Knowing my child
If you know me well, you know that I am prone to black-and-white thinking and that I like things (life) to be fairly formulaic.
These things are that much more interesting when you consider that much of life is not black or white, and that there are very few “formulas” in life.
They’re also interesting when you consider that I married a man that is not only comfortable with the “grayness” of life, but who, as I like to envision, actually enjoys splashing around and having a good time in the grayness (picture the grayness being water). But that’s for another post. 😉
One area in which these tendencies/ways of thinking of mine are challenged daily is parenting. Whew! As any of you moms learned early on, there is no formula to parenting and that, if you think you have it “figured out,” you quickly find out that you don’t when child #2 comes along and is a completely different than child #1.
I’m finding out that it is imperative that I know (or rather, am constantly learning about) my children. It changes everything. If I really know each of my children, I am better able to respond well in different situations because I am taking into consideration who s/he is as a person; their personalities, the things they tend to struggle with, their strengths, how they best feel loved, etc.
Take, for example, my son. We recently put Elijah in a fantastic gymnastics class that a friend of a friend holds in her basement. It’s really a great thing for Elijah – it’s good for him to be in a group setting where someone other than mom or dad is leading things. It’s great for him to learn to sit still and wait for his turn. And it’s such great exercise – I am amazed at the things 2 and 3 year-olds can physically do! Well, Elijah has only gone twice and it is currently a hard thing for him – due to his personality, being in the midst of a teacher and even a few other kiddos who he is unfamiliar with is challenging. In addition, trying new things seems to always strike a little bit of uncertainty and/or fear within him. He tends to want to watch the others (my little observer!) and then cling to me when it’s his turn to try things. Today he was not listening well when the teacher was leading the kids in the cutest little stretching activities I have ever seen. He didn’t want to try any of them and I ended up physically bending him into some of the positions myself. After stretching was over, he didn’t want to try the skills the teacher was instructing the kids in and was struggling with his attitude. I ended up having to take him upstairs to talk to and discipline him about his attitude and the poor choices he was making. We then went back downstairs and I went through (with the teacher’s help at times) each of the skills he was supposed to try. He struggled and fought me and cried a good portion of the time and honestly, I wanted to give up and go home (for various reasons). At one point, we sat at the area where the kids were working on headstands for several full minutes and I told him we were not going to leave the area until he tried. Crying, he put his hands down on the floor and I lifted his legs up against the wall. He then started sobbing and I took him down and we just sat on the mat together for a few minutes, him in my arms while he cried and calmed down.
Eventually, he told me that he had been scared during those moments. I was so glad he was able to express that and we spent some time talking about it and sitting together. But, I didn’t regret staying in that class (although I had to get past caring what the other parents were thinking). I didn’t regret making him try each of the skills, and do you know why? Because I know my child. I know his tendency is to get easily frustrated and want to give up. I know that he can be scared of new things, but that he ends up loving them once he tries them. I know that, in certain areas, he needs to be pushed (and I also realize this needs to be done well and with much reassurance and discussion). And I realize the importance of, after being pushed, simply holding him and telling him how brave I think he is … then encouraging him back into class until it was done, even though I did allow him to just watch the kids at times.
But, if I didn’t know my child, I may have simply gotten mad at him (which, to my shame, I do at times, despite what I know about him). I may have left the class. I may have let him stay in the class, but not push him to try anything new.
I don’t know Elijah perfectly. In fact, just when I believe something with certainty about him, that “certain” thing changes (hey, he’s only 3!). But I do know much of what makes him unique from others and by God’s grace, will act accordingly in the way that I parent him, although at times I will, and do, fail. Something else I know is that parenting him involves getting good and comfortable with the gray areas of life and ceasing to look for “for sure” formulas. Ugh – I am uncomfortable with both things, but doing them, as well as seeking to truly know my children, is so good for me.
And the best thing for my kids.