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December 20, 2011

A Lunch Conversation With My Teenage Daughter

by Anne Paddock

My daughter and I went out to lunch recently.  After we settled in at the table, I could tell something was bothering her so I asked what was on her mind. She told me about a friend whose mother told her daughter to stop hanging around with my daughter because my daughter would be a bad influence.

My daughter made a mistake – a stupid mistake where she was caught by me first and then the school.  I didn’t try to hide my daughter’s mistake or protect her as she needed to learn about the repercussions of making a bad decision. In fact, I turned her in.  And, because I turned her in, the whole school – teachers, students, and parents – found out and information passed like wild-fire throughout the small community. Although the common gossip line was not my intention, I also realized that this was part of the process, as much as my daughter deeply regretted her actions.  But, I didn’t expect a mother to tell her daughter to stop hanging around with my daughter.  How naive I was.

My daughter pretended like she didn’t care about the mother but I could tell she did care because my daughter sees herself being judged by one mistake and doesn’t like that her error in judgement overrides who she really is. She wholeheartedly defends the underdog and embraces those that are different, quirky, or that seem to be swimming upstream because they all have worth in her eyes, and people see this. In the winter of 2010 when we were still living in Switzerland, a teacher told me about the day my daughter was skiing with a friend when an older boy started picking on her friend by throwing snowballs at him. She jumped to his defense and told the bully to go pick on someone his own size even though she was about half the bully’s size.

When our daughter was 5 years old, we took her to get a new passport at the local post office. On our way home, we noticed a guy in a flowing purple acetate gown standing in the middle of the road ranting and raving about something we couldn’t hear. He also had a purple brocade purse and a tiara on his head. My husband and I stared in disbelief and then cracked up laughing.  Our daughter, sitting in a car seat behind us heard our laughter and told us we shouldn’t laugh at him, that maybe the purple gown was his only outfit, and that we should leave him alone and not make fun of him.  My husband and I were dumbstruck, looked at each other and thought “is our 5-year old child reprimanding us?” Yes, and she was right. I’ve never forgotten that day.

We are all judgmental parents at times orbiting our kid’s world – watching who our kids are friends with (although I realized a long time ago a parent cannot pick a child’s friends), judging a kid on a bad day, and blaming parents and especially mothers for any perceived shortcoming of a child.  I know because I used to always judge other kids and parents but after my daughter went through the terrible 2’s between the ages of 4-5, I stepped back and realized that we all have bad moments, tough stages to go through and we need to be more understanding and forgiving. None of us wants to be judged by our mistakes or a rough patch.

While living in Spain, we spent an afternoon at the home of our friends, Ricky and IsabelRicky worked for Warner Brothers and so the conversation leaned towards the movie industry that day. Michael Moore just came out with the movie about George Bush and I commented that I really liked the movie and thought Moore did a great job of showing the world what a mistake the Supreme Court made. “Not so,” said Ricky…”If I followed you around for a few months and filmed you constantly, I could make you look like the biggest asshole in the world with editing.”  I paused and reflected on his words. He was right. We can all be judgmental and choose not to see the positive attributes of others or not allow people to see the goodness in others.

As we finished lunch, I tried to ease the hurt my daughter was feeling, I told her not to worry about the friend’s mother. She doesn’t need the mother’s approval and the friend did not desert my daughter despite the mother’s orders.  One day, when her friend makes a mistake and others are quick to judge, the mother may come to understand that one mistake or even a series of mistakes doesn’t define her daughter’s life. The mistake may actually be an opportunity to teach her daughter how to pick herself up, make amends, and get back on the right track.

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