Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Balanced Parents 

There is a political battle brewing in California (nothing new in that statement). Apparently, the California State Education Secretary, Richard Riordan, made a comment to a 6-year-old girl that has become political hay. The girl asked Mr. Riordan if he knew what her name, Isis, meant. Instead of answering "Egyptian Goddess", Mr. Riordan said "stupid dirty girl." You can read CNN's coverage here.

Okay, obviously a bad call. But obviously an attempt at teasing. (BTW, I would have played on the pronunciation of name with something like "Isis means more than one ice - which is ancient Egyptian for colder than chilly but warmer than frosty." Get it?) The local NAACP has attacked Mr. Riordan (predictable as always) for making the remark. Apparently, the organization sees the remark as indicative of Mr. Riordan not understanding the nature of children. Hmmmm?

What I would like to focus on is not the remark or the predictable political fallout. I hope you noticed the mother's response. She accepted that Mr. Riordan was teasing, accepted his apology as authentic, and has moved on with her and her daughter's lives. The money quote: "I'm not going to sue them for therapy bills."

It is balanced parenting. Responding in an appropriate manner as an advocate for your child.

This year during Vacation Bible School at our church, I served as recreation coordinator. Back by popular demand from the children was tug-o-war. (I am amazed at children's interest in classic games in the day of computer dominance). Well, the third graders beat the fourth graders in the first 2 pulls on one particular day (best 2 out of 3 format). On previous days, I had made adjustments to the teams to let the losing team have at least a good chance at winning. This particular time, instead of coaching each team, I arranged the time-honored classic of one team pulling and one team letting go (the old 1-2-3-let-go trick). The third graders thought it was hilarious. The fourth graders (sitting hard on their hind-ends) had a different reaction but seemed to dismiss the prank.

One fourth grader (a daughter of my Sunday School classmate) did not appreciate the joke. That night when her mother asked her about VBS, she broke down crying and indicated that her feelings were hurt and that she no longer trusted me. Her mother committed one of the greatest acts of insight and deduction in modern parenting. She did not rebuff her daughter or attempt to explain away my actions. Obviously, she knew whatever had happened that my intentions were honest. Had she rebuffed her daughter, it would have set a dangerous precedent. Later in life when her daughter needed to confide in her, she may not based on previous encounters.

What my friend did was simple and profound. She spoke with me. She explained her daughter's feelings and reactions. She asked me to apologize to her daughter. Not because I had done something wrong. The mother accepted that whatever had happened I was trying to entertain. She wanted her daughter to experience the resolution and to reinforce the idea that if her daughter needed to confide in her, the mother's response would be rational and balanced. She did not sue me or demand that I be removed as recreation coordinator. She did not bring the matter up at the next church council meeting. She did not ask the church to form a committee to investigate possible teasing in VBS and to recommend policies to avoid the problem in future VBS programs. She did not contact the Bishop or go public with accusations of teasing cover-ups in the church.

We need more balanced reactions by parents. The Supreme Court should see fewer cases concerning parents. School principals should not get a nervous stomach each time a parent requests a conference.

Be a balanced parent.

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