• Deborah Holmén

Promises Kept: Are We Preparing Our Children for the Real World?

Father and son
Honest communication creates resilient children.

When you have a front row seat to the intimacies of thousands of families over the years, you begin to see trends occur. I was lucky enough to test out what I felt were 'best practices' in parenting, and the results were fascinating.

Seeing Carol* crouch down to her son's eye-level and taking his hands before she began speaking to him of course is a great way to ensure your child is listening, but it was the words that came out of her mouth that surprised me.

"I promise you Jake that your daddy will be home for your birthday party this Sunday, okay?" He nodded though he seemed quite reluctant to believe her. She mussed his hair as he entered the classroom. She stood and smiled at me, "Jake is making my week impossible with his dad gone again."

I nodded reassuring her that Jake had been great in class that week so at least it wasn't reflecting at school. She stepped closer so Jake couldn't hear, "Well, his father always seems to miss his birthday, and I'm always the bad-guy. I can't let Jake have a bad birthday if his father doesn't get home."

Jake's father was an Airforce Pilot and was often deployed for weeks at a time. "Well, surely you let Jake know that his father is doing a very important job and that things happen, right?"

"A promise is a promise. And I never break a promise to my children, ever!" Her last words were pinched with a firm finger pointing toward her son. Luckily, he was already engaged with his friends to see her frustration.

"I hope he will be back in time for Jake's sake, then," I said, as she moved around the other mothers down the hall.

As you can guess, Jake's father was unable to get home in time for the party, and I heard all about it the next week before class began.

Not preparing your children for life's challenges can do more harm than good.

"I told Jake that he must feel so bad that his daddy wasn't there to see him open his gifts and jump in the bounce house," Carol said crossing her arms. She was tense and let the others mom's know it. She turned to them and began going on about how poor Jake fell apart at the party. "I told Jake how unfair it was that his daddy missed his special day, and that he should be mad at him."

Some of the other mother's nodded in agreement and one even stroked her arm to placate her.

However, I saw Andrea,* another mother who I had taught 3 of her 4 children over the years bite her tongue. She kissed her daughter Sarah on the head and walked with her into the classroom ignoring Carol's rant. Andrea gave me a look that I understood well; 'this wasn't going to bode well for Jake,' and we both knew it.

I watched Jake in the corner of the room sitting dejected watching his mother from the corner of his eye. I could tell he was greatly affected by his mother's choice of handling the situation which also reflected in the rest of the week being a stressful time for Jake. He burst into tears and had a hard time with his friends, often acting out.

Luckily, as the classroom seems to always create a situation for a teachable moment, Sarah's dad came to visit her during recess several days later. He came in his green fatigues, being an Army National Guardsman and was often gone since he was a Navigator for the C-130's squadron in town.

The class was settling in from lunch recess and he stood in the back of the room getting ready to leave. I asked him if he could stay for a bit since I wanted the children to know more about what he did.

Todd was happy to oblige. The children scurried to their seats, Sarah elated that her daddy was on center stage. Todd pulled up my stool and sat on it as I started to ask him questions about what he did for the National Guard and some of the missions he flew. Jake sat at his desk peeling away the corner of his nametag looking dispirited.

"So, Todd, how do you explain to Sarah and her brother and sisters when you can't be there for a special event like a school play or something special happening with them?"

Todd smiled letting me know he understood the reason for the question. He winked at me and clasped his hands together. Jake shifted in his chair and sat on his foot now watching Todd closely.

"You know I try to do everything I can to be there for my family any chance I get, but Sarah knows that my job also helps so many people and that our family is so lucky that I have this kind of job which gives Sarah her dance lessons and a home and vacations and such. Sarah scooted out of her seat and sat on her daddy's lap. "I also Skype or text whenever I have a chance to speak with them."

Jake then got out of his seat to sit with others on the floor in front of Todd. Sarah, being a precocious one, explained further.

"You know my daddy helps save people in trouble and brings them food and supplies if they have really bad storms and stuff. And I love it when he can Skype me because then Mom can show him the videos of me dancing or my picture I made for the art show."

"So, Sarah," I asked, "has your dad ever made a promise to you that he couldn't keep?" She turned to look at him and sweetly grabbed his cheeks. He laughed and answered my question for her.

Todd took her hands and looked at the children watching closely. "You know all of your parents love you so much, and of course we want to keep you safe and sound and happy. But I have taught Sarah that I promise to always love her no matter what. But to promise her a certain toy, or to never be late picking her up isn't realistic. Things can happen that no one can control. Does that make sense?" The class nodde