"I feel worried about something," Will said to me one recent afternoon, his voice wavering over the words. I sat down with him, eager to listen so he'd know we could have one of our open-hearted talks, the kind we've often had when the weight of his worries feels too much for him to carry alone. There has been much anxiety in the past while, related to new starts, a unfamiliar heavy homework load, and a flood of "what ifs" that can sometimes bog down his mind when it isn't otherwise occupied.
"I feel such a big pressure to get high marks in my class this year," he confessed. This was a feeling I understood well, and I think he recognized this before he revealed his tender secret to me. Our personalities are remarkably similar in many ways.
Will is in a split class this year where he is in the younger of the two grades, and the classmates who are the same age as him are a wonderful, bright group of kids. This is excellent for Will, both because he has easy, regular exposure to higher grade level material to challenge him, and because he is with like-minded peers who energize him with their ideas and push him to further develop his own. But it also means he feels a threat of sorts to his self-worth, which is complexly tied up in measurable successes: top scores, the right answers, and the academic and social recognition that comes with these. He puts pressure on himself where no external pressure exists, and he worries that if he can't always be among the best, that everyone else will somehow lose respect for him, that he will somehow disappoint.
I said what I truly believed were all the right things after Will expressed his feelings to me: that it was so much more important to his dad and me that he try his best and continue to learn new things and to grow than that he always get high marks in class. I explained that even when someone scores higher or is more successful than he is in some measurable way in life, that fact does not make his own unique achievements and contributions to the world less valuable. I was glad when I saw Will visibly relax with my words, and I hoped they would stay with him whenever he might need them in the future.
The irony of this entire situation, though, is that I have been really hard on myself lately. I feel frazzled by the busyness of our lives so far this fall and by my inability to handle it more gracefully. I look at moms who are exponentially busier than I am and appear to have everything together and I wonder what the heck is wrong with me. I read the beautifully honest writings of women who are so much more talented and accomplished than I am and I become intensely critical of every word I type, sometimes deleting everything because no idea I have, no phrase I turn seems worthy of putting out there. In my head I'm also yelling at myself that I'm a hypocrite because I can tell my son exactly why he should send those kinds of self-defeating thoughts out of his head, but I can't seem to put my words into practice in my own life. (If Will heard me say this, I'm certain he would tell me to stop being so hard on myself.)
But this is one of the powerful lessons we can learn through motherhood, isn't it? We begin to see our own struggles more clearly when they're reflected in the lives of our children, and we can learn to extend the same gentle understanding to our vulnerable selves as we do to our children in their fragile moments. We can realize that even if we don't get it all right sometimes, like our children, we are no less deserving of love.
Maybe it's the shrinking daylight hours that are making me feel small and overly critical these days; I don't know. But this morning, as I sit with a comforting warm mug of tea in front of my keyboard, I'm determined to take a page from the book of accumulated life wisdom I quote whenever Will and I have one of our heartfelt talks. If I want him to believe what I tell him, I certainly should believe it myself. There is no shame in not being the best at anything; what matters is that you have the courage to try.
When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.
Monday, September 22, 2014
Labels: family life
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I am inspired and moved by your words every time I read them, Lisa. You make me a better writer and a better person. You remind me to speak from the heart, to tell my stories with their vulnerabilities. I am indebted to you, and I have no doubt you are raising boys who will make others feel that way, too. xoReplyDelete
It means so much to me to read your comment, Louise -- thank you for those very kind words. I want to tell you that I feel exactly the same way about you and your writing. Vulnerability is scary, but I think being honest about our experiences and feelings is reassuring to everyone who has ever felt a similar way. I'm so grateful for the wonderful human connections that can be made through words. xoDelete
Hi Lisa, I can totally relate to this as we're doing our best to let our children know that while their behaviours may not always be acceptable their emotions are, and that it's alright for them to take the time they need to process their upsets. And yet, I have found myself several times pushing back my tears, not wanting to deal with whatever it is for the embarrassed or disruption it might cause, telling myself 'later', but then not making time and space to process it later. And so I too have to step outside myself and realize that if I want my kids to be comfortable with handling their emotions I need to get more comfortable with my own, and make that time and space for processing them rather than keeping them bottled up as I tend to do. Some things seem to be easier said than done though...ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, Rachel -- I really appreciate hearing them. It is difficult sometimes as parents to live always as the example we want our children to follow, isn't it? I think it's good for our kids to sometimes see us having a hard time with something or feeling uncomfortable, though. It teaches them that no one is perfect, that we can all keep learning and becoming our best selves throughout our lives. I think it's wonderful that you're teaching your children to process and express their feelings.Delete