Hard work pays off

The past 3 years have been particularly humbling for me as a parent. Gone are the days when my kiss heals a boo-boo, or an extra-early bedtime fixes most things. My kids have struggles I can’t lift from their shoulders, and I see in so many ways how my own good intentions went wrong in the execution.

But the past month or two, a few things have turned around, and I feel like we’re moving in the right direction. Perhaps I am more tuned in to small victories. With that in mind, for the rest of January I’m going to share a few of our celebrations.

One: Hard work pays off.

A million years ago (in the last decade, at least), one of my kids was in the Cub Scouts. My recollection is that we, as parents, put in a ton of volunteer time, and my kid had zero motivation to do any of the activities. He just wanted to hang out with his friends. The boys got badges for attending the mostly passive activities the parents put on, and my kid was more or less a sponge. I wanted some sort of activity to demonstrate to him the power of hard work.

When the Pinewood Derby came along, I thought it would be the perfect vehicle to show him how important hard work was. The troop had a marathon session to design and build the cars, and our kid showed up, cut a triangle out of wood with the assistance of a grown-up, and slapped some wheels on a chunk of wood. The most interesting part to him was painting it. I was sure that his car, though shiny, would come in last, and he would learn the valuable lesson that hard work counts.

His car won the Derby.  He happily accepted the shiny trophy and learned nothing about hard work.

Fast forward many years. I have watched my kids grow up in a culture that rewards even reluctant participation, and I wonder what we’ve taught this generation. As my kids have gotten older, each one of them has encountered the jump in expectations, where the “it’s enough to participate” suddenly turns into, “only the best players get time on the court.”  It has shocked each one of them and has ended many activities. I wonder if there’s a place for a more gradual transition, but I don’t see it happening.

As a homeschooling parent, I have gone too far the other way. When they get an A on an exam I know they didn’t study for, I find it hard to respond. I have erred on the side of calling out their hard work (“I see how hard you studied. Great job”), instead of congratulating them on results (“You got an A! Well done.”)  All the parenting articles told me this was the way to go. My kids tell me the message they heard through my praise is, “What you do is never enough for me.”

Anyway, you see my dilemma. Recently I’ve been trying to shut my mouth and let the consequences of their actions alone give my kids the feedback they need.  Jury’s out on what will happen.

My daughter routinely spends nine or ten hours a week in dance classes and rehearsals, but gone are the days when showing up to class means you get more than a minor part in the performance. It’s now about auditions and turn-out and strength and lines. She was sorely disappointed in August not to move up in ballet with some of her friends, and not to get the part she wanted in the Nutcracker.

After some moping, she sought out a new pointe shoe fitter. I had my doubts, but he was great. He acknowledged both her strengths and weaknesses and took a completely different approach than the previous fitter.  He gave her exercises to work on her turnout, and she has faithfully done these every day. She has set up to barter as a teacher’s assistant with the littlest dancers in order to attend an additional ballet class (!) every week.

Last night at class, her teacher said she’s noticed her progress and is going to advance her. My daughter was so excited to tell me, she was dancing. That’s feedback I can get behind.

This is only one take- more to come if I can keep my gratitude glasses on my face. Check out Kelly for more quick takes.

Pluto and Parenthood

Photo by New Horizons

I watched the NOVA special Chasing Pluto today. My children were blown away to find out that the New Horizons Pluto probe which just this summer reached its target, was launched in 2006, before some of them were even born. The project was conceived years before that but only this summer did the probe come into the position from which it could take its stunning photographs of Pluto. (Pluto’s demotion to dwarf planet status is a subject for a different soap box.)

Read the rest at The Well…

Labor prayer

This week I got one of my favorite phone calls: Annie, she is in labor. Can you come?  It doesn’t happen often that I get to be present with a friend at her delivery.  In 20 years, I think it’s happened eight times.  Nine, if I count my friend who was also my patient.  But every time someone has expressed the desire to me in advance, somehow God has always made it happen.

This time the call came when I was at work, with twelve patients more to go.  I said I would do my best and prayed a prayer for logistics.  And then all the logistics rolled into place. 

Sam was home with the kids. Three patients (all in one family) didn’t show up.  Two people I called came in early.  Two people were happy to have me handle their issues by phone (and without a copay on their end).  The other five all came on time.  I was out the door by 8 (normally it’s ten or ten-thirty) and in her room at the hospital by 8:30.

She had a hard labor.  She worked, and worked, and worked.  When she couldn’t take it any more, her contractions gave her enough of a break that both of them were able to snooze for half an hour before we got things going again in earnest. And still, it took all night.  She squeezed their beautiful daughter into the dry world at sunrise.  Tears of joy and laughter replaced the fear, the weeping, the pain and frustration.  “… weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

During my clinic, I had been talking with my prenatal group about our expectations of labor.  Our expectations of ourselves.  Others’ expectations, whether it is regarding the decisions we make about labor (hospital v. home; pain medication v. none; breastfeeding v. bottle feeding).  Sometimes we have choices; sometimes we don’t.  And no matter what, we can always find a way to be disappointed.  Regretful. Shamed.  So much of that pressure others put on us (and that we put on each other) is really just self-justification.  Criticizing someone else’s decisions makes me feel better about my own.

Labor is agony.  Parenting is so hard.  Sometimes we make choices that work out well; sometimes our choices (right or wrong or the best we can come up with under the circumstances) work out well; sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes all we can do is labor with one another through the pain, the uncertainty, the dark night, and pray for joy in the morning.

Developmental Stage v. Character Trait

One of my biggest challenges as a parent is sorting out the interplay between development and character.

For example, when my oldest was two and refused to try to sit on the potty, I described him as stubborn.

When my second, third and fourth children all went through a similar phase, I wised up and realized, “Ah! Developmental stage.”

No, this is not a crazy adolescent.  This is the crazy mother of a ‘tween.

Conversely, when one of my children lies on the floor and cries that s/he can’t do his/her math because it’s too hard, I ask myself, “Is this because we are increasing the difficulty of the math?” or, “Is this child in the habit of throwing tantrums whenever I ask him/her to stretch beyond what is comfortable?”

I’ve been a parent now for 12 years, and I still find this interplay difficult.  We are heading into some hormonal, pre-teenage mood swings with my oldest. We haven’t hit any big challenges yet, but I know they will come.

As a physician, I recognize the capacity of testosterone and cortisol (normal adrenergic hormones) to cause the physical symptoms of stress and anger.  As a mom, I know that puberty is a normal developmental stage.  As a person of faith, I want to help my son mature into a person who has self-control.

The same holds true of a spirit of self-pity: that feeling of isolation so common to adolescents often coincides with hormonal swings and is a normal phase of development, but I believe it can be used by the Enemy keep us isolated.

Do I have any idea how to sort out the dynamic interplay between the physiology, normal development, and character?

Nope.  And my poor oldest always catches the brunt of my ignorance.

What can I do?

1) It’s a time of reading for me.  Looking to others who are older, wiser, and more experienced than I.  For example, I found this post of Like Mother, Like Daughter, to be particularly helpful.

2) I can pray.  James 1:5 promises me that if I ask for wisdom, I will receive it.  Amen!  Likewise, I can pray for my children.

3) I can trust.  I hold tight to that promise in Philippians 1:6, that He who began a good work in you [or in my son] will carry it on to completion in the day of Christ Jesus.

4) I can love.  I know the child of God whom God entrusted to us to raise.  I know the beauty and courage and compassion God put in him, and I choose to continue to see these traits, even on the hard days.  I trust that God looks at me in a similar way, and He will help me in this task when the road is bumpy.

5)  I can choose humor, forgiveness and hope instead of anger and despair.

I don’t share these ideas out of a place of frustration, but as a reminder to myself.  A manifesto, perhaps, as I look to the road ahead.

Do you have a parenting manifesto?  Please share in the comments!