I have three children…all of them very different from each other.
Very different…from a social butterfly to an incredible introvert…from a child in a gifted program to a child in a special education program…from a child who is a vegetarian to one who only wants to eat meat.
Each are different and unique…and I love them exactly the way they are with all the quirks that come along with them. And while in the past it seems as though their parents love for them was almost all they had in common recently something else has tied them together…sadly…all three of them have started struggling…a lot.
Over the past few months I’ve watched each of them struggling simultaneously with very different challenges. Challenges that don’t have a quick fix. Challenges like self esteem issues, anxiety, and the sudden realization (and contempt) for the fact that people aren’t always going to be good, kind, or fair.
With these issues (and a few others) gaining momentum my husband and I began talking and talking and reading and googling and meeting with doctors until we had far more information than we could ever sift through….but ultimately led us to decide 2 things:
#1. When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows. Not the flower. Meaning we change the environment here at the house to make it feel as safe as possible in order to make it the best conceivable place for each of our different personalities to learn, grow, and thrive.
So what have we done? Things like limiting noise and volume. Turning off all devices (except for when we need them for homework) between the time everyone gets home from school until they go to bed. We increased one on one face time with games and read alouds. And we have focused on eating healthier meals together around the table with no distractions.
#2. In his book “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch he said, “There’s a lot of talk these days about giving children self-esteem. It’s not something you can give; it’s something they have to build…Self-Esteem?…there was really only one way to teach kids how to develop it: You give them something they can’t do, they work hard until they find they can do it, and you just keep repeating the process.”
Now this sounds like the opposite of my #1. But it’s not…I swear. Aside from the family time without distractions, nourishing food, as well as specific and honest compliments said aloud…my husband and I have focused on finding some sort of challenge for each of our children to work on…
For example…my son in junior high has just started rock climbing twice a week. It is super hard and out of his comfort zone…but he loves it. He comes home every time exhausted and happy. Through climbing he is learning to push himself, trust his decisions, and solve problems to achieve a goal…and slowly, slowly we are watching his confidence grow! It has been like magic.
*Note: Rock climbing was found by trial and error…we casually tried out several options with him (swimming, running, baseball, weight lifting, etc) before finding the fit that was right for him. Rock climbing would not have been MY first choice but it is what suits him…so that is what we are doing.
For the girls our “challenges” have been less extreme…we have turned to cooking and baking. Both of them struggle with reading and math…but twice a week they are each individually in charge of creating something for us to eat. They do this with pride…and struggle through reading recipes and deciphering instructions to create something edible.
At times they are triumphant…other times all is lost…but they look forward to the challenge every single time. And when a treat is tasty we think about who could use a suprise, anonymous treat left on a doorstep…because sometimes life isn’t fair…but sometimes…you can be the secret force that helps level the emotional playing field.
Now….I’m not sure what we are doing is “right” and I know that it certainly isn’t perfect. I also am very aware that the evenings we are working hard to maintain are not sustainable…however my husband and I are thinking of this time in the life of our family as one does when you plant your garden starts in the spring.
Often they are “started” in the house…planted in the best soil, watered with the purest water, and stationed in a location to stay warm and get ample sunlight. From there they are tended and cared for until they are strong enough to be transferred into the great outdoors with all the wind and weather that accompanies that move…which is exactly what we are trying to do with our children…building them up…trying to give them the strength to not only stand and endure but to succeed and thrive in a world full of storms.
There have been several other things that have been very helpful over these past months like the mom and me journal I started with my 10 year old (which has been a game changer) or the individualized chore chart…but I will share those things over time…for now I will keep watching and thinking and making adjustments…and praying while we work that what we are doing is feeding my tribe with the what they need to build sturdy roots and also to sprout them wings.