Ask Mom is a weekly feature in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. If you have a question you would like to submit to the Ask Mom panel, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. This week's column was written by Patrice Janda, MSW therapist with Cocoon Project SAFE. Cocoon Project SAFE serves Walla Walla parents of teens. For free consultation and support, call 1-877-339-4179.
I'm a single mom with two kids, a 9-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy. Lately, it seems like our lives are moving pretty fast. Both the kids are involved in sports, and I work long hours and go to school.
The other day, my daughter seemed pretty sad. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me she didn't feel like we were a real family.
I asked her why she thought that, and she started to cry. She said I never put my phone down (I'm a Facebook mom, I admit I am addicted to it. Being single and a working mom it sometimes feels like my only connection to the outside world).
Having my daughter accuse me of loving my online friends more than her and her brother was a real wake-up call for me. I went to bed that night wondering what a "real family" is. Any ideas?
-- Facebook Mom
Dear Facebook Mom:
Have you ever read the Velveteen Rabbit? It's a children's story, written in 1922 by a woman named Margery Williams. If you don't own it, you can look it up on the Internet and read it online for free in about 10 minutes.
The story is set in a young boy's nursery, and its main character is a somewhat insecure sawdust stuffed bunny. He suffers through comparing himself to constant stream of mechanized toys that flow in and out of the boy's life.
One day the bunny confides to a worn out old skin horse that he feels he simply can't compete with the exciting toys, what with their bells and whistles and shiny crank handles.
Luckily for the Velveteen Rabbit, the old horse has seen the fate of the gadget toys, seen how they are played with, but oddly, never truly loved. When they break, which they always do, they are quickly forgotten and replaced.
The horse goes on to explain the difference between toys that are merely played with and toys that are loved. Only the toys that are loved become real.
Real, as the Skin Horse explains, happens when a child loves you for a long, long time.
He explains how this looks. It's not always pretty.
He tells the rabbit that the boy's father made him real, and that's why, although he no longer retains his youthful appearance, he remains on the nursery shelf. The horse helps the rabbit understand how he will become significant to the boy, not by trying to be something he's not (he'll never be a modern toy), but by giving the boy what the boy needs most -- his quiet and abiding presence. The horse tells the rabbit to be patient and believe in the magic that happens when you're not perfect, or exciting, or shiny, or new, but simply there. The horse assures the rabbit is the only way to become real.
The message in this story is clear. There are no shortcuts where relationships are concerned. Becoming real is messy, as the rabbit learned when the boy grew attached to him and began to rub all the shine off his already substandard velveteen. The rabbit lost a marble eye and, when the boy got sick, became full of the boy's scarlet fever germs. But the boy never forgot him, even after the rabbit was taken away to the trash heap and replaced by a new, much-fluffier bunny.
Loving our children, becoming a real family, takes faith, courage, empathy and most importantly, and often overlooked, endurance.
I love your daughter for being straight with you, for being your skin horse, for reminding you that there is something magical that happens when people make a choice to value human contact over machines. Pay attention to what she said, and spend more face time with your children and less with your Facebook friends.