“I don’t like playing the game Monster at recess”, says my 1st grader, I’m always the monster and I don’t like it. And sometimes the other boys are mean and shove me down”.
Faster than you can say “open up a can of whoop-ass”, my adrenaline starts pumping, my heart starts racing and I’m fighting off urges to confront the parents of “the other boys” who are playing with my son Si, and bully them myself OR their kids.
This is the part of parenting that is the absolute hardest for me: Not swooping in to fix things for my son. Other than struggling to be a more patient mother while it takes him 5 minutes to get one sock on, fighting against this rescue-anxiety is the part of parenting no one could have prepared me for.
I’ve heard about this Monster game a few times from my son now, and it’s clear that he doesn’t like the game. While I don’t think the boys are being malicious or mean and “bullying” him, so to speak, I do think that they are much more aggressive and assertive and rough-and-tumble than Si is, which puts him in a pickle. He wants to play with them and make friends and be included, but because he’s a bit more cautious and shy, he’s put in the role of the “bad guy” most of the time.
Every time it comes up, I get a rush of anxiety that I have to fight through. At 11:10, most days, I wonder if he’s having fun out there, or dodging head butts to the stomach.
But, despite how much anxiety and worry this situation has given me, I’ve decided to do a whole lot of nothing about it for now. And Here’s why:
I used to badger the hell out of him at the beginning of the school year when this first came up. He’d get off the bus to a barrage of questions. “what did you do at recess? did you have fun? who was mean to you? why do you play with them? did you tell the teacher? what is his name? did you tell him no? why didn’t you say anything? and on and on and on. I began to notice that I was bringing it up WAY more often than he was, and I finally realized my questions were not an attempt to help him figure out the situation, but to quell my own anxiety. Oopsy. My bad.
In the Real World, no one is going to come to the rescue of my son at every turn and I don’t want him to think that I will at the drop of a hat. If I did, he’d immediately get the message that he isn’t strong enough or capable enough to figure out the situation himself. Oh, it would make me feel better to know the situation was taken care of, but he’d be left feeling incapable. Not a good skill to send my child out into the world with, unless I want him loafing on my couch watching Netflix and saying “I do apply to jobs but no one calls me back”, when he’s 33.
Here’s what I do try to do:
I’ve tried to ask him what he’s going to do about the fact that he doesn’t like playing the game. Hopefully this will help him to learn to problem-solve for himself instead of me doing it for him.
I have stopped badgering him with questions. It’s sometimes hard, but I figure if something really bad happened, I would find out one way or another.
We’ve done a little bit of role-playing. I play the “other boys” and he plays himself and I pretend to be a little rough with him….but this usually just ends in him laughing at me for trying to act like a 7-year-old boy–and then we fall into the snow and just end up making snow-angels and forgetting about the whole thing altogether.
I try to remind myself that while it would be so much easier for me to fix this for him and make myself feel better, that it would end up making things harder for him in the long run. There’s nothing more unattractive in a man than one who complains, “that’s not fair”.
I type all of this with confidence and if you are reading it, it sounds like doing all of this comes easy to me, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. I think about it quite a bit and I have to actively work at doing nothing and not making things much, much worse. Sometimes I do a really good job and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, when I bring him to school and we run into one of the “other boys”, I have to restrain myself from tripping him in the hall and sending him and his over-sized book bag flying face-first into the linoleum.
Don’t be silly. I would never do that.
And the truth is, I am glad both he and I are having to grapple with this right now. It’s hopefully teaching us some good skills. Him, to speak up for himself, to assert himself and to trust in his own ability to navigate tough situations. Me, to trust that he is capable of figuring out how to take care of himself, to realize when I’m being guiding and when I’m being overbearing and to understand that I can not and should not shield him from Real Life because at some point he’s got to learn how to function in this world–and that’s better learned sooner rather than later.
It’s scary. But I think probably one of our most important jobs as parents is to invite our fears in, sit down with them and say, “Bring It”.
It’s an ongoing struggle for me to stay in this mindset, but I’m trying to remind myself that dressing in my husband’s camouflage hunting gear, hiding in the bushes at recess, and spying on my son with a pair of binoculars Just. Isn’t. The. Answer.
So, I’d love to stay and chat, but it’s so nice out that I think I’ll go for a leisurely drive. I mean, one of the other boys lives on one of the roads I’m driving down, but that is so totally not why I’m driving that way at all. Even though I know his mother gets home in 20 minutes and drives a grey minivan with blue interior and has a left rear brake light that is out with the license plate JSK 433.
It’s just purely coincidental.