My 6th grader recently had an assignment where she had to name one thing that she was proud of - “Mom, what am I proud of?” I replied, “I can’t answer that for you. You need to decide for yourself what you are proud of.” She thought about it for a couple of minutes. She then wrote down she was proud of her straight A’s last semester, which I agreed was definitely something that she should be proud of.
As parents we are in a very tough position. We want to instill confidence in our children and a feeling of security about the things that they do. We want them to recognize that their hard work paid off and that they have a right to be proud. We believe that by instilling pride it will help their self-esteem and help them believe anything is possible if they put their mind and effort into it. On the flip side, we also have a responsibility to teach our children humility and socially acceptable behaviors. How do you accurately explain the tipping point between being proud and bragging? For example, it’s ok to tell your teacher that you are proud you got straight A’s, but running around the classroom show your report card to all of your friends is not ok. As an adult the slight social differences are evident, but to a child the boundaries are not so obvious. They will quickly realize the difference when their friends start making comments or treating them differently.
Teaching pride and humility is just one piece of the parenting pie. We also have to keep our own sense of pride in check. Parents are emotionally tied to the performance of their children. It starts from day one – this is my baby, it came from me. The baby becomes a reflection of the job you are doing as parents. As people compliment your baby (later your children), you take it as if they are complimenting you. We can all admit that having someone validate the job you are doing helps settle those fears and anxieties that run rampant at 2 am when the baby is screaming and nothing is working. We take pride in that validation. As a result you start to link your child’s behavior and performance to your own validity as a parent. At the same time we begin to project the kind of life that we want for our children. We want “better” for them compared to what we had growing up. We want them to be a “success” – which for some means athletic, artistic or musical excellence, while others measure success in the classroom. There’s no argument that we all want what’s best for our child. We want to protect them and guide them out of harm’s way. It’s easy to let those initially good intentions, slide into expectations and high standards. It’s at that point, in the name of Parental Pride, we reach a point where we might start pushing too hard for what we want, how we think things should be and for the best path we think they should take.
If you think about it, being a parent is the ultimate exercise in humility. You believe your intentions are in their best interest, but that is your belief. Your child may look like you or sound like you, but they are their own person. A unique individual that you may be able to influence, but cannot control. Recognizing, and accepting, that you cannot control the ultimate outcome will humble you.
Our children can also be our greatest teachers. They question you, which may make you question yourself. They challenge you - why do you believe that? Why do you think that way? They make you think twice about beliefs you have had for all your life. They hold a mirror and reflect back to us. In doing so, your children often show you what you most need to learn about yourself.
There is no relationship like the one you have with your child. The pride you feel is inescapable and will be like no other in your life. One word of warning, be careful not to get so caught up in the pride, that you miss out on the humility and the chance to learn more about yourself than you’ve ever known before.
A couple weeks ago I talked a little bit about the big summer movie Inside Out. I hope that everyone has had a chance to see it because I truly believe that it will change the way we talk to our kids about how they are feeling. The movie gives us a point of reference and visual examples to put names and faces to things that otherwise are difficult to describe. I picked a couple of my favorites below:
There are so many great moments, I could go on and on. The movie has given us a vocabulary we’ve never had before where we can take hard to describe feelings and put them into words that our kids will now relate to. We need to use this movie as a springboard to talk to our kids. If all kids start to think about their emotions, their decisions and their personalities in these terms, it will help them become stronger individuals and will also help them in all their future relationships. It could influence an entire generation, now that is powerful.
Yesterday I spent the day with my 7 year old son. Daddy was at work and sister was away at camp, so it was a special day just for us to spend however he chose. We played his favorite game of indoor baseball, went to the movies, ran a couple quick errands and then spent some quality time in the pool. Most of the day I did a pretty good job at staying in the moment, playing and having fun. In the afternoon as I was sitting by the pool watching him dive for treasures, my mind started to drift. I found myself thinking about all the other things that needed to be done. Those thoughts led to thoughts about what I would have chosen to do on my day off. Daydreaming about writing, painting and other creative projects as I watched my son play in the pool, I started wishing I was doing one of those things instead of baking in the hot sun. Frustration started to creep in. The sun felt hotter. The game my son was playing seemed to be taking forever. How much longer until we could go inside? My attitude was shifting, my thoughts of frustration and annoyance were gaining momentum, but was I paying attention? I started the countdown of when we would go inside, which of course was met with “just one more….”. I was ready for the resistance, but I was also more than ready to go inside. Suddenly I realized what was happening. I had taken the day off with one sole purpose in mind - to spend the day with my son. My thoughts of coulda, shoulda, woulda, were causing me to lose focus of my original intent. It would have been really easy to let them take over and change the entire dynamic of the day but I realized, like so many times before, that I was responsible for my attitude. My recent thoughts were making me impatient with a situation that I had been fine with just moments earlier. I took a deep breath. He still got out of the pool, but I promised that we would go in a little later, when the sun was not quite as strong. After we got inside and dried him off, I told him that we were going to have some alone time. He could play on the iPad or watch TV and I would go in the other room to watch what I wanted. He agreed and after about forty minutes he came into the room and crawled up next to me. It was just the break that I needed. I was refreshed, my attitude was reset and I was ready to play for the rest of the day. Later that night, when we were both in the pool, reality hit me. These days will be over before I know it. These days where he thinks it’s fun to spend the day with me, where he wants me to play in the pool with him, or play Wii, or go to the movies or show me something that is so awesome. All too soon he’ll want to spend this time with friends or will be at practice or will just be way too cool to spend time playing cards with mom. It would have been easy to let my thoughts and attitude change the course of the entire day, but thankfully this time I recognized it in time to save it.
It’s hot. Summer in the desert is hot, that’s no surprise. We spend a lot of time inside playing games, at the movies or in the pool. Some days are harder than others to be active, the heat seems to suck every ounce of energy from your body. Add to that the change in routine, or lack of routine, that comes along with summer break and you have a recipe….. A recipe for what? Not always a recipe for disaster, but a recipe for short tempers, lack of patience, raised voices and lots of tears.
Your siblings are your first friends. They are the ones that you test the boundaries with and see what you can get away with. You treat them in a way that you would never treat your actual friends and most of the time they sit there and take it. Or they fight back, yell and scream and then a few hours later, you’re back together realizing it’s better to move on than to stay apart. Our siblings have seen us at our lowest moments and loved us any way. They stand up for us and protect us when we need it the most. When you are an adult this is easier to see, but when you are a kid in the thick of it? Not so much.
You’ve probably gathered by now that our household has been filled with nit picking, bickering, hurt feelings and tears over the last couple weeks. The heat and new routine are just two of the reasons behind the chaos. They are also discovering that they both have pretty strong feelings about things. Their likes and dislikes are changing and creating more of a gap between what used to be a very simple compromise. My 7 year old boy acts and reacts like a 7 year old, something that my 10 year old girl now has little patience for and does not understand. Some days it seems as though they fight about everything, while other days they get along like the best of friends. Late in the afternoon is the most challenging when everyone is tired, including me, after a long day. I’m experimenting with new things that we can do to unwind to try to avoid the blow ups that happen. One of my experiments includes having everyone spend alone time, in separate rooms, before dinner. This week I’m going to incorporate a gratitude list so that we can talk about the good parts of our day, before we let a petty disagreement overshadow it all. I’ll keep you posted on the results of these experiments.
I realize that sibling arguments, bickering, etc. is all just a part of growing up, figuring out who they are as individuals and figuring out how best to treat other people. It’s difficult to sit on the sidelines and watch. You want to jump in and help, but at the same time you know they need to sort it out for themselves. Deep breath. There are also days when you just want it to stop, when you can’t listen to another word in defense of their action or inaction. Deep breath. One movie line said “just keep swimming”, these days I’m changing it to just keep breathing.
I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.