It ended up that I did go into the school to speak with the teacher. My daughter was with me, and I was able to model how to bring up this type of behavior to an authority figure. Hopefully, she will be able to say something at the moment the next time this happens or be able to report it later.
As I was walking out of school after talking to the teacher, I ran into the mom of one of the boys.
She is a friend, and I thought I should give her fair warning of what just happened. It might not have been the right decision but if it was me, I would have wanted to hear it. As you can imagine, she was mortified and said she would talk to her son. I have two sons and would have had the exact same response.
I wish I could tell you that the story ended there, that the boys learned from their mistakes and we all went on to learn how to treat each other with respect. But that isn’t what happened because parenting choices can be more complicated than that.
A day or two later, I ran into that mom. After exchanging pleasantries, she said she talked to her son and wanted to tell me that my daughter was playing with the boys too. I asked what she meant. She told me that her son said that my daughter smiled when he made those comments.
“He shouldn’t be commenting on her body,” I said.
“But she liked it,” was her response.
It was my turn to be mortified. I didn’t know how to respond. Part of me wanted to lose my temper, the other part wanted to cry.
At what point in your parenting does standing up for your child become less important than teaching him or her what is right? Again, I get it. Just as much as I want my daughter to stand up for herself, I want my sons to have a chance to tell their side of the story.
I didn’t address it with the mom again, and I don’t intend on holding it against her. I don’t know how the conversation ended with her son. I am sure she made what she felt to be the right choice because I truly believe that every parent strives to make the best decisions for their children.
Instead, I thought about what I would have or should have done if the tables were turned.
We haven’t been on the other end of this specific situation but as you know, there are a plethora of tricky parenting situations like this. I hope that when it is my turn to be the mom on the receiving end of a sticky situation that I think long and hard before I speak.
I’d like to think we learned a lot from these few moments on the playground. Although I know it will take lots of practice and reinforcement, I hope the seed was planted for my daughter to stand up for herself next time around. Additionally, it was a good reminder for me to make sure I always try to understand the full picture of a story.
Finally, I was reminded that parenting isn’t black and white. We are all struggling to do the right thing for our children because the best lesson for our kids might not always the easiest for us.