Friday, March 11, 2011

Cruelty

Tonight, the four of us went to the JCC for a Shabbat dinner. The JCC does this every other month or so - might even be every month, but it's been a couple of months since we've been able to go. It's pretty well attended by the local Jewish community, with a nice mix of parents and kids from all walks of life and branches of Judaism. Plus, they have challah bread, which might be my favorite.

Anyway, next week is the holiday Purim, which is one of those "they tried to kill us, they filed, let's eat" holidays. Not important, but not unimportant, you know? Kind of like a social occasion as much as anything else. The kids all get dressed up in costumes and everybody has lots of fun. At the dinner tonight, they had costumes and masks for playing, geared towards the littler ones. The Boy had a wonderful time with the masks, putting them on. And making appropriate animal noises while playing with his brother.

Anyone know what sounds a giraffe makes? Just wondering.

Anyway, two of the kids there started to make fun of The Boy because he wanted to wear the butterfly mask. I didn't witness this, but The Wife did. I guess they were calling him a little girl or some such nonsense. The Boy didn't understand that he was being mocked' which was just as well. There's plenty of time for that later on in life, so I'm not sad that he's taking a while to understand that particular aspect of social relations.

As a parent, I understand my duties in situations like that: steer The Boy away from the idiotic parties and towards a more positive set of circumstances. Ignore the children until they say something really offensive. Let their parents know you don't approve of their behavior if it won't exacerbate the situation. Don't fight for the child unless asked or unless they're really in over their heads, as any parental involvement I'll make the situation worse for him, long term.

Children are amazingly cruel creatures to each other. Adults aren't much better, but we've evolved centuries of traditions that create certain expectations when entering into negotiations with other adults. Kids are trying to feel that out and to create their own pace in the world, which leads to some interesting results. Adults are just as cruel; they are just usually more subtle about showing it publicly.

So, how does one prepare one's children to take part in that world? I don't know. I responded to that by becoming a smart aleck and by learning how to cultivate a couple of friends in most social groups. Therefore, I become funny enough that I was usually left alone. The Wife had a much harder time than I did and had a particularly difficult time at her first middle school because of the private religious school environment. Transferring her to the public school solved many of those issues.

What she and I both have in common was that we were raised by unconditionally loving parents in a. Supportive environment, where cruelty and insult were not part of the daily routine. Sure, we both got the business from our siblings, but that's normal sibling relations and not anything extraordinary. We were both taught to use our own abilities and accomplishments to build our self-esteem and to find our own friends and our own niche, without society necessarily locking us into onje particular place and tine.

I think I can do that for my boys. I can teach them to watch out for each other, to stick up for each other, and to help each other on a daily basis. I can teach my children how to fight their own battles, knowing that they are going to lose their one fair share of them. I can provide my kids with unconditional love and support, and I can make their home a safe environment for them to develop comfort and security. I can try to model good interpersonal relations, to show them different solutions for dealing with difficult people and to show them how to deal with people mocking them or insulting them.

I can teach my children that fighting is a last resort - but, if they have to, to have their brother watch their back and to knock someone into next week. Robert Heinlein, in s sardonic fashion, put it best: "The quick and brutal application of violence has solved more problems than any other method in human history. [sic]" We don't en courage fighting but we do encourage winning the fight if it happens.

I still think that Little Bear is going to wind up being the brawler in the family. Just a hunch.

I'm not looking forward to the day that The Boy realizes that people are mocking him. I just hope that I'm ready for it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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