A Special Kind of Parenting Pain

A friend texted me a disturbing picture last night.  One that broke my heart and wrecked my evening.  I was sitting in an important church meeting when it arrived.  Fortunately, we took a brief break shortly thereafter.  It was fortunate because I was falling apart.

You see, the picture was of a horse’s ass with two pictures of my daughter photoshopped on it and the words “Nobody likes you” above it.  It had been posted on Instagram by a young man who she has been on the rocks with but has called a friend for a decade now.  A good boy from a good family.

I was stunned.

And devastated.

There are many aspects of parenting that are hard.  Many moments when your heart shatters.  When you feel so utterly useless.  This pain that I was feeling last night, that I still feel to some extent this morning, felt different.  It wasn’t the same as when a child has been injured.  Or when someone has made fun of her on the playground.  Or even when she feels unloved and friendless.

No, this was worse.  Because it has always been my job to protect her and then this happened and I felt so completely inadequate.  How could he do this? I thought to myself.  I’m not sure what hurt me more, that he had posted the picture or that – at the time of the screen shot – fourteen of her peers had ‘liked’ it.  The road through the teenage years suddenly felt too rough.

All parents, except for a few who perhaps have defective children or who are defective themselves, think their child is the cat’s meow.  It doesn’t matter if their child is good at school or athletics or service or music.  It doesn’t matter if they are popular or have a lot of friends.  A parent sees that special spark that makes their child wonderful.  Perfect.  The best.

I’m just like any other parent.  I look at her and just wonder at what I see.  She is so beautiful.  And smart.  And confident.  And vivacious.  And outgoing.  I see it.  And I’m baffled that all of her peers are not as enamored with her as I am.  Yes, I know she’s flawed and oh-so-human.  That’s not the point right now.

By a stroke of luck, my husband happened to have returned to the church and I pulled him aside.  It’s amazing how at moments like this, you just need someone who is likely hurting as much as you but can still serve as your rock.  We sent the picture to the boy’s mother.  I told her I was very upset and wanted her to be aware.

And then I broke down and lost it.  With tears streaming down my face, I tried to figure out how to go back into that very-important-meeting.  I almost went home.  But I returned.  The pastor, who I had shown the picture to before noticing my husband was in the building, made eye contact.  My eyes welled up.  I pulled myself together and eventually looked normal.  But under the table, I was texting with the boy’s mother.  And, later, another friend whose son had ‘liked’ the picture.  And I was slowly healing.

Because you know what feels as terrible as seeing such an attack on your child?  Knowing that your child did it.  While I felt devastated that anyone could be so cruel, she was devastated to learn that her child could be so cruel.  We were both feeling different versions of the same pain last night.

I talked to Jane when I finally got home.  Her dad had spoken with her earlier.  To our surprise, she truly and genuinely seemed ok.  She was shocked that I had cried.  She didn’t see why we thought it was such a big deal.  “It’s just a picture,” she said.

Her reaction seemed honest, and not an attempt to fool herself.  For one thing, she said that “Nobody likes you” is just something the boy says.  To everyone.  It’s not to be taken particularly seriously, according to her.  It reminded me of all the times I tell our beloved family dog that nobody likes her.  Of course, I say that because she can’t understand what I’m saying.

Still.  Her photo was was on a horse’s ass.  She shrugged.  “I’ve accepted the fact that the three of them [referring to the boy and his two best friends] don’t like me.  Why should I care about what they say about me?”

I told her it was actually a very good picture of her.  She laughed and said, “I know, right?”  We laughed and talked and I got all motherly-serious on her and she looked uncomfortable.  I’m not convinced that it doesn’t hurt.  Or if it doesn’t hurt, that it isn’t because she’s shut off her ability to respond to the cruelty of teenagers as a defense mechanism.  But we are here now.  And I’ll do my inadequate best to deal with it well.

Teenagers do stupid stuff.  They do stupid stuff as they learn what’s right and what’s wrong.  As they push the boundaries and find out which ones slam them back.  My daughter has hurt others before.  She’ll likely do it again.  And she’ll likely be hurt again.  I’m not particularly angry at the young man.  I’m sad that we found ourselves in this place.  I’m hurt.  I’m impressed with his parents and the seriousness that they have placed on it.  I’m thankful for the friend who brought it to my attention.  And I’m thankful for the friend that made her son call my daughter and apologize for ‘liking’ the picture.  And I recognize that we are all in the same boat.  We are all trying to shape our children into the awesome adults we know they can be.  And I’m confident that we will be successful.

12 thoughts on “A Special Kind of Parenting Pain

  1. i understand how you feel — stung to the very heart — and i think you handled it beautifully. not inadequate at all. your daughter may not understand why you cried. but i’m not even her mother and i cried reading this.

    • Thank you for the kind and supportive words. I think there is definitely a generational shift. One of the other moms and I were talking about it today and we wondered if they are just so used to being mean to each other that they are desensitized and don’t recognize mean stuff for what it is.

  2. I just love your honesty and bravery…Pre teen and teen years were hard enough without the internet so I can’t begin to fathom what some kids endure from peers. Your daughter has a great attitude because you are strong example.

    • Thank you. I’m not yet convinced of the sincerity of her great attitude. I’m concerned that it’s an act to keep from feeling pain. Regardless, I have to meet her where she is. It doesn’t do any good to tell a teenager ‘No, dangit. You are hurting! Admit it!” lol… All I can really do is suggest that she consider whether she’s being honest with herself, and hope she actually does consider it.

  3. Pingback: What To Teach Your Child | mybrightspots

  4. I think you’ve talked before about how you were proud that she rejects some social conventions. I think the one you talked about was shaving legs or something and she challenged some boys in her class about it. I forget the exact post, but ultimately, any teenager who doesn’t conform will face some backlash. Maybe not about that, but teenagers use teasing to try to “break” their peers and make them conform.

    I’m sorry this hurt you so badly and happy she was so strong in dealing with it.

    • I (and some other adults who know her well) are not convinced that her apparent strength is completely genuine. Although I do believe in the concept of faking it until you make it, and I think while I should watch for signs that the facade is cracking, I should still accept her words at face value.

      She has resumed many of the social conventions she rejected previously (like shaving), but even without those nonconformities, she does stick out and those that stick out tend to get poked. I’ve talked to her about that aspect.

      This particular situation though is not the usual teasing to force conformity. It’s someone who is upset at her about something that happened several months ago and who hasn’t been able to let it go.

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