There was a child at jui-jitsu last night, that wasn’t following directions. And it wasn’t my son. There was a child behaving very badly: taunting the coaches, getting in power struggles, and spending a lot of time in the corner. AND it was not my son. This child was behaving so horribly, that his poor mother (my friend) hunched her shoulders, winced her eyes, and tucked in her chin. When the child called the coaches names and tried to run away, I was so happy it wasn’t my child for once, that I almost felt tempted to take credit for my son’s good behavior.
But there was my friend, sitting next to me. She works hard at parenting just like me. She got her son the treatment he needed, just like me. She gives him meds that help him even though it’s such a hard choice to make. Just like me. I know she worries and frets and sacrifices over him every single day. So, when she leaned over and whispered, “I am so embarrassed.”, even though I felt embarrassed for her, I told her she shouldn’t be. Even though I felt like a damn good mother, because her son was making my tyrant look good that evening, I told her to remember it’s not her fault.
I told her, “This does not reflect on your parenting.” Because I remembered all the times, my child was being the terrible child. I remembered all the comments and looks I got from strangers in public or even my own friends. I remembered how it took hours of counseling, parenting classes, and reading, to realize that having a difficult child does not make me a bad parent. It took me so long to realize that all those parents with “good kids” were taking credit for winning the temperament lottery.
How nice it must be to have an easy child. One that responds well to classic discipline techniques. How easy it must be to judge the parents of the children who are misbehaving. It’s obviously tempting because there I was, after all I have been judged, congratulating myself that my son was behaving for ONE evening. So, I told her about the time my son spent the class in the corner, on his head, grinning mockingly. I listened to her explain all the things that were going on, how stressed he was, and how worried she was. I listened when she said how helpless and trapped she felt. I nodded my head and let her know I could relate. I resisted the urge to give her advice, instead I shared my experiences.
On the way home, my son commented on his friend’s behavior. He sounded worried and distressed. I told him I was proud of him for behaving in class. I told him his friend was just having a rough day. My son has empathy for children who struggle because of his own experiences with “rough days”. I hope I always remember to have empathy for other parents when their children are struggling. It’s just not very often that the child behaving badly is not my kid. More often, my son is up to his usual antics and I have to resist the urge to blurt out “who’s child is that?” and laugh embarrassingly.