Recently my middle son, Ethan, was excluded from a “close” friends birthday party. Not a huge drama in the grand scheme of life, but enough to shake his self-esteem and confidence.As parents, we all know how important friends are and even at 10, being excluded by a peer really hurts. This was a boy he’d spent a lot of time with, hanging out at school every day, playing video games and having sleepovers.
“What did I do wrong, how could he leave me out?” he asked with tears in his eyes. Sitting across from him at supper, I was at a loss for words and even baffled by his question.
I’m a therapist and people are always turning to me for advice and support, but I didn’t have an answer for Ethan.
I wasn’t sure what to do. Call the boy’s mother and ask her why she excluded Ethan from the party? Give her the benefit of the doubt, assume it was a huge misunderstanding, and secretly hope she hand delivers Ethan’s “lost” invitation to the house? Or do I just ignore her hurtful decision and try to help Ethan deal with his disappointment?
I chose the latter: to listen, validate, empathize and help Ethan overcome his sadness and feelings of rejection.
When he was younger diffusing a disappointment was easy- a bear hug, kiss and some gummy bears or an ice cream was all Ethan needed to get over things. But now, being older, wiser and more aware, Ethan was much more distraught and helping him feel better was more of a challenge. We talked, I listened, he cried, he expressed his frustration, he called a friend in Florida, he cried, I felt heartbroken, I hugged him and then we moved on.
I realize at some point, my children will be left out of a social situations, whether it’s a birthday party, a sleepover or just a game in the school yard.
I realize that these rejections are important life experiences.
I even realize that challenges make us resilient.
But as an experienced adult, I know that feeling left out, excluded or lonely is something that we NEVER get used to.
- Ethan’s life will be filled with ups and downs, excitements and greater disappointments. The lessons he learns from this disappointment will provide him with useful tools to tackle future challenges.
- Adults don’t always do the right thing
- Children can sometimes be mean (even unknowingly)
- In the past there have been many parties, functions, and dinners that I wasn’t invited to and I survived. Ethan will survive too.
- We always feel our children’s pain, despite their age or the magnitude of the disappointment
- Mommies can’t fix everything (although I wish we could)
As parents we all have these “OH CRAP” moments when something happens to our children, and despite our experience or professional background, we just don’t have the answers.
As parents, we should learn from these challenges along side our children – which in turn make us better parents, allows us to examine our vulnerabilities and be more empathetic human beings.