I hate it, HATE IT, when my own words bite me in the a**.
But let me back up…
I thought I’d try an experiment. I told my guys to come up with their own challenges for themselves. The idea, was to think of things that they wanted to do, and learn, ways they wanted to stretch themselves academically and then to decide, on their own, what an appropriate celebratory reward would be, once they accomplished their goals.
Say, for example, you read 10 books, on your own, books of a certain level. Maybe you’d get to have a picnic at a favorite park, ride a city bus or bake a cake and have 10 candles.
I told them that I was not going to ask them to work toward their goals, or even remind them. This was their own deal. I gave them each a notebook and watched as they felt around in the dark.
“What should my goal be?” he asked, bewildered that I was not telling him what should be done.
“You tell me. What do you find difficult? What would you like to be able to do, or know, that you don’t now?”
“How about 5 songs on the piano?” says he.
“Sure, if that’s what you’d like to do to challenge yourself, I think that’s a worthy goal.”
“Do you get to pick the songs?”
“No, this is your thing.” (seriously, have I been that controlling?)
So, he writes it down in his notebook (along with a few other goals). In the end, he subtracted a song, but added in the fact that he would need to play them for his grandmother and grandfather before considering it a thing accomplished. Very cool goal, for a boy who is pretty shy about being the center of attention.
He spent a pretty fair amount of time, banging away at the keys until he finally called for me to come and hear his music.
“Well, does that qualify for one? Can I move on to another?” he said when his song was done.
“I don’t know, can you?”
“Look, The whole point of your challenge is for YOU to push yourself to do something hard, and to do it well, and to be proud of your accomplishment. If you are proud, and you think that you played that song the best you can ever play it, move on. It. Is. Your. Choice. It does not matter what I think. It matters what you think.”
He set to work, practicing some more. In the end, he really did play that song beautifully, and he knew it. He was REALLY proud.
I went away, smug in my good parenting. I was sure that I had just made it completely out of the question that he would ever worry about what anyone else thought, or that he would ever gauge his worth or his abilities based on the attitudes of others.
I stayed in my smug state right up until we had some folks over for dinner. James was out of control goofy and downright irritating, like a kid on crack. Ryder was cranky and tired. Luke dissolved into tears over a disagreement with me. And I did not think, “Have I done my best? What can I do to improve? In what areas will I work to meet this challenge? How will I go about this differently next time?” I did not think about learning from those challenges. I did not think about hearing their struggles or even what my part was in bringing about this moment.
Nope, I just thought about what our dinner guests might be thinking. I measured myself and my kids by whatever I imagined them to be thinking, and I failed, miserably. Our guests left unceremoniously, and everyone went to bed in a huff, without even brushing their teeth.
Then, I came around the corner and saw my boy’s little chicken scratched goal for himself and sat right down for a good cry.
In the middle of all of them having a melt down, was I on hand to help them get to the heart of the matter and work things out, or was I just in full blown, rein-them-in-because-other-people-are-looking mode?
I heard myself telling Luke, earlier in the day, “It does not matter what others think, it matters what you think.”
I think I want a do-over.
I think I will keep practicing, and hope for beautiful music next time.
I think parenting is hard, hard work.
I think tomorrow will be better.
I think this post is a major downer, but that honesty is the best policy… it ain’t all tepees and field trips, people.
I think the weekend will be good, and I hope yours is too!