Q: I'm a teacher, and I love my students. However, there is one kid in my sixth-grade class who drives me nuts. He works overtime trying to make everybody laugh. What drives this impish child? Why does he want to make life miserable for me?
A: We all remember the kid you're talking about. He's called "the class clown" and some other things that are less flattering. He is a trial to his teachers, an embarrassment to his parents, and an utter delight to every child who wants to escape the boredom of school. There are millions of class clowns on the job today. It's my belief that boards of education assign at least one such kid to every class just to make sure that school teachers earn every dollar of their salaries.
These skilled little disrupters are usually boys. They often have reading or other academic problems. They may be small in stature, although not always, and they'll do anything for a laugh. Their parents and teachers may not recognize that behind the boisterous behavior is often the pain of inferiority.
You see, humor is a classic response to feelings of low self-esteem. That's why within many successful comedians is the memory of a painful childhood. Jonathan Winters' parents were divorced when he was 7 years old, and he said he used to cry when he was alone because other children teased him about not having a father. Joan Rivers frequently jokes about her unattractiveness as a girl. She said she was such a dog, her father had to throw a bone down the aisle to get her married. And so it goes.
These and other comedians got their training during childhood, using humor as a defense against the pain. That's usually the inspiration for the class clown. By making an enormous joke out of everything, he conceals the self-doubt that churns inside.
That understanding should help us meet his needs and manage such a child more effectively.
Q: I am a single mom who is struggling to survive. Of all the things that frustrate me, I am bothered most by having to send my kids to visit their dad for three weeks every year. That will happen next month, and I'm already uptight about putting them on the plane. Can you help me accept what I'm about to go through?
A: Maybe it will help to know that many other single parents have similar feelings. One of these mothers expressed her frustration this way: "I stand in the terminal and I watch the kids' airplane disappear into the clouds. I feel an incredible sense of loss. The loneliness immediately starts to set in. I worry constantly about their safety, but I resist the urge to call every hour to see how they're doing. And when they do call me to tell me how much fun they're having, I grieve over the fact that they're living a life completely separate from my own. My only consolation is knowing that they're returning soon. But I'm haunted by the fear that they won't want to come home with me."
If the anxieties of that mother represent your own feelings, let me offer some suggestions for how you might make the most of your days alone. Instead of seeing the next three weeks as a period of isolation, view it as an opportunity to recharge your batteries and reinvigorate the spirit.
Single parenting is an exhausting responsibility that can cause burnout if it knows no relief. Take this time to enjoy some relaxing evenings with your friends. Read an inspirational book or return to a hobby that you've set aside. Fill your day with things that are impossible amidst the pressures of child care, recognizing that your children will benefit from your rehabilitation. They'll return to a re-energized parent, instead of one coming off weeks of depression.
- James Dobson is chairman of the board for Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home.