We are entering into a fun but tricky stage with the boys. They are now old enough and independent enough where friends are having more and more influence. I am a huge fan of the saying, Friends are the family you choose. Tim and my friends are huge parts of our lives and I’m so excited for the boys to go down this road. I know it’s highly unlikely, but some of the friends they have now may end up being life long friends. Most will fade in then out of their lives but now they are practicing that relationship skill. It’s gratifying to sit back and watch this unfold but there have also been some bumps.
It’s weird though. When they are born, you start out as their only grasp on the outside world. Eventually that cirle expands and they learn how to interact with extended family members, then family friends. They have had their own friends for quite a few years but it’s always been under our supervision.
Now, with school and them being old enough to play out in the neighborhood alone, they have plenty of opportunities to interact with whomever they choose and however they choose. It’s scary letting go a little, but it’s necessary. We don’t want both boys as adults, still living in our home, relying only on us for their social needs. Yes, we want the parent-kid relationship to evolve into an adult relationship, but we have our own friends and we want them to have their own healthy, fulfilling friendships, outside of us. That end goal is a long way off, but we are starting the foundation now.
Throughout the last few years, their friends have become more and important to them. Their influence is king right now. This gradual change has been fun to watch, except for the times some of the relationship experiments have blown up in their own faces.
Having fun and getting a laugh seems to be their main objective with their friends right now. Both boys are researching and analyzing humor. They are figuring out what their friends define as funny. As we found out earlier sometimes that laugh is found at another kid’s expense. We haven’t experienced anything again at the level of the bullying incident, but other small things have crept up. A few times each of the boys sacrificed their own brother’s dignity to get a laugh out of the bigger friend group.
Last week one of the younger boys in the neighborhood fell victim to this grasping for inclusion tactic. It grieved both Tim and I to find out that our boys were involved. We had to sit them down and go over AGAIN why making someone feel bad isn’t a cool way to get a laugh out of their friends.
Over the years we have adopted little quips and mantras to help the boys remember the important things we try to do as a family. Tim does this thing where he starts the sentence and pauses, prompting the boys to finish it. We have gradually added more as the life lessons have popped up. Some of these little family mottos go something like this:
Tim: Pell Men…..
Boys: NEVER QUIT.
Tim: What defines you as a man?
Boys: HOW YOU LOVE OTHERS.
Boys: MOVE ON.
*I should clarify that the only reason the word “man” gets thrown in there is because both our kids are male. If we had happened upon getting a female Pell, the mantras would have been the same, just the gender clarifier would have changed. The Pell family is all about equality. Both males and females are held to the same high standard.
Normally when these little mantras are chanted, Tim asks, “And what else?”
Then Jack will look down into his lap and a smirk will spread across his face. He will slowly raise his fisted hand in their air and quietly say, “Leadership.”
I have no idea where that came from. I think all three of them were goofing around when Jack came up with that gem. Somehow it stuck into the life lesson routine. It’s perfect actually because they can turn a serious talk back into the normal light hearted goofiness that is par for our family. It ends up promoting the grace we try hard to teach the boys and the grace all four of us try to live out. The little joke lets them breath out in relief. Through the giggle they realize that life still goes on and we still love each other even more than before the naughtiness occurred. It’s perfect and I’m so glad we happened upon that little ending humor.
So, back to last week’s talk about not getting the cheap laugh from the group at the expense of the little guy. Both Tim and I were frustrated because we felt like we had been talking about this topic over and over.
For some reason, this part of parenting always surprises me. When the lesson objective is being repeated for the fifth time over the course of a month, it feels like I’m sitting in the corner beating my head against the wall. It feels like the boys’ ears are closed to all adult wisdom. It feels like they don’t care about what we are saying. I know the reteaching of normal, healthy, loving behavior is probably something that all parents experience but it’s just so dang irritating. I wish I could open up their brains, pour the information in, then be done with it. I don’t want to have the, “Be kind to everyone” talk fifty times in a day.
We relayed this frustration to the boys but still tried to elaborate because it seemed like they just weren’t getting it. At one point, Tim got into an inspirational groove. Well, it was inspirational to me, probably not to Luke and Jack, who knew they were getting into trouble just then. When they look back and remember these talks, they will feel differently. For the moment, it’s just, dun dun DUNNNN, we’re going to get it now. We’ve disappointed Mom and Dad. We screwed up again. When the inspirational groove comes along, I take the cue and scoot back to let him do his thing. I also mentally start taking notes because he always seems to have a way to put words together so they cut right to the heart of the matter. Last week’s conversation went a little something like this:
You know all of our family sayings? ‘Pell men never quit’, ‘what defines you as a man’ and ‘let’s move on’ all work in this situation. Your job as friends is to not quit on them and to love them. When you make fun of other people or you don’t stick up for them when other’s poke fun at them you aren’t being a good friend. You are quitting on the friendship in that moment. You are not loving them or taking care of them. It’s cheap and ugly when you use someone to get a laugh out of other people.
Actually, Jack, this whole thing as a lot to do with your “leadership.” I know it started out as a joke, but a leader is a serious and cool position. When you stand up for others and for what is right, most of the time it’s the harder option. It takes more bravery. It’s easier to go along with what everyone is laughing at. It’s easier to step on others to make your buddies laugh. It’s harder to say, “No, stop, that’s not cool.” It’s harder to come up with more intelligent jokes. But the funny thing is, people will end up respecting you more. Your friends will start to look to you as a leader.
Leadership is doing the right thing even though it’s the harder thing. It may seem cool to go along with the crowd and do anything to fit in, but it’s not. Others will get hurt. You might get hurt. You won’t stand out as a leader if you do what everybody else is doing. Sometimes when you say no to ugliness, you gain others’ respect. And those who don’t respect that aren’t worth hanging around with anyway. You want to be a leader; it’s why you want to practice being brave. It’s a skill you will use your whole life. And, besides, being a leader is way more fun.
This is when I piped in:
Boys, you have to understand that this is an issue for most adults too. Dad and I even have times where we have to stand up for what is right. We have to say no when others disagree. We have to stick up for others and ourselves. Sometimes we aren’t brave and we fail at it too. But we get right back up and try again. Even us parents have to do the “Let’s move on” and practice at our bravery.
This is a really hard situation and it won’t be the last time you encounter it. Now is the time to practice. The more you practice as a kid, with your own friends, the easier it will be when you’re as big as me and Dad. It might never be totally easy, but remember, standing up for what is right is cool and helps you become a leader.
After some tears, hugs and a round of “Let’s move on” fist bumps, we all went back to our afternoon. The boys leaped back out the front door to practice their social skills. Tim and I debriefed the conversation, as we always do. What did you think? Did we say thing right things? Do you think 10% of that was retained? Are we doing something wrong? Is this a normal part of kid-life and parenting?
Who can we blame for all of this poor behavior!!! Let’s blame and shame someone else, it’s easier.
But seriously, parenting is hard. If parenting was easy, we wouldn’t be doing it right. It takes a mountain of bravery and a range of leadership. It sure would be nice though to get through one measely week without a DUN DUN DUNNNN talk. These boys need to give us a break, geez.