Shannon asked me for kid advice today. She sometimes does that, even though we both have three kids. Her oldest is thirteen. My youngest is sixteen. So I guess between the two of us, that makes me the more seasoned veteran.
I guess she was feeling a little uncertain about the way she deals with her thirteen year old daughter, Emily. One of our co-workers knows Shannon and her husband and kids on a more personal level, and has spent much time with them outside of the office. (This coworker happens to be the same one who likes to coach me on how I should dress.) She can be generous and means well most of the time, but has a habit of overstepping her bounds when it comes to giving advice.
Shannon is a GREAT mom. I admire her patient and loving approach with her kids. She didn’t really need me to tell her she’s a great mom, but I guess today she just needed some reassurance.
The coworker came to Shannon and wanted to know if Emily would be attending the upcoming middle-school dance. Shannon wasn’t even aware of the dance. Emily wasn’t planning to go. She has never been much for attending school social events. And Shannon doesn’t push her to. Why make her do something she doesn’t want to do?
The coworker made Shannon feel that if she knew what was best for her daughter, she would encourage her to attend the dance. She felt as if Shannon were doing Emily a great disservice by not forcing her to be more social with her peers and that down the road, Emily might lack very important social skills because she didn’t attend a middle school dance.
Shannon shares a lot of the same worries and frustrations, and questions her parenting at times in the same way I have been known to do with my Jake. Emily and Jake are both unique people, marching to the beat of their own drums at times. Great kids, but they keep their parents guessing!
The thing is, it always amazes me when Shannon seeks my parenting advice. Yes, my son struggles with academics and has never had the least bit of interest in anything school related. I’ve spent my share of time in teachers’ faces, in meetings with a case-worker, just trying to make sure my son graduated high school. And he did and I was SO proud of him! I’ve often wondered what goes through that head of his, and I’ve often worried if he’ll be okay in life. He will, I know. At eighteen, I am finally starting to see him break out of his shell and begin to embrace life. He’s going to be fine, but he’ll keep me worrying all along the way. I know it.
Emily is much like Jake in many ways and yet, she is amazing in completely different ways. Emily was born with Spina-Bifida. (Spina Bifida is a birth defect that involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord. There are two types of Spina Bifida, and from what I have read, I believe Emily has the most severe form.) I’ve met Emily on two occasions. The first time was at a friend’s son’s high school graduation party. Emily would have been about ten years old and the time and she and I clicked right away. We talked and talked. It was chilly that evening and rainy. We sat out in the yard in an enclosed canopy with the rain falling steadily outside. Emily wore my jean jacket because she was cold. Shannon tells me Emily has always remembered that. I saw her again recently when Shannon brought all three of her kids to watch us bowl. Again, Emily and I talked with ease. She’s a great kid.
Emily does not have a normal life in the way that most of us know normalcy. She can walk, with braces on her legs, but it is difficult for her, especially when she’s trying to navigate a middle school hallway filled with throngs of teenagers racing from one place to the next. Emily has chosen to use a wheelchair at school and when the family goes on outings involving extensive walking. Many times, she has to enjoy life in a different way than her friends and siblings. Recently, Shannon fought with the city to allow Emily to have her wheelchair on a public ice skating rink. She wanted to enjoy the ice rink with her siblings. Shannon won that fight!
Emily has difficulties with her studies. She’s a homebody and is content to hang out at home with her parents and siblings, watching t.v. and playing video games. These are the similarities she shares with Jake.
Shannon expressed her frustration to me about the advice offered by our coworker. She said she could force Emily to attend school social events, or she could allow her to skip them if that were her choice. “In the end,” she said, “She’s going to be the person she’s going to be. I can force her to go to a dance and there will be cliques of kids each hanging out in their own corners. And the kids who feel like outcasts are still going to feel like outcasts. Why should I subject her to that?”
I agreed with her. She seemed to need that affirmation. I told her how Brad had a very tight circle of friends in his high school years, as well as a huge crowd of fringe friends. He was always going to someone’s house, to a dance, to a game. I then explained how Jake literally had two best friends during his high school years. He rarely attended dances or other social events and spent many evenings, content at home. Kacey, however, has several very good friends as well as a wide circle of friends, both at her own school and at another neighboring school. Rare is the evening when she stays home doing nothing. (At least not willingly.)
Three kids, raised in the same home, with the same parents and the same set of rules and the same encouragement all turned out so differently from one another. I assured Shannon that there were many times I worried that Jake was too much of a loner, but as the years passed by, I accepted that he was happy with the way things were. He wasn’t depressed, didn’t seem to feel excluded. It’s not that he didn’t get invited to parties or events. He’s just an introvert, content in his own company a lot of the time.
Shannon wanted to know if I worry more about Jake than I do about my other two kids. I admitted that I do, at times. I think because he was so much of an introvert, he was exposed to less during his high school years. He was never in a situation where other kids were making poor choices about drinking or drugs. He wasn’t exposed to situations where his peers might have had to face consequences for their bad decisions. I do worry that now that he’s spreading his wings, he’s going to come across stuff like this much later than most and I worry because I don’t know how he’ll handle it. Will he follow the crowd or think for himself? I can only continue to talk to him, and all my kids, and hope for the best. Everyone makes mistakes. I just hope that the ones my kids make aren’t life altering mistakes.
I think all parents worry about their kids in one way or another. No matter how much they grow up, no matter how many successes they realize, there will still be times that we as parents worry about our babies. In trying to assure Shannon that she was doing the right thing by allowing Emily to be who she is, I reminded myself that it’s okay that my own kids aren’t carbon copies of one another. They are each their own, unique, individual wonderful selves. Just like Emily. She doesn’t have to go to a school dance just because attending dances is somebody else’s idea of normal.
I don’t know for sure, but I have a strong suspicion that Shannon went home, and it was business as usual. Shannon makes a habit of telling all of her kids that they are special and wonderful people. And I know they are going to grow up to be amazing adults because their mom never lets them forget for a minute that they are a gift to her. They don’t have to fit into some “perfect kid” mold. They are perfect just as they are. Even if eleven year old Dylan had a bad day because he didn’t get to ask that special girl to be his girlfriend and some kid called him fat, I’m pretty sure his mom will make sure he falls asleep tonight knowing that he is just right the way he is.
All kids should be so lucky. Maybe the well-meaning coworker wasn’t one of the lucky ones.