In my blog, I speak mostly about parenting toddlers. It’s what I know -or more accurately, am muddling through- so that is where all of my inspiration lies. Maybe I will throw in a relationship post or two since I happen to also be married and once had aspirations of being a relationship therapist so that is certainly something I can speak about with confidence. Though I found yesterday that parenting a preteen, though something I have never actually done myself, is something that I am going to bring up because while I have never raised one…I was one. I remember it quite well (some more vividly than I would like) and what I saw yesterday made me almost want to intervene with a neighbor’s affairs for the very first time because they were just doing it so wrong.
That’s right, you heard me, I am flat out saying that what this woman was doing was bad parenting. It’s something I don’t think I have ever thought, much less said out loud. I am sure she didn’t even know how bad, either, which is why I am writing this post.
I was outside in my alcove of a front stoop so they couldn’t see me. I couldn’t see them. In fact, the noise itself is what initially caught my attention. It was a scene that was all too familiar to me. The divorced parent exchange for the weekend. Now, my parents were divorced when I was 8. It was unbelievably messy and it was brutal for everyone all around. My father was an alcoholic and the year that they separated was nothing short of the longest year of my life. I have blocked a lot of it out, but let’s just say coming home to no furniture happened. And several incidents of people standing outside screaming and my parents using me as a therapist because I was such an empathetic and bright child. I spoke as a grown up would so everyone treated me that way.
I wasn’t. I was a child. No matter how “adult” our adolescents may seem, they are developing children. The things you do will affect them for the rest of their lives. Period.
So yesterday, when the frackus began, I didn’t intend to eavesdrop (not that I am above being nosy, really, I just hate knowing my neighbor’s secrets) but a conversation that heated can lead to physical violence quickly (in my experience) and I wanted to make sure that the Mom was okay. I heard the typical bickering about how the Dad was supposed to bring something back and forgot and just as I started to think everything was settling -or at least mild in nature- I started to hear worse things that made my feet cement to the ground.
Partly because I was being nosy, partly because it struck a chord with me and, in those moments, I was a 10 year old little girl again that was stuck between my parents.
She says (loudly enough for the entire neighborhood to hear), “It’s because you are a drunk. You’re worthless. I don’t know why I let your kids see you at all!”. I peek around to see if they are close enough together to reach each other because I want to help, but at this point, it’s a little too much for me. What I saw broke my heart into a million little pieces.
A preteen boy, whom I know from the neighborhood as Mason, standing there watching all of this.
My first reaction is to run over and get him. He shouldn’t be seeing this! This is not for his eyes at all! This is between two grown adults and the fact that he is just standing there and looking so lost and sad makes me want to go and scold these parents for not having the sense to do this over the phone and far away from him. Before I can even react, I hear another verbal dig come from her that actually made my jaw drop. “You’re a pathetic excuse for a man. You’re a drunk because you were sexually molested and beaten. There is something weirdly feminine about you…you’re probably a closet gay.”
Hold the phone! Is she really saying that in front of her son?!
I wanted to run across the street and shake that woman, I really did. I started out wanting to protect her and now I wanted to shake her for what she was unknowingly doing to her son’s fragile psyche. How dare a mother put these things about a child’s father into his head at such a young and impressionable age? What kind of person does that? My parents drug me into all of their issues and I had a teen-hood full of angst and repression. It was the farthest thing from a easy road for me growing up and scenes like this were the norm in my tiny world. It breaks my heart to see another child be put into that same position that I was. And it scares me.
It was so unfair. I have never wanted to intervene before, but in that moment, I considered it. That child should have never been privy to the information that his father was molested until he was older. Much older. He is being raised by an alcoholic and, of course, you have to talk to him about it but not at the top of your lungs in the middle of the street. It’s not right and it’s not fair to the child.
I know that when she looks at the father she only sees her ex. A man that is most likely unraveling and that she loves her son enough to say that it isn’t okay that he has the boy and is drinking. I’m not saying she isn’t a Mamma bear and that’s what Mamma bears do, they defend their cub. I am only saying that she needed to send that cub into the house and whisper.
Fighting (on that level) with anyone -especially an ex- should be something that is kept from our kids as much as possible. Will they hear it through the walls? Of course. Talk to them about it the next day. Don’t treat them as though they are stupid, because they aren’t, but don’t treat them as an adult. Try to shield them as much as you possibly can.
Yes, the world is a harsh place. And they will learn harsh lessons later. There will be plenty of time for that.
What you may not know is that allowing your children to see all of the bad in it’s full glory (as my parents chose to do) will make your children jaded. Seeing that yesterday, my little neighbor Mason will never, ever look at his father the same. He won’t see relationships the same. We are the people that stand there and sign on to teach our children and model how to behave. Mason just learned to stand there and berate someone miserably that makes him mad. Did she have a million reasons? Probably. But he may not know the full extent of it and may not have the faculties to understand yet and what she actually taught her son went far beyond that. She doesn’t know it yet, but as a teen, he is going to stand up and do the same thing to her because now it is what he knows.
I have almost wrote many a post about her older son (who is about 16 or so). It makes me fear for Jp’s teen years and I have always wanted to write a lighthearted post about that but now looking at the defiant, trouble making older brother more closely, I see the reasoning for it outside of typical teenage angst. He has probably seen more than any child should. He probably doesn’t even know yet but the walls that he has built are there for all of his young life and getting even tiny pieces of it down will be a struggle. Some may never come down. It will affect all of his relationships for the rest of his life.
So, please, please, please if you are co-parenting or have a spouse that you fight with on a regular basis, please remember that we are the model for the people that our children will become. We are the people that they will swear on everything that is Holy that they will never be like…and exactly who they will grow up to be. Shield them as much as you can while you can from the evilness that is found in the human heart. Especially in your own. We all have that place inside of us that isn’t great and we aren’t perfect but never tear down your ex or your spouse in front of your children. Even if you know that they already know it. Teach them tolerance and understanding…even if you have to fake it.
They may walk, talk, dress like, and act like tiny versions of adults…but they aren’t. What they learn in these vital years defines who they will become as a person. And if you don’t want them to be that person standing in the road screaming, don’t be that person.
Photo Credit: www.nbcnews.com
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