In my last post, I discussed how children think in narratives, and how the only slots available for us as stepparents or foster parents are either the villain or the mentor in their story. In this and my next post, I want to look at more characteristics of mentors to see how we can move into that role.
Every Story Has A Villain
One caveat is that your child may not want you to change your place in their narrative. Every story has to have a villain. Real life, of course, is more nuanced, but your children may not be mature enough to understand that dynamic. Until their brains and emotions develop, they will look for a villain to explain why they, as the hero of their story, cannot reach their goal. If you are not the villain, then someone else has to take your place. Most children will resist casting their biological parents as villains, at least permanently, so they must look elsewhere. Stepparents, foster parents, caseworkers, and other adults in authority are the logical choices.
If your child insists on casting you as the villain, there is not much you can do to change his or her mind. Of course, we should take a long look at ourselves to see where we can improve. Even the most biased criticisms of me, for example, never claim that I am too easy-going or patient. There is always room for me to be more kind and understanding.
That being said, sometimes nothing we can do will make any difference. No matter how much we improve, a given child still will not accept us. I have been in that spot with a few foster children, and I know how hard it can be. Everything that you do is wrong, everything that you say is an insult. No matter what you intend, an angry child can view your actions through a prism that turns your best efforts into something malicious, or at least negative. In those situations, all we can do is model what we tell our children – control what we can control and don’t worry about the other person. Be the adult and keep caring about them and enforcing boundaries that they need. More important, don’t follow that course in hopes that you can change their attitudes. They may or may not change. Care about them and enforce boundaries because it’s the right thing to do.
Mentors are Wise
One common characteristic that we see in mentors is that they are wise. Dumbledore gives Harry Potter and his friends many wonderful and memorable guidelines. When Frodo complains to Gandalf that he wishes he had never received the One Ring, Gandalf replies, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” That advice has resonated with readers for decades.
I am not likely in my lifetime to think of such wise things. But all of us can gain more knowledge, with is the foundation of wisdom. We can learn how our children’s experiences have affected them and current practices of how to help. Some of us can track down mental health studies, others will have older and wiser relatives and friends to consult. The Internet has a lot of information, some of which may be pure nonsense. But there also is much good information, whether articles by learned professionals or online groups of experienced parents. We also can learn from our children’s teachers, therapists, and other family members. Wherever we can find worthwhile information, we need to track it down to learn from it
Of course, we will not be able to follow every piece of advice that everyone gives us. Whatever we learn, we need to analyze and adapt it to our unique situation. We are the experts in balancing our lives, and we need to adapt whatever information and advice we hear.
In my next post, I’ll continue to look at characteristics of wise guides in famous stories, and ways we can display those characteristics in our relationships.