Monday 3 April 2017

The Day My Daughter Taught Me How To Deal With Assholes.....

At what point does turning the other cheek end up in abuse?

Before I launch, I know I am walking a thin sliver of thread between identifying behaviours we allow others to use against us, and being known as a victim blamer. This post is simply my own limited view based on my own experiences and that which I've seen in the schools of my children. My opinion on this matter has developed progressively as we have navigated what we see to be a fair, loving and expressive household in which we try to instill lessons for our children to develop their values and boundaries. 

As I sent my oldest off to kindergarten this year, ready for life's challenges and the independence that comes with it, I sobbed my heart out. Seriously, I could hardly talk. I spent the week leading up to the big day crying myself to sleep. The finality of the moment was so enormous, to immense to grasp...that part of our lives with her as a pre-school child was over. She was now 1/3 of her way to adulthood, and this was a massive step towards her spreading her wings. My mind raced with heavy thoughts, weighing me down with the emotion of it all. Did I cherish my time with her enough? Did I give her what she needed from me to make it through this next phase? Did I love her enough? Did I spent enough quality time with her? Did I put her in front of the TV too long when I could have been connecting with her? Have I done enough? Did I love her enough? Did I appreciate the time enough? Am I enough? Was it all enough? Will she be okay?

I realised with a jolt that none of that mattered now anyway, because it was over. It came with acceptance that I had simply done my best. We were now moving forward with life, getting dragged along at a great pace into our next chapter of life as parents of a school child! And then, before I could even put my sadness to bed, a new wave smashed over me with concerns about the friends she would make, how soon her heart would be broken, how long it would take to get used to home work, how she would adjust to the exhaustion. I found myself dying to hear how her day was, seeking out information from her as actively as she would allow in order for me to satisfy myself that she was going to be okay. I think I failed to remember that while she had once been a shy, tentative and sensitive toddler, she had changed into a bold, assertive, friendly, mature and logical kindergarten kid. I actually had nothing to worry about.

One afternoon during a school debrief session, she told me how she had a disagreement with a friend and wasn't happy with the behaviour her friend had demonstrate after the difference of opinion, it wasn't in line with how my daughter thought you should treat a friend. My daughter told me she was very upset initially but had decided to resolve the situation by talking with her friend. She told me she explained to her buddy that if she continued to behave rudely to her, she wouldn't like to spend time together anymore as friends normally treated each other with kindness and respect, not rudeness. And that if that's the kind of friend she was going to be, my daughter wasn't sure she wanted to be involved. I should say the following day they resolved their differences and continue to be great buddies (kids have tough days). So rest easy, no kindergarten children have been cut off in the making of this story.  

After she told me this story, I was both consumed by ridiculous pride, and concerned by her harsh boundaries. I come from strong Christian roots in which we are taught to offer the other cheek, to forgive readily and to love all. So we discussed allowing for others to have days when they are tired, upset, cranky and emotional, and that is important to extend grace to others as we hope to receive it in those same moments. 

But more than all of that, I respected the heck out of what she did. Firstly, she expressed her expectations and emotions with words, she negotiated a solution with a positive outcome for both, and laid out her needs. The easy option is to accept the behaviour in the hope of keeping a friend. But what my 5yr old taught me that day was a lesson I wish I had learnt when I was her age...that you don't actually have any obligation to spend your free time with people who treat you like they don't like you. And why would you? It seems so simple. 

Imagine, just imagine, if that understanding of the world continues throughout the rest of her life. Imagine if she continues to choose friends who treat her as friends should, that she chooses partners who treat her with respect and equality, that she demands how she will be treated by others, or she will leave them behind.

Give me a moment to explore this.

What if we had all started out like my daughter. What if our need to be respected was greater than our need to replace our loneliness. What if our optimistic five year old hearts had realised, way back in the beginning, that the playground was FULL of potential friends, and that friends are not restricted by classroom walls or age brackets. What if we all called it as we saw it, in the moment it happened, to name the behaviour as unacceptable and to outline boundaries of fair play, equality and respect for each other. And to honestly know that without those values, it isn't actually a friendship. 

It's an abusive relationship. 

Think about your school years, your teenage angst, your heartbreak, your relationships, your family, your boss, your workmates, your friends, your partner. How much of those traumas and that destruction related to your choice to chase connections with people who treated your poorly? How often have you been drawn down a devastating path because you sought the love, affection or acceptance of someone who didn't even SEE you? How much did you accept that went against everything you believed? How desperate did you become in your search of acknowledgement? How much of yourself did you lose? And what did you allow?

When we value the other person higher than ourselves, when their desires and needs become more important. When you lower your expectations, when you disregard your own needs to be treated as an equal human being, your aren't in a friendship anymore. 

And at which point do we draw the line between being 'Jesus like' and turning the other cheek, and accepting abusive behaviour. Must we continue to forgive with each and every apology, or can we finally acknowledge that enough is enough. When is it okay to draw the line? 

This is not simply (or very complex!) a question to deal with as adults. We all know enough, and ultimately should know better. But more importantly, I ask 'what do we teach our children?' Does it make you uncomfortable to have a five year old making this demand of respect? My daughter told me this morning that her teacher had said to the class 'Everyone has to be friends with everyone at school' which I replied 'it is your responsibility to pick your friends, you are to be kind and respectful to everyone, but you choose who you want to spend your time with. No one can choose that for you.'

It made me realise how early its bred into society, this notion of staying sweet, putting up with it all, because here, in this place, 'we are all friends'. Regardless of anything. It's like that child that demands you share the thing you have, just because they want it. It's not actually how the world works. I don't buy it or appreciate it at all. Because while I will always behave respectfully and politely towards jerks and assholes, I will not include them in my chosen circle of friends. Why should we expect our children to do so. 

Think about it. Why would we want to teach our kids that there are no consequences for poor behaviour in social circles? Not only may this result in them having a lack of boundaries in their behaviour and a misplaced sense of entitlement but also lead to a disenchantment towards making a stand against unacceptable behaviour. What message does this send? If everyone is friends no matter what, then no one really cares if you are treated poorly or not. That you aren't allowed to demand respect and choose your friends, because you might upset someone? 

As I considered the ramifications of my daughters hard line on friendship behaviour, I became concerned that she would end up with no friends. But as I mulled over that a little while longer, I came to realise that was my fear, not hers. That she was making friends all over the playground at school and while she didn't have a bestie at school, she has made and continued many friendships of her own choosing. And that it is ultimately her world to navigate however she chooses (within reason). 

So while my internal pressure to preach endless forgiveness reigns, I deliberately choose to continue our family party line of 'choose your friends based on how they treat you'. I'd much prefer my girls to continue into the big wide world of schools, social circles and relationships with this mentality in mind. 

I will always teach my girls to be brave, to demand respect, to express themselves effectively and be problem solvers. We will always demand their kindness, respect and politeness to everyone they meet, and we teach them compassion and empathy. But I will not teach them to turn an endless cheek. In fact, I will actively teach them the opposite. I will teach them that while we must allow for people to make mistakes and have bad days as we will, people's behaviour speaks louder than words. And despite popular opinion, we don't have to put up with anything, the choice is ours.   

Because what we teach them at the age of five will likely contribute to the foundations of self-respect for the rest of their lives. 

Ciao for now, 
LG - Life's Great!

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