#70 Should I let son play with mischief-maker? / Should I teach mischief-maker how to deceive and gossip?
Dear Abby: My son, "Adam," is 9. He's very bright and earns straight A's in school. Adam gets in trouble now and then for goofing off, but nothing serious.
Adam has become friends with a boy in his class named "Sean," who has been in trouble quite often and has even been suspended from school. I happen to know that Sean's parents have drugs in their home and have been in trouble with the law.
Although allowing my son to go to Sean's house is out of the question, I have considered permitting Sean to come here and play where I can keep an eye on him. I can't help but see that Sean is an innocent child who needs a positive influence. Would I be wrong to invite him over? Or should I discourage this friendship altogether? I'm unsure how to handle this. PROTECTIVE MOM IN ILLINOIS
Dear Mom: You are in a position to make an important difference in that child's life. You could be the influence that turns his life around. The more time Sean spends in your home, the more he will be able to experience what a healthy family is like. As long as your son's friend follows the rules at your house, I see no reason why he should not be invited over. So be an angel and throw the boy a lifeline. —Abby
Hi Mom: My first thought is that you should be more concerned about how to reverse the effects you've had on your son. You've already trained him to withhold thoughts from others, parents, friends, and adults. You've trained him to be condescending and judgmental. You've trained him to gossip about neighbors in a way that detracts from their reputation. You've taught him to not communicate openly and honestly with others, sharing your negative judgments about them thereby keeping them stuck for life. You've trained him to find things wrong with others and to keep them at arm's length. You've trained him to not reach out and be a friend to others in the community (you and your husband not having invited the couple over for a social,) to let them know you don't hold what you've heard about them against them, that they are welcome. All this while possibly sipping your drug of choice (coffee) each morning.
You are ignorant about communication. You ask if you should invite someone into your home that you think to be less-than your son—the words "potentially contaminating" and "lower caste" come to mind. You assume that Sean won't get your nonverbal judgmentalness, your condescension. Not. It would in fact be abusive to Sean. He'll get the pretense—the imitation love coming from you, your phoniness, your egalitarian holier than thou emanations—if he hasn't already. It would however be an excellent education for Sean, he would learn what not to be like when he grows up.
The best gift you can give your son is to invite Sean and his parents over for a social. At that time you could clear the air. You could share with them everything you have in your letter, your considerations, your judgments, and your desire to have the boys play together. Most importantly, you could share your intention to learn how to have a supporting loving relationship with them. Adam will learn from direct experience how to be a good neighbor—Do as I say doesn't work. I suggest that you have Adam present when you bring up your considerations with Sean's parents. He needs to see how you handle telling the truth in extremely uncomfortable situations, and to experience how Sean's parents handle/react to you reaching out to clear the air so that the boys can be closer friends. No matter the results it will turn out perfectly.
One thing you're confronting is your own fear. Fear of failure, fear of them thinking that you are uppity self-righteous do-gooders. Fear of having them put you on their "do not associate with them" list. However, what you're really dealing with is an incomplete from your childhood with your own parents. They are the ones who taught you to find things wrong with others and to be judgmental. You should ask each of your parents, individually, for advice on how to handle the social. Don't ask if you should have the social unless you are clear that you will ignore them, especially if one or both advise against Adam playing with Sean and against the social. You are withholding judgments and considerations from your parents. You have yet to learn how to have open, honest, and spontaneous communication, zero thoughts withheld, with them. Soon you'll find your son hiding his thoughts of choice from you—as do you and your husband from each other.
To keep your marriage and family expanding (working) you must share it with others. The communication skills you'll get from the social will be of immense value in your own marriage. To not share what you have causes the relationship to contract to the point of destruction.
One thing we know for certain is that Sean's behavior indicates that he is dramatizing a communication breakdown between his parents. When children sense stuff going on between parents (withholds, lies, deceits, verbally unacknowledged perpetrations) it bothers them. It's called being-out-integrity. It's similar to messing with a bird's biological flying-south compass-clock. Children have no choice but to act up, misbehave, thwart, get poor grades, and even get sick, anything so as to bring to someone's attention that something is wrong, there's a communication breakdown at home. "Help, my parents have become stuck doing their imitation of communication." If they can't resolve it internally they then unconsciously reach out into the community (neighbors, teachers and police) to bring in outside help to restore the integrity of the family. You'll notice that no one else (especially his teacher) has picked up on his reaching out. Soon he'll have to escalate the dramatizations. Columbine was an endgame.
Would you be willing to look at the possibility that your commitment to playing at the level of mediocrity, in your life, profession, and community, has contributed to others around you opting for drugs? Read every page on the Community Support Group Project and you'll get some sense of the results our present leadership-communication skills (stuck in mediocrity) produce. The aliveness that comes from playing with a community committed to playing at the level of excellence generates a high more stable and rewarding than any achieved with drugs. Drugs are what one resorts to when they haven't learned how to get high via intercourse (true open, honest, and spontaneous communication, zero thoughts withheld). Drugs also become an option when there's no one around (not one single leader) who operates from impeccable integrity, someone who offers a truly stimulating, challenging and ethical game to play.
It could be said that Adam is unconsciously supporting you in mastering the leadership-communication skills it takes to be a good neighbor and citizen.
One last thought. Have you discussed your considerations with Adam? Given that he's "bright," he'll immediately get it. If you tell the truth he'll recognize it and know who to play with, etc. Hiding such thoughts from him creates space for him to hide his thoughts of choice from you.
Such a great letter, many parents will get value from it.
With aloha, Gabby
P.S. "Innocent"? You're forgetting what went through your mind when you were 9. Sean is as brilliant and manipulative as you were. The truth is children have greater awareness about what's so (in the now - present time) than adults. Remember when we could see everything, all the hypocrisies?