Saturday, February 06, 2010

"How to Raise an Inclusive Child," Or, Who Will Sit By Saffron the Lonely Girl?

Sometimes growing up with my mom was a real drag. She had pretty high expectations for her girls (four of us, no brothers), and I was reminded of them exactly 29 gazillion times a week. These were the kind of ridiculous things she expected of us:

Be a giver, not a taker.

Be a doer, not a whiner.

Let it out, or let it go.

Look for the fault in yourself first.

(“If one finger is pointing at your friend, three are pointing back at you.”)

And always—always—be an includer.

Let me tell you that it is simply no fun at all to come down the stairs with a long list of completely valid complaints about your sister, which you have very clearly been indicating to her through your huffing and puffing around only to have your mom say,

Well, did you tell her you’re mad at her? Did you tell her why?

“Of course not! I’m not speaking to her. What do you expect me to say—‘I am mad at you because . . .?!’”

Yep. If you don’t tell her you’re mad at her, and give her a chance to fix it, then you have no right to go on being mad.

RRRGGGGGG! I hated that. “Mom, you are so—RRRRGGG.”

And it is really supremely stinky when you come home from school wounded to the point of spilling emotional blood by a supposed ‘best’ friend, when you did absolutely nothing to deserve it. You get a word of sympathy and then, before you can even stick out your bottom lip and enjoy it, here it comes . . .

“Do you think you might have done something to make her feel bad? People don’t usually get mad for no reason. It takes two to tango.”

Tango Schmango. “Mom, you are so—RRRGGGGGG!”

And the final insult, the message that seemed to be my mom’s credo:

The more the merrier.

You can find something to like about everyone.

Some people are happy as long as their kid has one friend. Well, it’s not enough just to know you have a friend. I expect my girls to look around and see who needs a friend. Who is sitting alone in the lunchroom? Who is being left out? If you sit by and watch it happen, you’re just as guilty as the ones doing the excluding.

“OKKKKKK, Mom! Leave me alone! Why does it always have to be me? Why do I always have to be the one reaching out? You KNOW that’s why I end up having all the weird loner boys like me.”

Seriously, my mom really put a damper on my childhood. Just when I would be enjoying myself with my friends, I would think “Uh oh, why is that girl sitting over by herself?” And when I passed that totally gross Derek kid in the hall, I would suddenly hear my mom’s voice in my head droning, “You can find something to like about everyone—even him.”


These days my friend Belinda, with whom I love to throw parties, likes to joke that if we just want our fun friends to come, she should do the inviting. If I do it, she laughs, we’ll have to invite everyone or else feel guilty about it.

I didn’t always live up to my mom’s expectations, and still don’t. But I find I want to. Some of my most positive young experiences came when I saw that with a tiny effort I could lift somebody’s spirits—it bounced back and lifted mine. And some of my best friendships have developed with people I first sought out grudgingly. I start out thinking I have something to offer them, and they end up returning the favor tenfold.

Now, just like all moms, I find myself saying the very same things to my kids that my mom said to me. Some things I repeat out of habit, because I’m exhausted and the words leak out from somewhere deep in my brain, without thought. But these expectations I repeat on purpose.

Now that I’ve lived through some good and bad in life, and see my kids doing the same, I want so much for them to be the doers, the givers, the includers. I know they are sick to death of hearing it from me, and I know they don’t always do it. But I hope at some point, my thoroughly annoying voice begins to ring true in their heads. The best news I’ve received in weeks was when a parent told me he liked having Jasper over to play with his son, because Jasper was one of the few who included the little brother.

So you see why it’s hard for me to hear that Saffron is eating lunch alone—this time I can’t tell my kid to go over and sit by her. I’ve already told her over and over to go join another table, or ask someone to be with her, and she’s tried—a little. But there’s only so much she can do. Her English is only so good. She’s already lightyears out of her comfort zone. She’s scared. So now I’m hoping for those other kids, whose parents are also ruining their childhoods, to notice, and roll their eyes, and say to themselves, “Fine, Mom! I’ll go sit by the lonely girl.”


Melissa said...

Thanks Emily.
Good reminder.
I need to keep telling my kids this, and more often.

rebecca said...

I wish you lived in our neighborhood b/c my girls would be all over this! Partly by their good nature, but partly b/c I'm one of those parents too who stress inclusion. At our school when there is a new kid, they will assign a buddy to that person. I think they rotate too so the new child is associating with lots of kids eventually. The language barrier is hard, but maybe a rotating buddy system and some understanding would help Saffron. Best wishes!

Sovic Clan said...

Your mom totally rubbed off on you. I instantly thought you were the "cool girl" at church because you were one who took the time to get to know me and make me feel included in church.

I am an adult for crying out loud, yet I still needed someone to make the effort so I could get out of my comfort zone and try to open up to people:)

I also thought you were the "cool girl" because of your stylish clothes at church!!

I hope people notice how special Saffron is, and take the time to sit with her at lunch.

Belinda said...

Well....I finally made my SwensenSays debut, and with a bang I guess, the anti-includer! Thanks Em, we'll talk about this in private! Ha. Seriously, these lessons ARE important, and not ones all parents teach. is never to late, thanks for reminding us all of some of the simple things in life, that can change the lives of others. Love.

Brooke said...

It's something we all need to work on. We especially need to teach it too our kids. Hope she had some company soon.

Brooke said...

It's something we all need to work on. We especially need to teach it too our kids. Hope she had some company soon.

Screensiren said...

It breaks my heart that Saffron is sitting alone! Argh!

Stephanie said...

Your mom must be an amazing woman! And, consequently, you are an amazing woman, too! I think I will adapt some of those sayings and torture my own children with them. I think it is so frustrating to be trying so hard to raise children of good character--only to be confronted by the rest of the world (most of whom have no character at all!) Why aren't all the other moms teaching their children these same wonderful values? I know, it's a pessimistic view and I'm ashamed of it. We just have to hope and pray that there are, indeed, other mothers out there trying just as hard to raise wonderful children. And hopefully those wonderful children will find our own children and help lift them when needed! I hope Saffron finds a special friend who recognizes what a neat little girl she is.

mabeybowman said...

I am welling up knowing that Saffron sits alone! My heart breaks for her! Ahhhh!

You forgot one mom-ism: I will always love you, I have to because I'm your mom. But other people don't have to.

Oh! And one more: Kindness always wins in the end.

JenSav said...

Loved the recollections and advice - so much so that I'm printing out your mom's gems to use with my kids. I loved these ideas and I'm getting teary thinking about you & me as kids and about my mom so I'm going to stop typing now. But just know, I love you!

Amber Swensen said...

Emily, love the blog facelift and the cute picture of your kids at the top. I hope I can raise my kids the way you have, to be more inclusive. I think that is such an important trait. I too have noticed how great Jasper is with the younger kids (particularly mine). He is such a great kid. He will have a lot of kids look up to him someday because he always paid attention to them.