I sometimes think the hardest thing about parenting isn’t discipline or sleepless nights or picky eaters. It’s knowing your child faces a hundred different battles every day and you can’t fight them for her.
Last week, Flea’s teacher asked if Flea might be worried about anything as she’s been complaining of stomach pains at school. So one evening, snuggled in bed, I asked Flea if she’s having fun at school these days.
Almost immediately Flea became tearful. She took a deep breath and whispered, “It’s nothing too bad, but I just don’t like all the falling out.”
It turns out that Flea’s struggling to cope with playground conflict – there are some older kids who always want to pick what game the kids play, and then there’s a boy who pushed someone, and there’s a girl who screams (“It just goes right through me,” says Flea) and another girl who pushed her tongue out and told Flea it was none of her business why they were playing horses and not doctors.
So far, so typical for five-year-olds, I know.
After chatting for a few minutes, I asked Flea whether this was the reason for her recent stomach aches. Flea nodded. “I have lots of warm spots in my tummy for all the people I like but I have a big empty space here where the other people are,” she said, touching her middle. “And that is the bit that hurts.”
Here's the thing – what's everyday for kids with siblings (and I should know, I grew up with three older brothers) is brand new for Flea. She's an only child so she's never had to wrestle for a toy, scream to compete for attention, or deal with the fact that someone doesn't want to play what she wants to play. She's not a wimp by any stretch of the imagination, but she's never been punched or kicked or pushed over. And I can't bring myself to think that's a completely bad thing.
The other thing about growing up in a single parent household is that you almost never see people argue. You can be happily married but the chances are you occasionally bicker over the breakfast table, either with your spouse, or one of your other kids. We don't have that. We’re genuinely just a very chilled out household. Again, it's not such a bad thing to be able to say, right? But it means Flea is easily upset by raised voices or disagreement.
Basically, then, Flea's never had to toughen up. She doesn't yet have the skills many kids take for granted – those negotiation and conflict-resolution skills, or the ability to stand firm when someone doesn't agree with you. Nope. What she has instead are empty spots in her heart for the people she doesn't like.
When you choose to raise your child alone, there are consequences of that choice that can take you by surprise years down the road. But that doesn't mean you can fix it – I suspect this is one issue I need to let Flea resolve on her own. I've told her she can walk away from people who are rude, and it's perfectly okay to tell people you don't like what they are doing, but I'm not sure I can (or should) do any more than that.
What do you think? How did you teach your kids to deal with conflict?