My son has a conversation problem.
Aiden is 5, Carter is 9. Aiden can, and will, talk your ear off. Carter didn’t happen to inherit his brother’s social abilities. He likes to talk, don’t get me wrong, it can just be painful at times. He tries, hard, to get approval from the ones around him. We started enjoying some of the “older” Disney Channel shows that feature kids in school and, as we were watching yesterday, I was wondering about his future since he starts fourth grade and will be making his way to middle school soon enough.
Navigating social waters isn’t easy.
Some of my best memories were family dinners at my grandmother’s house. We would eat the meal and desert, tables cleared, and cardtable top applied. The games would commence. I remember it took time before I had a seat at the table but, eventually, I was dealt in to some intense hands of Pinochle.
My grandfather and my dad were involved, my uncles and sometimes other family members. I think it was there where I learned to talk. My uncles, Lonnie and John, always had stories. They always had a way to make you laugh and draw you into the conversation. It was these nights where I picked up the ebb and flow of what it meant to build social interaction.
Underlying anxiety speaks to a larger issue.
Carter hasn’t had things easy the past few years. He’s a great kid, athletic and active. He’s also sensitive. We’ve dealt with bullying and that hasn’t helped anything. He wants to be liked. We all do.
We stand on the bridge of life pulled in two opposing directions: I want others to like me.-I want to like myself.
For someone like Carter, those sides are often out of balance.
I believe it is that way for a lot of us.
Scroll through Facebook and you’ll find plenty of inspirational images about Capturing the Day! Hustling! and You Be You! Even with these messages (and the people behind them making millions from seminars, books and podcasts) the drive is still there. We still want to be liked, to be loved, to be accepted.
My goal for Carter this summer is to start helping navigate the social waters, to think about his attitude and mindset and be aware of what he’s doing when he’s doing it. To find security in himself. For a kid that has dealt with anxiety, that is a steep mountain to climb.
Let’s take it down a deeper level and get real. As parents, we want our kid to be liked. I wasn’t the prom king or anything near that, but I had friends in a few different circles. I didn’t have any deep friends and I dealt with bullying myself. I remember that feeling, like one of those cartoon black holes that opened under Wiley Coyote when he was chasing the Roadrunner, that space that felt like it would swallow me up. Time slowed to a stop. It felt like being pinned against a wall by stares and comments, laughter and pointing. It felt like it would never end.
I don’t want that for Carter.
I don’t believe there is any surprise to the rise in teenage suicide rates. The humiliation is easier to see and spread. What was once material in the cafeteria or playground is shared to thousands on social media at the touch of a button. Kids don’t see a way out.
The company line, for those of us who profess a life of faith in following Jesus, is that we find our identity with him as a new creation. I believe this. I also know the hurt is real. I’ve seen it in Carter’s eyes.
Security comes in impermanence, in knowing that it too shall pass. In knowing that those hurting others were probably hurt themselves and only doing what they know.
Parenting is not easy. Each day they get older. Each day brings new highs and lows, challenges and success. The trick is to not miss a moment, to grasp and use it, to know that the moments will fade, the scars will heal. Life goes on.
I remember, as a kid, standing next to my dad at the beach. We’d stand where the waves were just ending and watch as the sand was pulled back away and our feet were buried with the current. Maybe that’s the point.
We are either moving towards the glorious turbulence of a fulfilled life or away from it, back on to the sand. We must keep moving because, if we stand still, we’ll sink.