Family Practice: Little childrenWritten by Shannon Szyperski | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Despite my reputation as someone who is not a fan of novels (based solely on my ongoing admission that I am not a fan of novels), I was actually part of a book club once. One of our selections was a book called “Little Children.” It simultaneously followed the stories of two unhappy stay-at-home parents having an affair, a married man obsessed with an Internet porn star, a convicted child molester’s attempt to contain his compulsions and a rogue former police officer intent on stalking said convicted child molester. We were privy to the separate but equally distressed lives of a group of people living in the same suburb but mostly unaware of one another.
Not surprisingly, the lives of the main players semidramatically intersected at the end of the book. We are then left to wonder what the point was exactly and what the book specifically had to do with little children. Not being terribly well-versed in fiction and sometimes too literal for such things, I’m not 100 percent sure of the author’s intentions. However, it was my best guess that the supposed adults in the book were the “little children” named in the title, based on their constant impulsive and immature actions.
Every time I have a childish moment in my adulthood, I seem to think of that book. I wish I could say that such moments were fewer and further between, but they happen more frequently than I’d like to admit. Fortunately, I have no experience with affairs, obsession and revenge, but I will admit to stooping toward envy, pettiness, insecurity and immaturity on occasion. Even more than temporarily adopting childish tendencies, I just flat out forget to be a grown up at times.
I took yet another little trip through juvenile junction as an incident involving my son unfolded over several months last fall. As my son struggled through a difficult time with a couple of other boys, I opted to take my concerns directly to “higher ups” rather than directly to the other boys’ parents. There was a part of me that knew I wasn’t quite taking the most mature approach, but there was an even bigger part of me that was much wimpier than the mature part.
More recently, in the heat of a newer disagreement, I finally informed the other parents of my son’s previous issues with their sons face-to-face and without any hesitant truths or sugarcoating. After an initial and understandably defensive response by one of the boys’ mothers, she suddenly softened and opened up to me with receptive ears and from a place of obvious compassion. Such a simple and understated gesture made all of the difference and allowed us to move forward with mutual understanding and a much better appreciation for one another.
Although I suppose it shouldn’t be, it’s an amazing thing when both sides lay out their conflicts honestly and come to the table with a true willingness to find a way past them. Not long ago, I was awed when I witnessed two of my son’s third grade classmates do that very thing as I sat nearby in the cafeteria. I could see that one was at a place of deep hurt, but he was willing to directly and explicitly tell his friend, “You pained me in this way and I don’t understand why.”
He continued by rationally offering specific details and feelings, and his friend reciprocated with the same. Even more impressively, they really, truly listened to one another’s convictions and concerns and bent where they each needed to in order to work it out. Within a few minutes and without adult facilitation, they literally shook hands and walked away together. After my heart sang to the tune of the next generation, I cringed inside at the number of times I can’t seem to conduct myself in the same manner.
I know I’m not alone in this. As I relayed my story of the long overdue parent-to-parent breakthrough to friends, person after person admitted that they usually aren’t willing to use the direct approach to kid conflicts either. We seem to make assumptions that the other parents don’t want to hear us out and won’t be willing to work with us.
I’m learning (repeatedly) that one of the greatest signs of maturity is knowing that you don’t know everything. You can’t know everything. We can make broad assumptions based on our limited and biased awareness of others, but the chances that we are spot-on in our assessments are slim to none. We can only learn how to get along by extending an open hand, an open mind and an open heart. Even little children seem to know such a thing.
Shannon and her husband, Michael, are raising three children in Sylvania. E-mail her at email@example.com.