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Leaning in to other people’s kids

“You just need to let her fully face the social consequences of her behavior.”

As I looked over my coffee mug at this woman I thought was my friend, I let her words settle on my heart, maybe more than I should have. Those words still cause pain and insecurity about my parenting, nearly two years later.

She was speaking of my then 2nd grade child, who had recently been diagnosed with ADHD. My extraordinarily intelligent and creative and kindhearted child with the huge personality, who also has difficulty regulating her emotions, coping with frustration, and managing transitions. These lagging skills sometimes mean she struggles socially—and snaps at friends, gets emotional about small things, or is inflexible in play. She KNOWS how she should react. Outside of the moment, she can role-play scenarios with the best of them. But when faced with a situation that challenges her lagging skills, she may or may not respond well. I have experienced the piercing judgment of other parents who think she’s just a brat and needs better discipline. Believe me, we have beaten ourselves up many times over, wondering if we are bad parents. Some kids, like mine, don’t have an obvious outward disability. And the thing is, none of us truly knows what other parents and kids are dealing with.

The other day, I ran across a blog post by Allison Hendrix, urging us to “Lean In to other people’s children…especially when they stumble.” The theological perspective that supports this blogger’s post may not be for everyone, but I greatly appreciate the sentiment. I’m still not 100% sure what my friend meant with her comment–what would it mean to “let her fully face the social consequences of her behavior?” Should I not help her build stronger relationships with friends by having parties or play dates? Or not encourage her to reach out and apologize when she hurts someone? Kids who act out physically or verbally, who challenge authority, who are anxious or depressed, or who just act in ways that are unusual or quirky most certainly do face consequences from their peers. But shouldn’t the adults be the voices of love and tolerance, rather than being the first ones to push the difficult kids away? All kids need love and acceptance, and all kids need friends. Maybe even more, they need parents of friends who will encourage tolerance and acceptance of differences and not judgment and gossip. It’s clearly my job to support and help my own child. But since running across this “lean in” blog the other day, I’ve done some soul searching about what my responsibilities should be to other parents’ children.

It’s maybe a lot to ask. Of course, it’s easier as parents not to deal with other people’s difficult kids, and to nurture our kids’ friendships with the ones who are more easygoing and compliant. I do understand that. But I cherish those moms who have continued to include my child, who appreciate her wonderful qualities, who see her struggles as just a small part of who she is, and who also still want to be MY friend. Kids with skill deficits don’t improve their behavior by being shunned, they improve because they have more chances to grow and practice their skills. The painful experience I’m referring to is not one that took place within the Co-op community. But as a member of this community now, I wonder, what are our responsibilities to all our children’s peers, especially the challenging ones? All of us face challenges in parenting, but can we show support toward those parents whose burden may be greater than our own? What would it mean for us all to lean in to each others’ kids?


Sheri is the mom of Clara (age 4) in Miss Nicole’s room at the Co-op and also 9 year old Lucy, who attends public school.

3 comments on “Leaning in to other people’s kids

  1. Very well said, Sheri. Our son’s best friend has a difficult home life, going back and forth between two homes with very different values. He and Joseph destroyed our fence, in fun. They were in serious trouble after this incident. I was MAD. His friend was so scared that we wouldn’t let him come over again. I called his mom a couple of days later to make sure we had a play date, sooner rather than later. We wanted him to know that we loved him and forgave him. Theo had them help him fix the fence a few weeks later. Led to some good conversations with his dad as well. We have to think of the long term effects of how we love and lean in to our children and our friends’ children.

    • This is an inspiring example, Amy! Thanks for sharing. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.

  2. I completely agree with your article Sheri. Children need to be loved. Parents need to be their safe place. Children used to be raised in villages with multiple adults (mostly extended family) was able to care for them. This doesn’t happen anymore but we still need it. Connection and emulating the behavior we want, while being understanding and supportive when children fall will help them much more than anyting punitive. Thanks for sharing.