Recently, I shared my first true motherly heartbreak when my oldest son was mean to another kid on the playground at school. Hubby and I were pretty firm and really thought we'd done everything to make this a "defining moment."
Our playground bully struck again.
Only a week after the first incident, we picked Ben up at school to learn that he'd punched another child. What can I say? I was devastated. And angry. And again, sad.
He took full responsibility:
"I hit him first."
"Because I wanted to."
Now, you have to understand my child: he is really, truly a pretty neat kid. He is funny and sweet and a rule-follower. He asks permission before he uses his dad's sports bottles. He helps his team mates up when they fall on the soccer field. He says "please" and "thank you" without being prompted. But he is strong-willed. He is stubborn. He is scary-smart. And apparently, he still has not figured out that two Alphas in this house is more than enough.
So...Hubby and I sat down and made a very difficult decision. We decided that in addition to the last set of consequences (no books at bedtime, no outside play, no TV, and apologies to all involved), he would also miss his best friend's birthday party. And, to make even a greater impact, he'd stay home with Dad while he watched his little brother and I go.
And I would take pictures.
And I would bring home only his brother's goody bag.
And I would tell Daddy aaaaallllll about how greaaaaaaat the party was.
Yes, I know, we sound cold and uncaring.
That might've been what was going on on the outside. Inside? I lost sleep for 2 nights. I woke up the morning of the party dreading the coming day. And when I saw the ponies, the bounce houses (yes, plural), the real-live Spiderman? I cried. Not teary-cried. I mean, full-blown-bottom-lip-trembling-have-to-turn-away-to-hide-my-face-boo-hooing.
This was the point during the party when the mommy of the birthday boy (who also happens to be one of the greatest friends a girl could ever have and has known me forever) stopped taking pictures of her own kid to reassure me: "Stop it. You did the right thing. It will pay off. We will laugh about this at their college graduation."
The rest of the world? Not quite so supportive.
Can somebody please tell me why mothers judge each other so damn harshly? Why I was called (to my face) "cruel" and "harsh" and why people gasped (audibly) when they found out that we did, in fact, follow through with our threat and not take him to this party? Why is it that instead of supporting each other, we sit in judgment of each other? Isn't this job hard enough already? How can someone know what my kid really needs?
How is it that we live in a world where you can't tell someone when a haircut has gone completely awry, but it's totally okay to tell someone when you think their parenting has?
So here's the deal: if I don't ask you what your opinion is on a subject as sensitive as this, don't tell me. Okay?
I have no issue with the fact that our parenting style may not match others'. I have no issue with the fact that you might not agree with my parenting decisions. I may not agree with yours. That's cool. But the judgments? The name-calling? The gasps and eye-rolling and blank stares of shock followed by rapid, confused blinking? Unnecessary.
Even on a good day, I am not always 100% sure we're doing the right thing as parents. When a stressful situation like this happens, I think it's only natural to doubt yourself. So there is absolutely no need to throw some more doubt in there, trust me. I'm beating myself up over this just fine all on my own. When I stood there, watching what my boy was missing, imagining the shrieks and giggles that could've been, I was heart broken. I was angry. I doubted myself. I didn't need anyone to make me feel worse; that would've been nearly impossible.
When the weekend was over and the grounding had been lifted and we were ready to start fresh, I still wondered if we'd done the right thing. I wondered if he'd really gotten anything from the whole experience. I admit I was internally cringing on Monday afternoon when it was time to hear how his day had gone. The teacher said that not only had he had a great day, but she'd eavesdropped on one of his conversations with his playground partners-in-crime. He'd decided to come up with "a plan": when someone was making a "bad choice," the rest of them would tell that friend it was a bad idea. If the friend didn't listen, they'd "go away" from that friend or tell the teacher. And only if someone was "making a good choice" then they'd do it..."but only if they really wanted." I guess this plan went over pretty well with his buddies, because they decided they should share this plan with the rest of the boys in the class.
Well then...1 point for the parents.
Bottom line? Parenting is hard. Really, really hard. Most days, we're all just wandering around, a little bit lost, a little bit in awe of how we are solely responsible for these amazing little people we've made. I truly think we are, for the most part, all doing the best we can, and we all struggle with this job at least some of the time. I just don't think everyone admits to that. I know I'm just muddling through, trying my damned best to bring up two independent, happy, strong, caring men. And even when I'm pretty sure we're doing the right thing, it can be tough on all of us.