You know your child has officially entered the tweens when you hear, “You just don’t care!” 🙂 The first time you hear it, you probably hasten to reassure your child.
“Of course I care,” you tell him. “It’s because I care that…”
Er – sorry to burst your bubble, but he’s already tuned you out. You’re going on, but he’s not even hearing the words. He’s just busy with the idea in his head that you don’t care.
As the ‘you-don’t-care’s’ multiply, you give up – first trying to explain, then defend, then even to present your point of view. At best, you counter with, “I do care”, and you stop. You and your child go your separate ways, each convinced that your point of view is correct, and the other just doesn’t get it!
I found an unexpected way out of this recently.
It started with my daughter saying, “… happened, and you just don’t care!” She’d been telling me about some incident at school that had upset her. I truly didn’t think it was such a big deal (in fact it was so trivial that I’d forgotten it by the next day, else I’d have shared it with you here. Something like one girl said something mean to another girl or bad-mouthed her or humiliated her or something, and my daughter was an onlooker and burning with the injustice of it all…), but I sympathized with her feeling bad.
(By the way, even if my daughter had been the person someone was being mean to – and which child hasn’t been in this position? – I wouldn’t have cared about the incident, because she has to learn to deal with people being mean. What I would care about is how she took it, how she dealt with it – with the other girl and onlookers –, and what it taught her about herself, people, and her relationship with the world.)
Before I knew it, I said, “You’re right, I don’t care.”
That was so unexpected it took the wind right out of her sails. “I don’t care at all that this happened. It’s irrelevant – like if you bumped your elbow against the table, you wouldn’t even notice it, right? Well, that’s how unimportant the incident itself is to me.”
She couldn’t believe I’d finally conceded. “See? You DON’T care. You’ve admitted it!”
“Yes, I don’t care about what happened. But I do care about how you feel. I care that you’re upset by it. But being upset won’t help the matter. And you’re too upset just now to listen to reason, so there’s no point my telling you that there’s no need to get so worked up about what is essentially a non-issue.”
Another weapon handed to her! 🙂 “Everything is a non-issue for you! You only care about your own stuff…”
It was so funny, I started laughing. She was fuming. I did the only prudent thing I could and made myself scarce.
A while later we met in the kitchen.
“Really, Mom, how could you laugh? You’re so weird – just crazy. I’m upset – and you’re laughing! Obviously I’d think you don’t care. Any sane person would think that.”
“Fine, but I really found the whole thing so funny, I couldn’t help it. I shouldn’t have laughed, but I couldn’t stop myself. Want to talk about it?”
She nodded, and we sat down together.
“Listen, this kind of incident will never be important to me. That’s the way I’m made. Even when I was a child at school, if this had happened, it wouldn’t have meant anything to me; forget about it upsetting me as much as it has upset you. That’s how I think. So yes, I don’t care that the incident happened. But I do feel bad that you feel so bad. Mind you, I still don’t see any reason for you to feel this way, but I understand and sympathize with the fact that you feel bad.”
“How can you not feel bad? They were awful to her and she took it from them. I was boiling mad. I told her, let’s go and tell the teacher. And you know she was afraid to? She said they’d be even more mean to her if she complained about their behavior! I asked her if she liked being treated that way, and she said no, but she didn’t see any way out of it. And it has been going on for months, she says. How can she take it?” her voice trembled with rage and pain, my brave heart rushing to the rescue with flaming sword.
“She has to decide for herself. No one else can do that for her. If and when she gets sick enough of being treated this way, she’ll do something about it, and it will stop. But until she makes that decision, no one can do anything about it. If you think you can step in and help her, you’re wrong. You could do it once, or twice, or maybe even a hundred times. But what will she do when you aren’t there? Also, it is her battle, and as her friend, you should let her deal with it. The best thing you can do as a friend is to support her. There’s nothing else you can DO for her.”
“Also, no matter what you think, the truth is that you don’t know everything that has gone on between her and the other girls. You may end up harming the girl’s interest or making the situation worse.” I gave her other instances when things were not as they appeared to be, when she (or I) had intervened, and made things worse than they otherwise would have been.
She saw the point. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” she demanded. (?! 🙂 )
I learnt that day that it’s fine if I don’t care about things that are important to my child. And she’s fine with it too! Just as there are things I care about that she doesn’t! (Things like putting things back, sleeping on time, drinking enough water – ring a bell? 😉 )
What she wants is the reassurance that I care about how she feels, which I can always give her – because I DO care.