Monday, December 14, 2009

Coping Mechanism

"These people—if you can even call them that—deliberately violate every social norm without ever pausing to consider how their selfish behavior might affect others. It's as if they have no concept of anyone but themselves."

- Spoof article, "New Study Reveals Most Children Unrepentant Sociopaths"

This weekend, my family went to a friend’s house to celebrate Hanukkah. There were an assortment of children from my son’s grade, alone with a younger sibling of one child, and another child who did not go to the school, but was a family friend of the host. There were six children in all, ranging in age from seven to eleven. Although the age-range was large and both sexes were represented, all of the children played together well. That is, all children but a nine-year-old boy.

I’d seen the family friend’s child a handful of times, but on each occasion, the child spent more time with his single-mother than my son and his friend. Even with more children and a greater variety of games being played, this boy still didn’t join in the fun. Until this time, I didn’t know if his mother noticed, and if she did, I didn’t know if she minded. An example of the exclusive relationship between mother and son is from this past July 4th, when we went the see the fireworks on the Charles River together. My husband bought all the kids glow sticks, and my son and his friend immediately used them as swords, dueling, while the son formed his into a circle, and repeatedly tossed it onto his mother's foot.

I’m sure when you raise a child alone, there’s comfort in proximity. But at this holiday party, when she tried to talk to me, and he interrupted, the mother encouraged him to join the others. Once or twice he attempted to, but he seemed awkward interacting with other children, and soon found his mother again.

When the mother decided to leave, her son mentioned that he didn’t have a portion of the Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins) that the host bought for the children. The kids divided them, in a rough assemblance of fairness when the boy was sitting with his mother, and though he witnessed the mad scramble for the gelt, at the time he didn’t say anything or try to participate. The host immediately went to remedy the situation, but it was too late; the boy said he didn’t want the chocolate and the mother threw around some coats to find her son’s and left red-faced. The host was left bewildered.

I was bewildered too. Did the boy want the chocolates in the beginning, but was unable to articulate it or did he not realize it until he was leaving? Did the boy then say he didn’t want them because he saw his mother was upset or because he didn’t want an imagined confrontation with the other children? The host and I were ready to call the kids and make sure that everyone had an equal amount. Sure, there would be some protests and grudging division, but that’s something I deal with at home with my two children and at school with students.

And maybe that’s the problem. With no other parent to balance how the child is being raised, no sibling at home, and periodic home schooling, this boy probably doesn’t possess the proper coping mechanisms to deal with the rough and tumble interactions with his peers.

I'm certainly not disparaging single parents, and I was, in fact, raised by one from time to time. But I know that it's makes it more difficult as a parent because there's nobody else at home to: bounce ideas off of, decide the best course of discipline with, or to provide a break. Certainly, having to work out problems with siblings is good practice for the real world as child, though trying for a parent. But if there's no sibling, interacting with other students is probably nearly as effective. The home schooling is harder for me to understand. Unless my children's school had problems with violence (ie: gun shots), I would have a hard time seeing it as a "bad" school.

School is essential to create a well-rounded individual. I’m a teacher, and would never consider being my children’s sole educator. I only have my perspective on the world and my teaching style (as awesome as it is), which would give my student a deficit in so many subjects and ways to be taught. More importantly, having good and bad teachers, and good and bad years is part of the learning process. As parents, we can only protect our children for so long before life’s hard knocks come knocking. If they’ve rarely-to-never faced adversity, with a parent hovering in the wings, how will these children fare as adults? The answer is that they won’t fare well.

I've heard that there are parents micromanaging their adult-children's college education, going as far as to call professors, which is ludicrous. What happens to those young adults once they're truly on their own, without their parents' bankroll, when they find out for the first time that they can't have anything they want, when they want it? And what happens to those young adults when they have issues at their first job, but mommy and/or daddy can no longer whisk in and make everything all better?

We want to protect our children from mean people and uncomfortable situations, but then we also stifle growth, a necessary ingredient to becoming a well-rounded individual. I once heard it said that parenthood is a job where your main goal is to eventually lose your job (it was more eloquent and coherent than that), but I don’t think all parents realize that. Our kids are not our: confidantes, pals, or pet projects.

Learning to negotiate with people (including other children) is an invaluable skill, and as a parent and teacher, I am cognizant that I have to give my children the tools, then sit back and trust my kids to use them.


  1. Hmm... I'm not sure how I feel about this. I can only speak from personal experience... I think I was friends with my mother as a child- more and more so as I grew older. That said I was fiercely independent starting from a young age. Maybe that's why I'm not a "well rounded individual".
    I'd hate to cop out by saying that it must vary for each case... But I think I would have benefited from home schooling... Standard education didn't do me much good, both on the personal and on the academic level. Shrug.
    But I can only fully agree that any education should lead to independence...
    Learn enough to teach yourself, so that you act independently.

    I used to say as much to my students, though most of them stopped practicing when they stopped coming to class. I suppose that's the consequence of teaching something that most people don't need to use much.

  2. Alesa, you make valid points. As parents, I think however we decide to teach our children, we have to make sure there is some balance. And definitely some room for independence.

    Teaching children something they don't feel the need for must be frustrating at times. Was it?

  3. Hmm... Well, as a parent and a professional, you certainly have more experience than I.
    And unarguably balance is a requisite... No doubt that balance can be achieved through more ways than one... Shrug.

    Many of the most interesting people I've known had unusual backgrounds. But that observation may be flawed by the fact that "I" am the observation point.

    In the end, don't parents do the best they can and hope it works out? Does being a teacher provide you perspective you wouldn't have had otherwise?
    Erm, I gave private (small groups) lessons to adults and university level young adults... Capoeira and martial arts to adults. The capoeira is like dance, no one really NEEDS dance lessons, but they go because they enjoy it, or they feel better for doing it... The motivations for people learning martial arts were often a bit more complex but included the above.

    That's the advantage of teaching people who are actually paying for their classes on a weekly or monthly basis: they've at least chosen to be there while there are there.
    So no it wasn't frustrating, though it was sometimes disappointing to meet some former students long afterward and to see that their talent and bodies had gone fallow...

  4. Alesa, in the end, parents do their best and hope it works out. Every time my children complain too much, I tell them, "This will be fodder for the therapist when you get say what a bad parent I was." That annoys my son but always makes me laugh.

    Basically, we do plenty wrong no matter how much we try.

    Teaching things that people want to take is nice. I'm sure it is frustrating when people drop out. My students are basically stuck with me!