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Spiritual Practice of Parenting: Finding your Place

December 9, 2013

My middlest is not a fan of school.  He’s been struggling a bit this fall, especially with reading.  We’re thrilled with his teacher, she’s not pushing or pressuring him to progress faster.  She has a great sense of humor and knows enough to recognize that reading is developmental and kids will read when they are ready.  Likewise, at home we try not to put too much emphasis on reading.  We do our reading homework every night and read John chapter books full of rich vocabulary–right now we are almost finished with Mr. Popper’s Penguins.  We talk about we’ve read and check for comprehension with his both his own reading and when we read to him. We have special “reading gum” that he can chew while he reads allow to help make reading time special and to help him focus more.

However, despite doing what we should at home and celebrating John’s slow improvement, despite having a teacher that doesn’t pressure John, he doesn’t feel good about himself.  He doesn’t like to read and he fights homework tooth and nail some nights, informing us it is “too hard”  (it’s usually not).    He doesn’t want to go to school.

And he’s angry.  Very, very angry.  Our house has been one of lots of yelling, lots of “it’s not fair,”  lots of begging and pleading and screaming in disappointment.  We were hitting our breaking point a week ago.  We didn’t know what to do with our boy.  We didn’t know what we were doing wrong and we felt like controlling John was beyond us.  Curtis and I sat and talked frequently, both about John’s behavior and about his reading progress.  We both admitted feeling like a failure deep down because our boy was struggling so much and we couldn’t fix him.  We felt like we failed in getting him ready to school and ready to read.  Did we let him watch too much TV when he was little?  Did we not push him enough in preschool?  Did we not read him enough books or sing him enough songs or simply talk to him enough when he was itty bitty?  We both know reading is developmental and kids read at different rates.  Curtis lived it (he was a later reader and caught up with no problem).  However, when we watched our boy, our heart broke and logic and reason flew out the window.

Last Monday, John and Madeleine started swimming at the YMCA.  Our Y has a junior masters swim team that Madeleine has done the past two winters to help with her stroke and strength.  Madeleine, we have learned over and over, needs to be active in sports to be nicer.  Her behavior improves exponentially when she’s involved in organized sports–the more strenuous the better. We signed up John up this year in hopes his stroke would get better for our summer league swim team.  John wasn’t fan of the first swim practice.  He got out of the pool with fifteen minutes left and informed us, “This just isn’t working.”

We went back again on Wednesday anyway.  The coach let him wear fins for his timed fifty (because he had to swim against Madeleine).  He stayed with Madeleine and couldn’t have been more proud of himself.  He didn’t swim every set of practice, but he swam more of it.

When it was over, I collected them from the pool area.  John was happy.  He was proud of himself.  I was pleased he wasn’t leaving in tears like he did on Monday.

That evening, both the kids were tired, but Madeleine was happy.  The evening careened towards bedtime and before John could get to bed, he was disappointed.  He didn’t get his way and I tensed up.  I waited for the explosion–the yelling, the screaming, the “it’s not fair!”  It didn’t come.  I could see the emotions come to the surface and then I could see him deal with them, without the loud anger and indignation.

The next few days proceeded just like that.  The explosions that normally occurred were dealt with in more productive ways and our house was a bit quieter.  I started relaxing and I realized exactly how bad things had gotten in our house.  I realized too what part of John’s problem was–he didn’t feel like he had anything he was good at.  Soccer was over, baseball hasn’t started yet.  All there was for John was school and school makes John feel unsuccessful.  Swimming gave John something to be proud of.  He needed that more than anything.

It’s not that different for us adults.  I get cranky and unhappy when I feel like a failure or like I don’t measure up to others.  Despite what Paul in the Bible says about many gifts, I worry that my gifts aren’t the same as others.  I don’t have the gift of prophecy or serving.  I don’t perform miracles or heal others.  I don’t know the right words to say at the right times.  However, I have other gifts–the gift of teaching for one.  I forget it’s not about how well others are using their gifts, more important is whether I am using mine.

When I struggled with acedia when Isaac was at home more–before John started school, I think a large part of the problem was there was nothing that made me feel successful.  I’ve learned since then I need to teach.  It’s some of my happiest moments.  So I’ve learned to sign up for things I don’t feel like doing because I need to do–leading the Bible story room at Vacation Bible School, coaching Math Pentathlon, and even planning special learning projects for Madeleine.  My place is teaching and it makes me insanely happy to be able to do so.  I love the thrill of standing in front a group of kids and figuring out how to help them understand something.  I love sitting on the floor with kids gathered around me and asking them, “What do you think? or “How else we could we solve this problem?”

Part of my task as a parent is to help my kids feel successful at something–whatever it may be–they need something to be proud of.  We’ll continue to sign John up for sports and try to keep him in them year around so no matter what is happening with his reading, he has something to be proud of.  It will help him deal with his struggles with reading, because he will know he is good at something.  He matters, he is important, he has a purpose.  We all need know we have a purpose and we aren’t just taking up space.  We matter.  We are important.

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