Fridays are show and tell at school and Jack is always searching for just the right thing to take. He bounded down the stairs with a carefully crafted diamond made out of Legos.
"Jack, didn't you take a Lego creation last week?" I said.
"What can I say? I'm a Lego geek!" he replied.
"Hey, I'm the Lego guy in this family!" Josiah quickly shot in.
My own childhood started gushing in my head the way it does in certain moments of parenting. Everything you have ever thought or felt as a kid is all right there in a flash of a moment. Sometimes this can be painful and we start doing all kinds of projecting but other times it feels more like an opportunity to educate. If ever there was a teaching moment, this was it.
I told them a story about how when I was little I watched my sisters and whether I realized it or not, I gave everyone a job or a label.
Jennifer was a dynamic writer.
Kristen was the smart, witty one. (and she took amazing pictures)
Katie was the charming baby of family who could do anything really.
I told myself all those jobs were taken and I probably shouldn't even try to do any of those things.
"But mom, you ARE a writer AND you take pictures now!" Josiah said perplexed.
"I know and so are my sisters, but it took me awhile to figure out I could." I said.
The "awhile" part was an understatement, try 10-15 years really. What I discovered was that I came from an entire family of creative writers. While each person has their niche, we are each amazing in our own ways and sometimes those abilities intersect. Oh, how I wish I had known this from the beginning. I wish I had never been so afraid to try. So now I do the work of pulling off the labels.
"So I'm wondering if it's possible that there is more than one Lego expert in this family. We would be like a super Lego family, or maybe we are a big jumble of all kinds of things, artists, thinkers, builders, dreamers, you know?" I proposed.
"Yes! That's it, we can be everything!" Jack said.
I wonder if in an effort to encourage our children's individuality we sometimes shut or close off potential interests. Do you struggle with this as a parent? I know I do. How do you handle the labels flying around your kids? Share with us in the comments.
Here's a letter from a supersister who wonders how to help her kids feel confident in the face of fear. With her permission, I'm sharing it with you. I'll add my two cents, and then you add yours, okay? Let's give her a list of hopeful, positive things only the kindest, strongest parent would do in a situation like this:
I just left my scared first grader on her 2nd day of school, still so attached to me, me trying to make it ok for her, assuring her I'll be there at pick up and knowing that she's looking for some love on the play yard without her best friend. This morning we met up with a group of first grade girls that raced off down the street ahead of us moms. I whispered. "Do you want to run off with them?" She said no she wanted to hold my hand, be with me. How can I give her confidence to fly off and be free? ---S.
I think confidence is like a seed. It grows strong over time as we tend to its basic needs until it is time to sprout. Much of the needed process happens silently under the surface without us even knowing. Sometimes as parents we lose faith that something good is happening quietly when our kids struggle and so we panic, but nine times out of ten, we're surprised. Things do work out. Our kids do grow and change and step up to the next stage of things and everything is just fine.
Know this: Your daughter is collecting evidence from you about what she can expect from this growing process. If you can get to a place where you feel sure of her and her natural way of being in the world, she will, too. When my own stories of being scared or lonely as a kid are dominating my thoughts at times like this, I use them as a connecting point for empathy. I say, "Let me tell you a story." I say what it was like for me in a similar situation, how I felt and what the hard parts were, and then I say, "but it didn't last. I made a friend. Her name was Debbi Sloat. I got the confidence I needed. I figured it out. It's hard right this second, but tomorrow morning might be the morning everything changes. Let's see."
She might need an anchor to ground her--like a playdate with an acquaintance who goes to the same school. Or something simple and fun to share at lunch with someone she likes. Or a note in her backpack or her pocket reminding her it's just a matter of time before it works out just fine. But she'll get there. She needs to hear you say that out loud, I promise.
Let her know that her pace, though, is perfect, and that her way of getting ready to bloom is just fine. She can take her time because something good is coming--new friendships, new ease, new confidence. Her job is to wait for it and to reach out with your help, whenever she feels the tiniest bit of courage.
What say you, superparents? How do you encourage your kids to feel confident in the face of new situations that would be unnerving for anyone?
It was day four into the move, but it felt more like day forty-five. A sea of brown boxes filled the living room, and it had been a week since any contact with the outside world. To say we were all tired and grouchy may be the biggest understatement of the year.
I was trying to paint the boys new bedroom a beautiful shade of lazy blue. If only I could be lazy myself. My first mistake was attempting to do such a thing with four kids under foot. I often take on these kinds of ridiculous scenarios as some sort of inner parenting challenge. Am I capable of doing it all? Moving, unpacking, painting, settling before my partner walks in the door that night. I wear it like a badge of honor when I'm done, thinking I have some super parent status when really it's probably just stupidity to begin with.
The kids were dying to help paint. I let them help me paint a dresser the week before which was a comedy of errors, so this time I said no. Josiah has his own strategy though, he kind of hangs around, lurking, reminding me of his interest, while the other kids without the same determination scatter to play. I must admit, it does work sometimes.
After meticulous taping and drop cloth laying, I spilled some blue paint on a baseboard.
"Josiah, can you run and get me the wipes in my bedroom?" I asked, because wipes are the secret solution to almost every problem in the world. He ran off, finally getting a job closer to being able to actually paint.
"They aren't here!" he yelled. Now my children rarely are able to find anything I send them to hunt for and yet I always send them. We joke in our family that I am the family finder, able to spot the needle in the haystack or in plain sight on the bed. I gave about fifteen more instructions yelled to the next room with no luck.
"Mom, they are not there." He said plain as day.
"Ugh! Josiah! Come on now!" I returned in my most pissy, annoyed voice feeling the weight of having to do everything for everyone all the time. I stomped down the ladder and into my bedroom to prove him wrong. I looked exactly where I told him they would be, no wipes. I looked under the bed, no wipes, under the clothes, no wipes. I instantly remembered they were in the kitchen. He looked at me, turned around and walked away.
I found them and went back to painting feeling like a total jerk. Stomping around to prove a kid wrong, to shame him? Really? I found him downstairs playing Legos.
"Oh Josiah, I'm sorry I was such a jerk. You were totally right, I didn't believe you and then I was mean to try to prove you wrong." I said. "It's okay mom." He said plain as day once again.
I thought of all the moments, even small ones when I have dismissed feelings, given a curt answer or just even put out a vibe of annoyance. I started to reflect how many more times I should apologize, but sometimes do not, because of my position of power as a parent.
I tell myself it's okay, because kids are tiring and because I have already given so much; like somehow I deserve to respond that way every now and then. The truth is they know, and they are very gracious, but I don't want to be that kind of parent. I want them to know how to accept responsibility for their own moments of unkindness; I want them to know how to say they're sorry and make amends. I want kids to know adults make mistakes and that we can all be forgiven, even the fumbling family finder.
Do you apologize to your kids; do you find it easy or hard? How do you handle your own mistakes in parenting and relationships with your kids? Please tell us in the comments.
He checked the mailbox and asked me every day that week just to be sure. "Did the Lego magazine come?" Josiah (age 10) said. It hadn't arrived yet, and you could feel the build of anticipation. It's exciting to get the old snail mail every now and then. Both of my boys, who are completely unaware of time, only look at the calendar once a month to start the great wait.
A play date is a great way to break up the time in the summer so Josiah and Jack headed off to Charlie and Sam's for awhile. Hours of Lego's, complicated sword battles and snacks filled the time and both boys returned happy as clams. Dinner and bedtime reading closed out the day and all was well until the next morning. I got this e-mail from another ten year old.
We had a little mix up with my lego magazine last night. I thought that Joshia brought a lego magazine to our house. Know i now that it was a mistake because my mama told me that i got it in the mail yesterday.
Could you drop it off if you are diving by.
I casually asked Josiah what happened and he instantly looked nervous, eyes shifting, voice shaking.
"He thought it was mine. I was confused." He said, even seeming to struggle with his own story.
"Okay, let's just get the magazine back to Charlie." I replied.
Only moments later, I checked voicemail and heard a message from an almost teary Charlie starting to wonder how this mix-up happened in the first place and why Josiah took the magazine home.
"Josiah, Charlie just left a message, he's really upset. I'm wondering if there is a little more to this story." I said and the gentle shakedown started. He resisted at first, I think because part of the story was true, he was confused when Charlie originally thought the magazine was his. It seemed though, Josiah deep inside knew it was not, and saw an opportunity which he took.
I was kind of mortified honestly; to think my kid would lie, borrow/steal, that my kid could have a really jerky kind of moment. I could hear him crying from his room.
"What kind of friend am I mom? How could I have done this?" he wailed. All of the judgment in my heart was instantly gone. My boy with long thick hair stained with tears was feeling the weight of his heart, the weight of hurting someone you really care about.
"Oh Josiah, everyone makes mistakes and how sad you are feeling right now shows how much you really care..." I said and the speech went on.
Josiah rode his bike to return the magazine and threw in a coveted silly band as part of his making amends (his idea). I sighed, one moment feeling disappointment and the next seeing the whole boy with a touch of pride.
How do you handle lying at your house? At what age did you start to see these kinds of life lessons start popping up? I'd love to hear your thoughts and share with each from the big bag of parenting tips in the comments. What do you think about kids and lying?