361. Young Jekylls and Hydes

Some parents have a quick explanation of the phenomenon I described in my last article: children feel comfortable and safe at home – comfortable and safe enough to let out the demons they keep locked up while they’re in school. Since they’re more uncomfortable and insecure in school, their teachers happily do not get to see the temper tantrums and other difficult behaviors that parents see more than they’d like to.
I think this explanation has some validity to it, and I don’t mean to take anything away from parents who have been using it to make themselves feel better about some of what takes place at home. But I think it may be too simple. And it assumes some things that may not be true. First of all, do all children have demons inside them that need a place to get out? I’m not sure about that. Secondly, are all those arguments and other disturbing scenes at home solely due to comfort and safety? I don’t think so. And finally, is school necessarily such an uncomfortable and unsafe place? I hope not.
I’ll very tentatively suggest another way to look at the issue. At home, a child is with the people who were there from the beginning – parents. Being born broke a connection, but the child still had parents to cling to – usually one more than the other. Birth and weaning end connections, and are inevitable forms of betrayal. Not to mention siblings, jobs, chores, connubial bliss, and just the parental need to be alone now and then. Every child starts out life with a false sense of security, and growing up is learning how false it is. Some children have to learn more quickly than others, but they all have to learn it. Some have a hard time of it, and can wreak havoc upon the household.
And then along comes school. Children don’t expect so much of school; there may have been some false advertising, but there usually isn’t much. No one has given children the impression that school will meet all their needs – be a place where life is perfect. And so if there’s a teacher or peer there who is at all friendly, or an activity that’s fun, it’s a surprise blessing. School may not be perfect, but it was never supposed to be. Not like parents.
If you totally accept the first explanation – the one that says children need a safe place to let out their demons, you may sometimes wish home weren’t such a safe place. Those demons can really get on your nerves. But please consider the second explanation – the possibility that school is just a place that’s not as bad as it was supposed to be, while parents, who were supposed to be perfect, aren’t. No matter which explanation you accept, there isn’t much you can do about the problem. Making home an unsafe place isn’t a good idea, and becoming perfect isn’t an option. I think having your children grow up helps, but that takes time. And besides, do you forgive your parents yet?

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