I Think I Can, I Think I Can…Oh, I Can’t.
Trying to find a parenting topic that’s relevant to parents of two-year-olds through twelve-year-olds is hard.
Or, as they say in corporatespeak, “it’s a little bit challenging.”
I really hate that word. Challenging. Actually, I don’t hate the actual word as much as I hate that it’s a euphemism. Why not say something is hard? Why are we so afraid of saying something is a problem?
Our kids have problems. So do we. I can’t be the first one to point that out to you, right?
And yes, I suppose we could choose to see problems as challenges, and crises as opportunities and storms to be rainbows, and blah blah blah, but who are we kidding?
We all got the parenting memo that we need to be role models for our kids. We know that we are supposed to be cheerleaders and guides and inspiration to our kids, that we are supposed to model perseverance and optimism. And that’s not untrue.
However, I think that we have erred a bit too much on the side of smiley face emojis, and we are not allowing our kids to see that some stuff is just plain hard. And a problem. Some stuff throws us for a loop and knocks us down for a while.
There was a very interesting study done a while ago about coping skills. I will spare you the data and details of the study (because I forgot them) and get to the conclusion:
Children who knew family stories about the ups and downs of life cope much, much better than children who only hear family stories of success.
Evidently, that story of Great Aunt Mabel who came over on the Mayflower and starting crocheting potholders on the ship and when she came to the states, she builds those crocheted potholders into a billion dollar potholder empire, and if you work hard, you can be like Mabel? Yeah, well, hearing only that part of the story isn’t so much going to give your kids coping skills.
But, telling your kids the whole story, the part where Great Aunt Mabel drank a barrel of whiskey one night and set her flagship store on fire because she was dancing naked with torches, and lost everything, every penny?
That’s good parenting.
Our kids need to know that life comes with no guarantees. They need to know that even if we do all the right things all the time (which nobody ever does, so don’t hold your kids to that unreasonable standard), sometimes The Vicissitudes are gonna get us, anyway.
And coping skills are honed by navigating the ups and downs of life.
In Waldorf schools, where I trained, history is taught almost exclusively through biographies. Real stories of real people. At home, you can do this same thing with family stories. Look for stories of success and failures, or perseverance and defeat. If there are no workable stories, then go to stories of non-family. Friends. Neighbors. Figures in history. Your imagination. The latest issue of People magazine.
Point being, let your kids know that life is a series of ups and downs, that most of us do not move on an upward trajectory and stay the course upward forever.
And let them know that problems are problems. We all have them. Facing failures and problems is hard. That’s part of life. The hard part.
Of course, depending on your child’s age, you will want to choose appropriate ways to convey that life has its ups and downs, but it’s relevant to all of us. Two-year-olds can learn that sometimes, even when we are super excited to go to the library, for instance, the library closes early. It happens. Twelve-year-olds can learn that even if they practice shooting hoops a million hours a day, they might not be the best player on the team. It happens.
And sixty-three-year-olds need to know that when the bank says you have some, “…er, credit challenges…” it really means you gotta stop maxing out the credit card on every single item in the JJill catalog.