Tag Archives: betterment

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.

cat_math_problem

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.

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2 kids being helpful

Because Helping Should Come Naturally

Before I had surgery that took me off my feet, I wondered sometimes how my kids would survive in the world. It was evident that they were capable of doing many things, but do those things they did not.

I’ll jump in and take almost full responsibility here.

To move things along in the morning (and in the evening, and throughout the day), I made their breakfast, packed their lunches, packed their school bags, practically dressed them, guided them through with repeated instruction the process of brushing their teeth, washing their faces, and going to the bathroom.

I would talk to my husband constantly about how capable the kids were but how they just wouldn’t do it themselves.

And then there were those golden times when I had some miraculously unending stream of patience and a bright and cheery disposition to go along with it. I would step back and watch my kids blossom into their permitted independence.

Then life would take over and we’d be back to me following them around and hounding reminding them about getting ready for school, their chores, picking up after themselves, helping out around the house, etc.

But all that had to change. And we were facing a deadline for that change: My late summer surgery date.

Having that deadline changed things for me. I wasn’t going to be able to do half of what I usually could for myself, let alone for my kids. So, I needed to figure it out. And the impending surgery gave my kids something to shoot for.

So we began summer training. I did my best to keep my comments to myself when I saw one of my kids doing something their way instead of mine. And I made sure to build in lots of time for everything I was asking them to do. That way, there was less chance that I would get frustrated with their slower pace because time was not bearing down on us.

I created space for my kids to grow their independence; like planting a seed, watering it and watching it develop into a beautiful flower.

And they grew. They did chores, they got themselves ready, they prepared basic meals. (Cereal and sandwiches, mostly.) By the end of the summer, we had reached what I had hoped for most but had not dared to set as an achievable goal: my kids recognized when help was needed and they stepped in to provide that help.

Of course you want your kids to help and to be able to take care of themselves doing age-appropriate chores and tasks, but I think, ultimately, you want them to learn more from doing chores than just how to do the chores. You want them to recognize and anticipate needs and to do their best to help fulfill those needs.

I’ve been off my feet now for six weeks. Though sometimes my kids still fight me on getting dressed in the morning or getting ready for bed at night (hey, let’s not hold our kids to impossible standards; even adults don’t always want to do chores), in that summer of training with a patient mother (even when she didn’t want to be), they learned how to help with anything. And they learned that they mattered because their abilities were valued.

Sometimes we still slip, though, so tell me, how do you get your kids to take responsibility and help around the house?

Every little thing is gonna be alright

Be the example

Frustration, anger, upset, exhaustion, etc. These are all emotions of motherhood. (I know, there are the good emotions, too, like love, compassion, cuddling (that’s an emotion at our house), happiness, calm, joy, peace, etc.) But this is about the messy emotions that hurt.

I let those get out of control a lot when my kids were young. I didn’t have a good grasp on what it was I needed to keep those emotions in check. Turns out, that last one I mentioned in the list above, exhaustion, was the guiding emotion. He was the Big Kahuna, the one who basically set the tone for everything else.

When sleep was elusive with babies and toddlers in the house, Exhaustion moved in and took over. And when Exhaustion is in charge, Anger, Upset and Frustration are like groupies. They follow wherever Exhaustion leads.

It can be hard, for several reasons, for a new mom to recognize this. There’s the cute new baby that everyone is in love with—and because it’s so cute and cuddly, you’re losing sleep to stay awake and watch it sleep—or you’re wondering why everyone is so in love with this bundle that eats, poops and sleeps all the time, and these thoughts are keeping you up because you’re stressed because you feel like a bad mother. Then there are the constant loads of laundry. I.Mean.Constant.

And there are the expectations that you put on yourself. (OK, the expectations start with society, but we moms internalize them and they become our expectations if we’re not careful.) And these standards are high. We ran corporations, headed up major projects, hiked across Europe and made something of ourselves. This motherhood thing should be a cinch.

Haha. It’s not.

When we were doing all those other great things in our lives before kids, we did them in a non-hormonal state, without the responsibility for the most precious thing on earth—human life.

Turns out, becoming responsible for a new human life coincides directly with enhanced hormones and sleep deprivation.

So, what to do? Don’t let Exhaustion be in charge of you. He already has his groupies. Don’t be one, too.

If you’re a first-time mom, the solution is simple—not easy, but simple. Sleep when the baby sleeps and let your partner (or, if you’re a single mom, let anyone who is willing to help you with these things) do the laundry and cook the meals. Ask for help from neighbours, friends and family. Even better, accept it when it’s offered. There is no prize for doing it all. Seriously. No prize. (This hurt when I found out.)

Your calm, peaceful attitude will rub off on your baby. The less exhausted you are, the less stressed you are, the happier your baby will be. I’m not talking perfect bouncing cherub-faced baby all the time here. I’m just saying, deep down, your baby will be calmer when faced with upsets. Be the example, even at that young age.

If you are not a first-time mom and don’t have the luxury of sleeping when the baby sleeps because you have to make sure that the toddler doesn’t dump all the Cheerios on the floor and burn the house down, put the kids to bed at a decent hour (bedtime is between 7:00 and 7:30 pm in our house), spend some quality time with your partner (I’m talking a good solid connection but for a short period of time), then go to bed early.

I didn’t do this when my kids were little because I thought I had to do it all. And I wanted to spend a lot of time with my husband because, you know, he’s an adult and adults are really cool to talk to. But now that those years are behind me—and I suffer from terrible guilt attacks from how many bad emotions I consistently displayed in front of my kids—I realize that those years were short and my children and I would have been better served by lots of sleep so that Exhaustion could not be in charge.

Silver linings

There is always something good to come out of any bad circumstance. You just have to look for it. And the silver lining to my early years with my kids was that I had ample opportunity (more than I’d like to admit) to be an example of regaining control after losing it.

I wasn’t always good at it. Sometimes Exhaustion had me in its cold, iron grip and I just couldn’t squeeze out. And when I was very upset and Exhaustion was in charge of the upset instead of me, it often spiraled out of control and ended up in the most dramatic of upsets: the upset that I couldn’t seem to keep it together no matter how hard I tried.

But there were days of calm when things would happen unexpectedly and Upset and Anger would step up to the plate and I would reign them in by sheer will and my desire to be a better person and a better mom to my kids. (Those were days that followed nights of adequate sleep.)

So when I see that my children are tired and frustrated, my example is the best lesson for them. If you let yourself get frustrated at your child’s frustration, the situation escalates. Jan Blaxall, a professor of early childhood education at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario says, “Research shows that children learn how to regulate their emotions by watching their parents.” (Source: www.todaysparent.com/toddler/toddler-behaviour/how-to-deal-with-a-frustrated-toddler/).

So what did my angry outbursts and unhelpful self-care patterns teach my children? It taught them that getting upset and freaking out was the way to go when things didn’t go their way. It taught them that cooperating and helping each other was optional depending on their mood. And it taught them that when they couldn’t keep it together, they didn’t have to try harder, they could just fall down into a balling mass of tears and screams. (Yeah, I did that sometimes. I was that exhausted and unwilling to ask for help. Lesson learned.)

And this is a vicious cycle. The more upset I got, the more upset they got. We needed some peace in our lives.

And somehow, somewhere deep down inside me, I found that place where peace exists and I dragged it up into the lives of my children. And I saw an immediate change in their behaviour as it related directly to my behaviour.

And even now, with slightly older children and no babies in the house, sleep has to be a priority. If it isn’t, we open the door and invite Exhaustion in. And his groupies follow him. And they don’t make for a very nice family life.

caterpillar changes to a butterfly

Change is good, right?

What if your whole life has been stable and then change happens? Because it does that, you know. It happens. It doesn’t matter if you lived in the same house, went to the same schools, and had the same friends since you were born. Eventually you move out, whether it’s to pursue your education or a career, or just to spread your wings out on your own. Without hesitation, change happens.

You can either be ready for it, and meet it at the door when it comes knocking, or you can cower in the farthest room of the house and hope that it doesn’t notice you curled up in that dark closet.

And, if you’re a parent, how you handle change will be the guide for your children.

In my young years, there was not a lot of change that came from my parents. We were a pretty stable family, doing the same thing day in and day out. That was a good thing for the most part. Outside of my home life, things got changed up a bit. And as I got older, I created change in my own life. But without guidance, it was all very terrifying.

When I was 9, I was devastated when my best friend moved to Vancouver. I thought my life was over. She was gone. I cried for what seemed like weeks, but was probably only a few days.

After graduating from high school, I didn’t go away to school because the thought of leaving home terrified me. I never once considered the benefits, the fun, the new experiences that going away would provide. So, I stayed at home and went to school locally. When I finished school, I felt a little more like spreading my wings. All my friends had their own apartments and I was still living with my parents. I may not have been happy about the change of scenery, but I disliked being mocked by my friends because I still lived with my mom and dad. So, I got my own place.

I remember visiting my parents one night after I moved out. I went into my old room and lay down on the bed, wondering why I had left, wishing I could turn back the clock.

Now that I’m older and have experienced countless changes in my life, I look back on it all and realize that all of it was good. There were some painful-in-the-moment emotions related to changes, but they soon settled themselves and the change became the new normal until the next change.

And with kids, there is so much change. The first year at home with a baby was life changing, the next two years with a toddler in daycare and all the scheduling and changing and reorganizing that went along with that—that was another big adjustment. Then the second baby and the absence from work again, home with two kids, then school for the first one and daycare for the second one and back to work for me. Then a different daycare in a different neighbourhood, a different school for a different program, a second job for me, contract changes for my husband, and so on and so on. And it keeps changing. Every day, every week, every year is different. And each time I have faced these changes, I have been terrified for about a split second (in the grand scheme of things), then I remind myself that this is not the first time I have had life turn upside down on me and I’ve gotten through it with barely a scratch. And this won’t be the last time.

Change is good, right?

Division in School

Why is that when I write a blog post in my head, it all comes so easily and flows so perfectly together? Yet, when I sit down to put it on paper/screen, I stare blankly for what seems like interminable minutes, wondering why it was that I thought I had anything to say in the first place?

Now that I have that out of the way, let’s get on with the writing.

I dropped my son off at school today, like every day. And as I was standing in the hallway chatting with the other parents and encouraging my son to change into his shoes and put his lunch bag in the appropriate bin, a woman, looking to be past retirement age and wearing a tag that identified her as a supply teacher, said in a know-it-all tone to one of the mothers, “OK, Mom, time to go. He can put his own shoes on. We must leave them alone to do it or they’ll never learn.”

I glanced over at the mother, who, very calmly and in a kind voice said, “Yes, he is doing it himself.” After her statement, she remained firmly rooted to her spot. She knew her place and her role, and that was to support her son.

I’ll mention at this point that these children are not grade-school age. They are kindergarteners; kindergarteners who are capable of putting on their own shoes and dressing and undressing themselves, but still young and still needing support, even if that support is simply mom or dad or another trusted adult standing by in case they need help.

It’s very likely that this elderly supply teacher, who has probably come in from her retirement to help out (with this I have my own set of issues, but that’s for another post), wasn’t going to bend over and help this young boy had he run into trouble with his shoelaces. I’m perhaps reaching, I know. She may have helped him. But I have good reason to believe that she would have more likely stood over him and instructed him on the task rather than get down at his level and do the work of a supporting adult in a child’s learning. I’ve encountered similar scenarios so many times in the school system that my children are part of that I’ve lost count.

And beyond her actions, the problem with what that supply teacher said, though she may have meant it only to be helpful, is that it creates a separation between family and school. Where we should be building and developing a close working relationship between parents and teachers to support our children, we are creating division. The teachers—supply or everyday—need things to work a certain way at school in order to manage the herd. The parents can take more time to support their children. Why not blend those two methods together? We would create a vastly different system in which our children are currently being educated. Continue to create division and we fall short of the goal—raising and educating well-rounded children. Instead, we turn out kids who have learned how to be assembly line workers, following the herd and doing what they are told. True, the odd one escapes this mentality. Those are usually the ones who just can’t conform, never fit into the system and, eventually, with strength, courage and support, beat their own path. Or if strength, courage and support are lacking, they fall off the cliff and get lost at the bottom.

So, rather than rush a parent out the school door in the morning, why not welcome them into the hallway of little kids who need help, support and encouragement to peel away the layers of heavy winter clothing? The kids may not come right out and thank you for it, but they’ll remember the help they got, the warm feeling it gave them, and it will help them through the day when they face other challenges, knowing that adults do care and will not always just stand over them barking instructions that might be hard for them to follow.

I CAN Make a Difference (2014)

I recently had the privilege of reading to my children another great book by Miriam Laundry. I met Miriam about a year and a half ago and was instantly struck by how she exudes positive energy. And her I Can series of books reflects that positive energy in every way.

IcanmakeadifferenceHer most recent edition to the series is I CAN Make a Difference. It’s about a young boy who is tasked by his teacher to use some gifted money to make a difference in someone else’s life. He is less than thrilled with the project, but he’s a good kid and, without realizing he’s doing it, he makes a difference in the lives of his friends without ever spending a penny of the gifted money.

This story really touched my heart. The main character’s personality had such depth, it reminded me of my own children and their struggles with kindness and selfishness. As is often the case in children’s books, the main character is faced with some dilemma and is led, throughout the story, to a solution to the problem and a rectifying of his behaviour. Though this story follows the same dilemma/solution path, we see the main character as much more than just the issue at hand. I have to admit that, while reading this to my kids the first and second time, I teared up a little bit when I read certain parts about how Alex had helped his friends so unselfishly that he didn’t even realize he had made a difference to them.

Another thing I really like about Miriam’s books in general is, though there is a main character that we follow to the end of the story, she breathes life into the other characters as well, including the adult (the teacher) so that the reader sees into each characters’ personality and is drawn into the story to enjoy the characters interactions and how their paths weave together. And she always shows her adult character learning a lesson from the students. I think this is important for a child hearing this story because it shows that children aren’t the only ones who have lessons to learn. They are also good teachers.

It was a true pleasure reading this story to my children and my children liked it so much it has become a go-to bedtime story or anytime story. It hasn’t made it to the bookshelf, yet. And I suspect this gem will be left out for some time to come. It’s such a great book.

Would you like a copy of your own? Miriam has so kindly offered to give away a signed copy of her book, I CAN Make a Difference, to one of my readers. All you have to do is tell me in the comments how you or your child made a difference in someone’s life, or even how someone else made a difference in your life.

And because it’s the holidays—and we’re all really busy—the contest will run from today until the first day back to school in January.

Five Minute Friday – Grace

Linking up with Lisa-Jo over on her site today.

It’s Five Minute Friday. The word is grace. Here’s how to play:

1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.
2. Link back to Lisa-Jo’s post and invite others to join in.
3. And then, absolutely no ifs, ands or buts about it, you need to visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community...

GO

Two things collided this morning.

Yesterday, I volunteered at my daughter’s school, which gave me a chance to be with the teachers and the administration and to see the children in the environment in which they spend most of their waking hours absorbing, learning, grasping, growing, and attempting to comprehend their place in our world. Continue reading