My 9-year-old taught me about graceful rejection — and the necessity of teaching our daughters about the other side of chivalry.
Recently my 9-year-old son, Raffy, brandished an envelope in front of me. He was glowing. He’d actually written a letter, voluntarily; it wasn’t homework, it wasn’t his letter to Santa, it came purely from his own volition. For your average child, I’m sure this may seem normal, but my son has hand-eye coordination issues, which makes writing torture for him. Everything he does at school, from spelling to arithmetic, is usually done in his head to avoid the dreaded pencil and paper. So seeing my son brandishing a letter felt like a proud moment; but mostly, I was curiously delighted. What could be so important that my son would write unprompted?
I asked my son what was in his letter. He told me it was a declaration of love to his sweetheart, Juliette P. (addressed as such because there are three Juliettes in his class). He sighed, adding that he wished he could sign it Romeo instead of Raffy. It was incredibly sweet how concerned he was, and how much thought he’d put into his penmanship. To console my little romantic, I reminded him that he finds the letter M very difficult to write anyway, so he was probably better off with his real name. (Plus, having given it to him, I think it’s rather a good one.)
I was dying to know what he’d written. Was it the “I love you so metch” he’d written in my Mother’s Day card? I decided to respect his privacy and not ask for more details, even though it nearly killed me.
The next morning we set off for school. On the way I asked him if he’d remembered his letter. He tapped his pocket to make sure it was in there, looking a bit like the best man making sure he still had the rings safely tucked away. It was such a genuine little gesture of excitement and nerves. That’s when my 10-year-old son chimed in. He started sniggering and said, “You know that Juliette doesn’t love you.” Ah, brothers.
Throwing my older son a wicked glare, I turned to Raffy and gently asked if he thought Juliette would return his affections, and if not, why write to her? He took out the letter and said very plainly, seemingly without any thought, “to open her heart.” What an answer! It was quite simply beautiful. And it had come from my son, not even tall enough to reach most things in the kitchen. Right then and there, he opened my own heart even wider.
Fast forward to the afternoon: a forlorn Raffy came back from school. After a little prodding, I discovered that Juliette had ripped up the letter in front of him without even reading it. I was devastated for my sweet son. His face was heartbreaking. Of course I know this was just a childhood crush, an unrequited “baby” love, and the first of many to be sure, but I could see the very real, large pain it was currently causing him. And, the more I thought about it, the more I realized something: what devastated me most was not that Juliette P. had rejected him, but that she had done so in such a violent, careless manner.
A few days later, with my son’s letter saga still fresh on my mind, I mentioned it to the mother of another little girl in the class named Daisy. She, too, shared my horror at such an aggressive act. “My daughter would never do such a thing,” she said firmly. And I nodded in agreement, but then paused. Sometimes, despite our best parenting efforts, some lessons slip through the cracks. How could she be so sure?
Daisy’s mother explained that as a parent to four girls, she feels a lot of responsibility to educate her daughters to be kind young ladies, who are sensitive to both sexes. She has always tried to teach them to take other people’s feelings into consideration. It’s the golden rule we all want to teach our kids: that they must treat others how they would like to be treated themselves.
Having little men in my house, I mostly worry about teaching boys to be chivalrous, but now, having seen the other side of that chivalry and how it affected my son, I realize we must also take care to teach our daughters to be thoughtful and kind in response to genuinely gentlemanly intentions.
Obviously, I’m not talking about teaching girls to be sweet to a drunk who paws you at the bar, or the cat-callers, or the jerks who don’t accept no for an answer. I’m talking about being kind to the man who plucks up the courage to simply ask you out on a date. He’s already setting himself up for rejection so if you’re going to say no, let him down gently. A simple “no thank you,” or a “I’m sorry, I’m already spoken for” (one of my all-time favorites), or some other tactful excuse that doesn’t leave the person feeling totally rejected and swearing to never ask another girl out in his life … ever!
Watching my young son go through his first no (and, worse, his first cruel no), made me realize how often men must face up to romantic rejection over the course of their lives. Personally, I have never asked a man out on a date in my life, and I’m pretty sure I never will. On a recent girls’ night out, I learned that none of my lady friends had ever asked a guy out either. Yet we’ve all said no to a fair few, quite comfortable in the role of rejecter rather than the potentially rejected. Though I hope I’ve always been polite when I turned dates down, I had honestly never given much thought to the courage and sweet intentions each of those men may have had.
It took seeing my son’s heartache to make me realize just how brave boys are when they declare an interest in a woman (or an eight-year-old girl). I now have renewed admiration for those who take the plunge, setting themselves up for a fall. And, even more importantly, learning to pick themselves back up, brush off the rejection, and try again another day. And as a mom, I’m happy to help all three of my boys do exactly that.
To that end, I came up with a list of things that I felt were important to help mend Raffy’s little broken heart:
1. Congratulations. I praised him for taking the risk and the importance of “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” giving a few examples of my own ventures.
2. Explanation. I suggested that Juliette might have been a little nervous/embarrassed; it’s a lot to take in when someone declares their love for you! And boys and girls can be a little mean at times but that will change. Luckily I could explain how his grandmother didn’t like his grandfather when they first met, but 50 years of marriage and nine kids later they’re still going strong!
3. Mismatch. That if someone does reject you it doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with you, it’s just you’re not the right match. I introduced him to the notion of having things in common. So again, back to my parents, they both love potatoes and watching the news—well he is only eight after all!
4. New opportunities. When we are rejected—whether by a “love,” a friend who doesn’t want to play, or by a school audition—it’s often for a good reason and there’s usually a more suitable option waiting around the corner. It’s just important to be ready to say yes—although I think this advice is good for all ages!
5. Love. To me, of course, my son is just perfect. And I’ll continue to remind him of that fact.
So how is Raffy taking it now? Well, let’s just say my young Mr. Darcy has recently been picking a lot of daisies and offering them to the wonderfully well-mannered Daisy. In return, she has graciously accepted the little bouquets, but has also been helping him with his spelling. A true love story.