I used to think a “good mom” always responded with mama-bear-like ferocity when she learned her cub had been injured- physically or emotionally. Twelve years of motherhood had taught me differently. First, there’s no such thing as a “good mom.” We are all the best moms we can be with who we are and what we have to work with. Second, the chances are slim-to-none that my son is the innocent victim he sometimes portrays himself to be. To quote my wise mother, “I highly doubt you were standing there, minding your own business, when Johnny came up and punched you for no reason.” So, when my son told me that his new seating buddy had said something “pretty mean” to him that day, I responded with, “Well, what were you doing?
Unsurprisingly, as the story unfolded, it was obvious that while my son’s feeling were hurt, he was not inexplicably attacked by a mean-word yielding classmate. (Also note: He was equally upset that their arguing might result in a ‘talking mark,’ which would ruin his chance of earning the $20 I had offered if he could go the entire semester without getting in trouble for flapping his gums.)
“So what do you think you should do about it?” I asked.
“Can you email the teacher and have my seat changed?” he suggested.
The quickest and easiest solution in the mind of a twelve-year-old boy: Let mom handle it.
The quickest and easiest solution in the mind of a mom: Let the teacher handle it.
Unfortunately for both of us, that’s not how we roll in our house. I reminded him that it had only been a day since the seat change and followed up with a reminder that he had the necessary skills to address the problem himself.
He returned later that night with a solution.
“Tomorrow I’m going to apologize for anything I said that was mean and give her a chance to apologize, too. Then I’ll tell her that we will be sitting together for a while and I want us to get along and not get in trouble.”
Not to toot my own kid’s horn, but I thought this was an impressive plan. I was proud of his willingness to take responsibility for his role in the situation and his desire to clear the air and move on. So off to school he went the next morning- ready to have “a talk” with his classmate.
The resounding silence that filled the car at pick up was my first clue that things did not go well. The stream of tears was my second. I asked him what happened; and at this point, I was left with two choices: Email the teacher and ask for a seat change or call the classmate’s mom, a friend of mine, and chat about how we could help these two get along.
Admittedly, I wanted to err on the side of an email to the teacher. It was non-confrontational, “one and done.”
It was also a total cop-out and extremely hypocritical after telling my son, less than 24 hours before, that he had everything he needed to handle the problem himself. More importantly, my son had asked for my help.
Saying “I hate confrontation” is as ridiculous as saying, “I hate throwing up.” Obviously, no one in their right mind enjoys throwing up. And if confrontation was pleasant, they’d call it something else- like a hug.
I knew I had to make the call. I ignored the butterflies in my stomach as my friend’s phone rang and prepared myself for one of three potential responses I predicted she’d have.
She could go on the defense, refusing to believe her child had any part in the situation. She could go on the offense, blaming the entire situation on my son. Or, she could remain on the bench, neutral, feeling that this situation really wasn’t a “situation” simply because we have different parenting styles.
I underestimated my friend. As I nervously stuttered my way through the recap of the past two days’ events, she listened. There was no defensiveness or blame. She didn’t blow me off or think I was being dramatic. She asked me questions. She asked her daughter questions. Meanwhile, I listened and asked my son more questions.
In the end, it was clear no one had any idea how it all began. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Teasing went too far and feelings were hurt. “I’d like them to work it out,” she said.
She suggested a phone call between the kids. Because, while neither of us felt the kids needed to be BFFs, we both agreed that they needed to treat each other with respect and apologize for their part.
After a phone call that was every bit as awkward as you’d expect a phone call between an 11-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl to be, it was over. Apologies made and accepted. Awkward ‘goodbyes’ issued, and then they were gone.
Remaining on the line, however, were two moms. Both of whom were very grateful for one another. By swallowing our fears and overcoming the desire to take the “easy out,” we had made ourselves have the awkward conversation. In doing so, not only did we give our kids a lesson in conflict resolution, but we also gave each other the respect of talking to one another and handling it ourselves.
There are definitely times when a third party needs to be brought into a situation. However, when we email the teacher instead of having the courage to make a phone call to a parent, we take away that parent’s opportunity to do his or her job. When we unnecessarily contact a principal because we are afraid to have an awkward conversation, we take away our children’s opportunity to see what “use your words” looks like in the grown up world.
Sometimes, the awkward conversation you have turns out to be a lot less awkward than the one you pictured in your head and a lot more beneficial to everyone involved.
That’s just my normal.