On Struggling

There has been a lot of struggling at our house lately. I’m struggling with recovery from surgery, lack of contact with others, exhaustion, feeling like I’m not in control, feeling left out. Big Sister is struggling with math and, well, math. Little Brother is struggling with being at a new school and learning new rules. Husband, well, I’m not positive what he’s struggling with. He’s the strong, silent type. Maybe he’s struggling with lack of sleep because he’s the one the kids go to while I’m in surgery recovery mode.

It has been about seven weeks since my surgery. I’ve had six different casts, five trips to the hospital for surgery follow-up and foot repositioning, and 52 days of a life that doesn’t look much like the one I’m used to. But I’m told that I have excellent coping skills and I think I’ve adapted pretty well to this new (and hopefully temporary) version of my life. Knowing all that (and reminding myself of it constantly) still doesn’t make the hard days any easier.

It’s very easy to slip into blame mode when the rest of my family struggles. It’s all the fault of my foot. I am up and about and thankfully not confined to bed (anymore), but it’s surprisingly hard to help a struggling child when you can’t get up off a chair and walk over to them, put your arms around them and comfort them. How do you convince a child to come to you for a hug when all they want to do is run away? Words have been used in ways that I used to use gestures and physical contact, but sometimes the words are not as effective. And patience has been practiced more in this house in the last 52 days. A silver lining, I suppose.

From struggles come lessons.

I’ve been reading a book lately called School Struggles, by Dr. Richard Selznick. It’s a guide to helping your child break through the shut-down learner mentality and achieving success in school. It has helped me immensely to understand Big Sister’s struggles with math. I’m not great yet at applying the lessons learned from the book, but Dr. Selznick’s message has given me different approaches for helping her.

A growth mindset

See that little word up there? That little “yet”? That’s my new favourite word. I read an article somewhere recently about how this mom was using “yet” at the end of every negative phrase that she heard her children utter. So she hears her son yell from amongst a pile of LEGO in the living room, “I can’t build this LEGO spaceship!” She recognizes the frustration in his voice, but she’s busy making supper and can’t rush to his aid (nor should she, because what will he learn if she does?). So she yells back, “Yet!” She’s been doing this whenever an “I can’t” phrase is said in her house and she’s turning it around.

I’ve started doing it, too. And when helping Big Sister with her nightly math struggle homework, and she screams says, “I can’t do this!” I follow up with “yet”. It’s a tiny thing, a tiny little word, but I think it’s working. It’s putting the idea in her head that almost everything is a struggle and you just have to persevere. A little hard work, some help from an understanding (and calm) adult, and she can do it.

Some math issues are bigger than we can handle together, though, and that’s where Dr. Selznick’s book has been particularly helpful. Though written for and about the American education system, many of the principles apply to Canadian education and it has encouraged me to seek help for Big Sister even though she’s not struggling enough by the school’s standards to qualify for special help.

I’ve always wanted to be the help that gets my kids through, but after so much time spent in hellish battles with red-eyed, purple-winged, hairy number and equation demons frustrating-for-everyone-including-Little-Brother homework sessions, I recognize that it is time to seek outside help.


I struggle with this. I want to be the one with her when she has that Aha! moment. I want to help her break through this shut-down learner mentality and realize how wonderful learning is, whether it’s learning about math or words or science or emotions. But my own struggles have taught me that I am too close to her math struggles to be honestly helpful.

I seem to have spent a great deal of time on how Big Sister’s and my struggles have intertwined here of late. Little Brother is also struggling. He’s at a new school (Big Sister’s school, finally!) and he has to make new friends and learn new classroom rules (because every teacher does it differently). For the most part, he has adjusted nicely. He’s learning a new language this year, too. He comes home each day singing the new songs he has learned in French. (If there’s a way to get this kid to learn, it’s through music. And really, who can blame him for choosing that route to knowledge?) But his struggle is with rules. He wants to build and experiment and figure things out. And, unfortunately, there’s not a lot of time for that in classrooms today. The big focus in class from what I can tell is on literacy—letter recognition, reading and writing. He has a great teacher who does allow for more “figuring things out” time, but this is what he wants to spend his whole day doing, and the materials he wants to use are locked in a cupboard for when the teacher can supervise their use.

Getting used to the rules

It will take some adjustment, and there will be days when school will seem unbearable to Little Brother because it’s not how he wants his day to go. But he will struggle through it, and from the struggle he will learn the lesson that we can’t always have things the way we want them. Sometimes we have to conform and follow the rules of the class lest there be chaos. (But really, what’s wrong with a little chaos every now and then? It helps stretch the soul.) I struggle with his sadness that school isn’t fantastic for him. I struggle with wanting to pull him out and show him the world from home in a safe and free-flowing learning environment. This is my biggest struggle.

I can cope with the surgery recovery. I can manage the physical pain. I can adapt to new limitations and new-found abilities that come from limitations. But my biggest struggle is watching my kids slowly shut down because school is taking all the joy out of their learning.

And for now, I will continue to struggle.


2 thoughts on “On Struggling

  1. shoes

    I am glad you are able to face your struggles by focusing on the positive that can be found and created from the situation. During my whirlwind year earning my Master’s in Education I came across the idea of the Growth Mindset and it really spoke to me. I will have to look into the book you are reading.


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