Here is a stone-cold ugly truth about parenting: Sometimes you have to look the other way and let your kid choose his own friends despite your deepest held beliefs about what a twerp you think the friend(s) might be.
Ever since my kids started school, they have come home with all kinds of godawful things like head colds and lice and twerpy friends. One of my kids has a close buddy who I find so annoying and so unpleasant to be around that for a time I was actively discouraging their friendship.
We once got a birthday invite in the mail from this friend, and I “accidentally lost it.” My son and his annoying friend ended up on the same baseball team, and I avoided the friend’s parents who always wanted me to sit next to them on the bleachers where I would have to listen to their views on politics, which I found so hateful and offensive. During school vacations when my child wanted to invite his best buddy over to our house to play, I would enthusiastically encourage him to find something else to do like turn cleaning the house into an epic adventure. Because, no way.
Basically, I was being a giant brat. I told myself that I didn’t want my kid to hang out with a whiny, spoiled jerky kid because I didn’t want those annoying traits to rub off on my child — my special snowflake. But the truth of the matter is that I didn’t like this friend and that was my problem, but I was making it my son’s problem, which was an unfair and shitty thing to do on my part.
Turns out, as twerpy and self-absorbed as I thought this kid was, my own kid saw something unique and special in his friend that I completely overlooked. They both share a love for problem-solving games, and what parent wouldn’t jump at the chance to have a kid who actually enjoys nerding out on games that encourage brain smarts?
And not only that, but astonishingly my own kid has his moments of being a bit of a jerk too. Maybe this has less to do with personality traits and more to do with the fact that they are kids and thus floating through childhood trying their best to figure shit out. And if I am being honest, how is that any different from how I handle adulthood? My “special snowflake” is a mirage, my kid is probably as deeply annoying to some other parent as my son’s friend is to me.
This lesson in staying out of my child’s social life is a good one. If I have any hopes of fostering a respectful, open, and honest relationship with my son, I cannot be meddling with his affairs unless they are truly a threat to his health or safety. After spending years being in charge of every minute detail, from what my son eats, watches on TV, wears on his body, and books he reads, it feels difficult to let go enough to let him make bigger decisions on his own. I tell myself there is a difference between letting him choose his own clothes and letting him choose his own friends, but really there is not. My son is learning to make his way in the world, and he cannot do that if I am standing in the way with my foot out trying to trip up his best intentions.
Parenting is hard. Not just because it demands that we give all of ourselves, our hearts, our hard work, our worry, our effort, and so much more, but because it demands that we let go and give less of those things just when we finally learn to be comfortable with having a firm grip.
I apologized to my son recently for not being supportive of his friendship in the past. In that apology, we struck a deal that as long as his friends treat him with respect and kindness and as long as they don’t break my house (or god forbid, a freaking law) then I am happy to support his friendships going forward.
But I won’t sit on those damn bleachers and listen to politics. I draw the line at that bullshit.
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