I have a good friend who loves to tell other people that I am her role model for being a "tough mom."
I'm not sure how I feel about this.
I am loving. It's just that my love is not always displayed in normal mom-ish ways. My love is expressed through inside jokes, read alouds, ice-cream, and regular gifts of new running shoes--whether said child runs or not. (I told you; it's a problem.)
So, my toughness is partly a matter of perception.
I also think that a little bit of toughness is actually an expression of love--because if we try to protect our kids from every hurt or heart-ache, we rob them of opportunities to develop the resilience and compassion that come from hardship.
In the years I have taught English and Sunday School for youth, I cannot tell you how many times a mom has come to me in agony because her child is feeling left out by others. Often either mom wants to intervene, or wants me to intervene in the situation.
When I respond, they usually look at me like I am from another planet because my first response is always this: "I think every person needs to know what it is to be left-out. This is a gift."
I really do get it. I don't have these super-popular kids who never experienced feeling left out. I know the ache a mom feels when she sees her beloved child wounded and rejected by peers; it's gut wrenching. I also think there are definitely times when intervention is needed because what is going on is malicious bullying that shouldn't be tolerated.
However, the fact that the student in these situations had a mother wanting to step in and fix things was proof that these kids where not lacking love and support. Moreover, most often the hurt feelings were not a matter of malicious intent, but simple adolescent preference and insensitivity. Nine times out of ten, the wounded child is one that I know has close friends and a rich social life...it's just in one situation that peers are rejecting.
I have actually been grateful when my kids have felt this type of rejection, because I want them to know what it feels like. I want that wound to give them sensitive hearts, eyes that can see hurt in others, and arms that reach out to embrace the lonely. I want them to know from experience how to care for a hurting soul. I want them to want to fight for the underdog because they have been one once.
I wonder how helpful it is if as moms we rush in to avenge every wound. We may feel better in the short term, but what does it do to our kids...to give them the idea that they have the right to be liked by everyone, invited to every party, protected from every slight? I'm thinking such assistance will not be a great catalyst for humility and compassion.
Instead, what about helping a wounded child remember that they are valued by an infinite God even if not by other teenagers? What about re-directing their thoughts to the friends and family members who do love and support them. What if we simply enter their pain with them and help them grow from it? I think a better use of mamma-bear instinct is not to crush the opposition, but to use the hurt as a teaching moment and offer a more complete perspective on the situation.
As we walk with them through the pain, we have a chance to speak truth, turn their eyes from themselves to others, and help ensure that the hurt makes them softer and not hardened. What a great opportunity to teach that while we can't always control circumstances or the actions of other people, we can control our reactions. One thing I asked my kids in times of disappointment in friends was, "are you gonna let it make you better, or bitter? Because that choice is yours."
Does that sound tough? Maybe, but in my experience, if, in addition to what may seem like tough words, there is a lavish amount of affection, ice-cream, and running shoes, kids will come away feeling loved in all the right ways.