Of all the things I do as a parent, the hardest thing for me by far is watching my kids struggle with a thing and trying to figure out how far to step into it to help them. I'm an expert advice giver and after 43 years, 4 kids, and a few pivotal life experiences, I feel fairly confident in my advising skills. But sometimes my kids' challenges require them to have their own pivotal life experiences and draw their own conclusions. Those are the hard ones for me. Being quietly supportive isn't one of my super powers.
Megan has had a friend for the last couple of years who has been a huge learning opportunity. That's the best way I can describe her. The girl has been through some serious hell in her life that none of us have a full understanding of, and those things color the way she sees the world. It has been an ongoing challenge in the past two years to watch from the sidelines as Megan has befriended this very insecure, very cautious girl. I've listened to Megan wade through difficult conversations, try desperately to uplift and encourage her friend and build her self esteem, only to have the girl constantly get her feelings hurt and leave nearly every situation wondering about the state of her friendship with Megan. Over and over I've wanted to step in and tell Megan that sometimes it just doesn't work, sometimes you just have to walk away. (well, actually, what I've really wanted to tell her is that I can see the flashing red DANGER signs and she should run screaming away from this girl and never look back...)
Last weekend we had a change of plans, which is a pretty regular occurrence in a house full of teenagers. Megan's friend was here and the change involved taking her home earlier than expected. That's it. No big deal, right? Nope. Not for a healthy, well adjusted teenager who has no previous baggage that they carry around with them everywhere they go. The friend spent the day with us. She and Megan had a great time. We took her home BEFORE instead of AFTER the orchestra rehearsal. And we went about the rest of our exhausting, but fun-filled weekend. But apparently we had done some irreparable damage, once again unknowingly, in this little friend's mind. She was sad and wounded. She stayed home from church the following day. She wouldn't answer any of Megan's texts. And then finally when she did, she said, "I'm still very hurt by the whole experience on Saturday, and while I know we need to discuss this, I'm just not ready to do that yet." (oh jeez...)
Megan was upset. We ran through a recap of the events of the day together, just to be sure the two of us were united in our perception of the whole thing. We were.
Note: I am not typically the kind of mother who rushes in to protect her kids from less than popular teachers, unfair accusations, or personality conflicts. I'm not what you would call a rescuer. I'm a big believer in the life lessons that come from learning how to deal with all types of personalities. Because eventually there is going to be a person in their space, whether it's a boss, a neighbor, or a missionary companion, who they will not be able to escape from. Better to learn to work with people now while in the safety of our home where we can detox them on a daily basis, than to have to figure out how to do that at 30 years old working with a difficult PTA mom.
But this particular teenager drama and Megan's anguish over it was sending me right into "MOTHER BEAR" mode. It was all I could do to keep myself from going right over to that little girl's house and telling both her AND her mother that they were being ridiculous. But I didn't. I listened. I encouraged. I validated Megan. And then I calmly said, "If you want me to step in, I will, but I trust you to say the right things and make good decisions with this friendship." And then I went into my closet and wrapped a sweatshirt around my head so I could scream without anyone hearing me.
Last night at 9:00, Megan came downstairs with a look of complete and total resignation and said, "Are you ready to step in?" (sigh...not really...) We had a LONG talk. I read the texts. She vented her frustrations. I listened. I said lots of good things. And two hours later, we still hadn't come up with any better solution than to just leave it alone for the night and have an actual face to face conversation with both the girl and her mom the next day (...which would be today...eek!)
Sigh...this parenting thing is SO hard sometimes. I wonder every time there's a challenge like this, if I am helping or hindering. Last night, after all those many many words I said, after two hours of dissecting this thing, I felt closer to Megan than I had before. I felt secure that she trusts me with her stuff. And I felt like I had done my best. Sometimes that's all we can do. This may end up in wreckage. There may be more hurt feelings and not much of a friendship left to hang onto. But at least Megan will know that Craig and I support her and love her.
I woke up at 5:30 this morning with a million things spinning around in my head. This is not a big deal. It was a change of plans. But I have gone around in circles with this family before and it's difficult to be reasonable with them. They hear things that you didn't say. They remember things from 150 years ago. They are easily offended and extremely insecure. So I feel a little bit like I'm volunteering to walk right into a fire and drag my unsuspecting child right along with me. But this is one of those things that I don't think we can escape from. I think we're gonna have to walk right through it.
After trying to sift through the 4 million potential conversations in my head this morning, I finally texted Craig (on business in McAllen) which always reassures me and gives me the perspective I need. And then I said a little prayer pleading to know the right way to handle this. And here's the Conference talk I was reminded of...
Today does not need to be about proving anyone's intentions or about forcing someone to change their mind. It doesn't need to be about defending or protecting or chastising. This is a learning experience for all of us, and sometimes those require walking through a little fire.
"In a hundred small ways, all of you wear the mantle of charity. Life is perfect for none of us. Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life. May we recognize that each one is doing her best to deal with the challenges which come her way, and may we strive to do our best to help out." - Thomas S. Monson
Megan and I will have another prayer together before we go over to this friend's house. And I have no idea what will be said in that home or how we will all come through that little fire over there, but I have confidence that I will have taught my daughter to do hard things, to handle difficult situations with prayer and love, and to always be kind.
Sigh...this parenting thing is so hard...