Jul 30, 2010

Parenting our friends' children

It may take a village to raise a kid, but it takes a brave person to discipline a friend's child. Especially if they're there.

At the end of a glorious, tiring 4-day camping trip, the boys inevitably starting fighting in the back seat. My friend and I both tried gentle interventions, which had seemed to work, then suddenly her brute of a boy started to hit my precious darling again. Without thinking, I grabbed his hand and yelled at him. Something straight out of a parenting book, something clever and well-crafted like, "STOP IT! NO HITTING!"

The startled boy stopped hitting, and thankfully looked rather relieved rather than scared to have received clearly authoritative direction. I like to think he understood the authenticity of my reaction; at some level appreciating that I have enough of a relationship with him that I could be that natural.

I soon-after apologized, not for the discipline but for the choice of yelling as a means of expression. My older boy Galen then said some wise words that made it all even better: "You would have done the same with Zekiah too, right Papa?" This wasn't favouritism, it was justice - exactly what our kindergarten teacher says that 6-7 year olds crave from us.

The best part occurred in the lake 10 minutes later when my friend said she was as amazed and thankful as I was that the intervention had worked. She could have chosen to take it as a criticism of her parenting style, or as an unwelcomed disciplining of her child by someone else. Instead, she respected that I too have a relationship with this boy, and that part of that relationship and my responsibility to him is to provide the same loving, clear and at times forceful guidance as I do to my own children. And she accepted that my style is different than hers - not better, just different.

I would expect nothing less from her in dealing with my own children. I love to see her and other people in our lives step fully into the role of adult friend in our children's lives. But I do admit to the occasional feeling of rebuke when they do it differently and - at times - more effectively. Or to feelings of annoyance when they step into situations that I had deemed OK to let slide (usually around issues of safety or spirited jumping on me, for which I have a much higher tolerance level than many parents). "I can handle this!" my proud/insecure parenting shadow wants to shout back.

So thanks to my dear friend for being strong enough to let me step in as a fellow responsible adult in this shared situation. And thanks to my dear young friend for feeling safe enough with me to accept my intervention. I feel closer to both of them - and more respectful than ever - for being shown this respect; for being a natural part of their village.

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