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Sometimes it’s fine to be fine

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We can’t decide whether moving on from something will be hard or easy.

My younger son left primary school after six years, and did not shed a tear. That is not to say that he didn’t make great friends, learn a lot, have tons of fun.

He is just ready for the next thing and doesn’t seem to feel the pull of nostalgia.

There are others whose eyes weren’t so dry, sobbing and hugging and sobbing even harder. They are feeling the pain of leaving something they loved, and they’re holding on, not moving so quickly to what’s ahead.

As a parent, watching it all from the sidelines, it would be easy enough to decide that one or the other is the right approach, that a child should feel upset, or shouldn’t.

But then, I remember. Our children, like us, feel the way they feel.

Even if there was a right and a wrong somehow, some biblical prophetic truth, it is unlikely that our emotions would be beholden to it. We do not control what bubbles up in us, only, sometimes, the way we act on what bubbles up.

Lately, I am silent more often with my children than I have been previously, if only because at these crucial transitions, I don’t want to put ideas in their head that come from my own worries and concerns, from the way I experienced things as a child or the way I experience them now.

I don’t want my boys to be as anxious about the last day of school or the first day of school or test taking as I was. I want them to come at things the way they honestly would if I wasn’t leading them by my own fears.

Sometimes I see something — some group that has formed without them, or a party they weren’t invited to, or the difficulty of an upcoming process, and I ask them cautiously about their feelings. I try not to ask leading questions. I try not to give any indication how I think they should feel. It is hard. They often catch me, and guess what I’m getting at — most often that they should feel worried or upset.

“I’m fine, Mom,” my older one will say as he walks away.

“Mom, I’m fine,” the younger one will retort, eyes rolling back in his head as he replaces his Mom-cancelling headphones.

It should make me feel better, right? They’re both fine. They’re pretty much always “fine.”

I can see my husband rolling his eyes at the mere suggestion that there is more to it than meets the eye.

“If they say they’re fine, they’re fine,” he’d say. He often takes things at face value, in a good way, not rooting deep for the evil that lurks unless I lead him to it.

It’s the “Let sleeping dogs lie” approach to parenting. And I mostly agree and appreciate the suggestion. But increasingly, I wonder if maybe there isn’t something more I should know, if maybe my silence and their responding silence isn’t the best way to handle adolescence.

Who better to ask than my children themselves?

“You’re supposed to be able to tell me things about the way you feel, and you don’t tell me things about the way you feel!” I said to my 10-year-old as we walked along Seventh Ave.

He scrunched up his little face the way he does.

“Wait, what?” he said. “I’m confused…”

I tried with my older one, as he showered the other morning.

“You don’t talk to me anymore,” I said. “We should talk!”

He started to speak and I preempted him.

“And no, I am not about to get my period!”

“I’m fine, Mom!”

Ugh. I have to take my own advice. I have to chillax and imagine they are fine if they say so, to watch for any cues that might say otherwise, but otherwise stop worrying and worrying them.

Fear is contagious. Kids smell it. There is no right or wrong way to feel, and being fine is sometimes fine. And if it is not, well, hopefully they know where to find me.

And I’ll try just to listen.

And try not to judge.

Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on BrooklynPaper.com.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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