Difficult Moments

Two newspaper stories during the holiday caught my eye. One described a dinner for a recently arrived Syrian immigrant family given by Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and her husband. The dinner included the five Syrian children ages 3 to 17 as well as the hosts’ two children, ages 3 and 11. The story describes cordial but formal conversation facilitated by a translator.

The formality was broken by Ms. Power’s eleven year old son running into the living room and presenting a miniature soccer ball to the guests’ six year old son, saying it was a gift. His three year old sister followed by saying she wanted to play with the guests’ three year old daughter and the two girls were soon off playing together with dolls and carriages. When the guests left, their three year old girl was wheeling a stroller – a gift from the hosts’ three year old.

The second story describes a new “breakup industrial complex” flourishing in time to address statistics showing that the two weeks before Christmas is a peak time for ending relationships. An app called the Breakup Shop will do the job in a nice or not such nice way for five to eighty dollars. Facebook has its own variety of ways to handle such situations overseen by its compassion team whose function entails “easing life’s difficult moments.” Recommendations were followed about being less confrontational or more empathic. A variety of other apps are described in the story all addressing aspects of this difficult job.

What is the connection, if any, between these two stories? The first story is about developing relationships, the second about ending them, both involving difficult moments emotionally. Sharing is an important part of forming and maintaining relationships. As parents we are conscious of this as our children show interest in reaching out to others. In the story about the dinner for the immigrant family, it is the children who break the formality through the language of play.

It is not totally clear from the story if the host’s children had been prompted by their parents to give gifts to the guests. The eleven year olds’ behavior seemed spontaneous and apparently it was his own ball he was offering. It is not unusual for children to show generosity and empathy in reaching out to others and will offer their own possessions as acts of friendships. On the other hand, during some periods of development sharing may present a real challenge, especially of treasured objects.

When children find sharing difficult this often elicits a judgmental response from parents or other adults – as if this indicates a character failing of sorts. This is an aspect of social living that may be difficult at times but it is something we can help children master. We can respect the fact that some things may be too hard to share while at the same time introducing children to the reciprocal nature of social interactions. In this instance, the behavior of parents may be the best model.

Ending relationships brings another set of challenges. While young children do not as yet confront the romantic aspects, the “best friend” and no longer best friend phenomenon persists throughout development. We would like to protect our children from receiving and giving hurt feelings and at times may be dismissive of these childhood dramas. But here, too, as parents we have an opportunity to support children as we teach them ways of handling difficult situations with friends.

Difficult moments for children may arouse emotions that are challenging for us as adults to confront. Sometimes they awaken incidents from childhood that have left a mark. Other times they involve feelings that are not fully resolved. In general, our culture has moved toward a “feel no pain” philosophy which seeks to avoid confronting the difficult moments and emotions of life.

Working through such moments with our children can help us become more effective in dealing with such moments of our own.