"COME ON! YOU CAN PEDAL YOURSELF! I am NOT going to push you all the way around the culdesac!" I almost hollered at my sweet Monkey Do, who must have been about four at the time. "YOU CAN DO THIS! COME ON! LET'S GO!"
The neighbors must have thought I was one of those horrifyingly abusive, overbearing, out-of-control parents who has no compassion on her poor breakable children, but that was entirely the opposite in this case. Here she was, four or five, fully big enough to learn to pedal in the early stages of learning to ride a two-wheeler with training wheels. But she didn't WANT to pedal! She wanted ME to push her all the way around the lazy loop of our street. I might have given in and complied, except that I had her little sister (who must have been just under two) in the stroller. There was no way that I would be able to push the stroller and her as well.
And every few moments she would stop, and cry and ask me to give her a push, followed a wheel barrel load of whining for good measure. She wanted me to do it all for her. After the fifth or sixth push, and enough tears to fill a five gallon bucket, I looked at our progress. We made it all of 15 feet.
I suddenly had an epiphany: She was NEVER going to pedal her bike without without some kind of push. I was going to either have to resign myself to always propelling her little bike everywhere she rode -for the REST OF HER LIFE, or allow her to give up and never learn to ride, or I was going to have to push her will and propel her character.
When thinking of which of those choices is reasonable, we think the choice is so obvious, but for SO MANY parents I have observed an almost obsessive departure from the same thought process that seems so normal and reasonable to me!
For the sake of argument, let us consider those choices one at a time:
1. Allowing her to give up: My little Monkey Do was SO excited about getting a new bike! She begged for it, she was THRILLED when Daddy brought it home, she wouldn't allow anyone else to touch it! She WANTED to learn to ride. She was very vocal about what she would do when she rode, and expressed the new adventures she concocted in her sweet four-year-old mind that involved bike riding! But when things got tough she wanted someone to do it for her. I could have said, "Ok, you tried. Let's go park the bikes and we will just walk from now on." This wasn't really what Monkey Do wanted anyway, but even if she had been willing to park the bike and never learn, what doors would that have closed for her? She would never feel the rush of the wind in her hair, have the joy that comes with bike riding altogether! As she grows she would limit her mobility, so many young people ride bikes to friend's homes or neighborhood jobs. She wouldn't be able to go on bike trips with the youth group or do anything that required her to possess this skill. And most importantly, she would never know the satisfaction of accomplishing something that was very difficult for a sweet four-year-old girl! Pedaling is a huge deal to a little monkey with short legs. Allowing her to quit would have robbed her of that joy.
But most importantly, what does allowing her to quit after such a feeble attempt say about my expectations for her for the future? What about when other things get hard like college, a job or your marriage. Does allowing her to quit teach her that anything worth having is worth working for? Does it teach her that sometimes accomplishing something worthwhile takes everything you have? Whether it is finishing your degree to do what you love best or making it to your 40th wedding anniversary? Quitting and allowing her to quit seems so clearly illogical. This choice was quickly dismissed in my mind.
2. Doing it for her: This is a pit I see so many parents fall into. They want so badly for their kids to succeed, and have everything they never had, that they are willing to do everything for their kids. But how does doing everything for them apply to successful lives? What about when they are in college? Or get a job (followed by being fired)? Or become a parent? What happens when the parents pass away? This type pf parenting creates uber-dependant, non-functional adults who cannot think or act for themselves. Do you want your child never married, unemployed and still living at home on your dime? This is the way to accomplish that end! When you do everything for them you remove the understanding of natural consequences and rob them entirely of anything resembling work ethic, ambition or desire to succeed. You are basically ensuring that they will fail at life! Not a choice for me. A life of perpetual failure isn't what I want for my lovely, sweet, intelligent children. I want them to soar! Giving them responsibility, and making them take responsibility for their own actions -and successes or failures- lets them learn to manage those successes and failures. This skill can launch them far in life!
3. Pushing her to do it herself. This is a difficult approach as a parent. This is tough love in small increments throughout their life to better prepare them for the rigors of real life! This means letting kids -even when they are young- to live with some of the consequences of their decisions.
When my girls were small we were given the chance to go to a local theme park and they were really excited about it. This excitement translated into a REFUSAL to stay in bed! Larry had installed a motion sensor light in their bedroom in an effort to save money on our light bill and not only did they refuse to sleep, but they would stand up on their beds and flail their arms and make the light come one. NOW we laugh about it. At the time, as the clock hands reached 1am and the 1:30am, and with their baby sister screaming from sheer exhaustion at the refusal of her sisters to allow her to sleep, we were not laughing. We all had to be up in less than 5 hours and there was a battle on. Sweet Geek finally put his foot down: you lay down and be quiet. If you aren't LAYING DOWN and QUIET right NOW, we are NOT going. At all.
They did not heed him. They continued to come out of their room and be overly rowdy instead of simply laying down. We did not go the next day. We couldn't take three very small children into an extremely crowded theme park, overly exhausted and crabby -with no assurances of their motivation to obey! We had their safety to consider! It broke our hearts. they were filled with grief and regret, but we had no choice! We said there would be consequences! We had to follow through. Tough love. Tough love isn't nearly as tough for the child as it is for the parents.
So in this instance what would tough love look like? It meant prodding her verbally. I had to cheer and insist at the same time! But this was clearly the right choice! She NEEDED to accomplish this and have the sense of success and the lifelong rewards that went with it!
So I hollered, I prodded, when she said "I can't..." I would yell, "YES YOU CAN!!!" She cried. It broke my heart. She thought I was horrible and mean. It shattered me. But I can't raise my children to be entirely unprepared to live as successful adults. And I don't mean successful in terms that the majority of our society recognizes. I mean for them to have good relationships, to be mature enough to seek Christ on their own, to have some failures and successes enough to give them perspective, and humility enough to have compassion for others.
There was a single young woman who came to stay with us for a little over a week last Summer. The trip was not fun for either of us. We were not as exciting as she expected and I certainly didn't need another child around to clean up after. Among other things she actually hauled off and hit me. Twice. In front of my kids. I was relieved to put her on her transportation home.
Some time after she went home I got a series of communication from her which criticized my parenting. She claimed I was mean and prideful to my kids for insisting that they treat me with respect. She claimed that my children would all go off the deep and and hate me.
My answer to her was, "How many kids have you raised? Do you have a single moment of parenting experience? If I want parenting advice I will ask someone who has amazing, grown kids who turned out godly and wise and ask their advice. I won't ask a single, non-parent who has no idea. And what is your standard for your judgement of my parenting? Did you think I would raise my kids the way you were raised? You have made terrible choices that have negatively affected your life over and over. Do you think I want that for my kids? based on the things you have suffered wouldn't you WANT me to prepare my kids for adulthood better than you were prepared?"
She later apologized, but I am sure she still does not understand. Parenting isn't about making life easy for you kids! Parenting isn't about being your kids' friend! Parenting isn't about giving your kids everything you didn't have! Parenting isn't about raising heirs or mini-me's. Parenting isn't about having the perfect kids so that your peers think you are great! Parenting is about raising kids who are ready to live on their own -without YOU! If you are successful they LEAVE and go live wonderful lives all on their own. If you do your job, you work yourself of of a job! Your job is to get them ready!
I was talking about this concept with my Marvelous Mom yesterday on the phone. Monkey See is now old enough to go on a trip with Nana and Papa, and left on the 4th for a wonderful vacation planned just for her and her cousin. Oh! The fun planned for them! and yet my poor girl is terribly homesick. She has been having a TON of fun and loving the adventures she has been having, but when she talks to us on the phone she begins to cry. She doesn't want to come home, but she is having a tough time. My Marvelous Mom was wondering if they should cut out the last couple of planned adventures and get her home more quickly, and MEAN OLD MOMMA said "No." Monkey See will remember this trip for the rest of her life and cherish the time she has with my parents. She will have wonderful memories of all the things they did together and the things she learned about them as people and as her family. I want her to experience all that she can -all this trip has to offer. I sure do miss her, and hearing her heart break over the phone was painful. It may have seemed calloused to push her to let her fears go and press towards fun. But as hard as it is to bear her grief, it would be harder for her to miss something as important as this trip and regret it for the rest of her life. This time with my parents and having the experiences she is will shape her character -even if it is in a small way. And she can DEFINITELY benefit from time with my Marvelous Parents.
So I push her. I tell her everything will be great and she will always cherish this trip. I tell her not to rob herself of the fun she should be having. I tell her to make sure she is helping Nana and Papa. It must seem to her as if I am dismissing her pain. It must seem as if I am not validating her feelings. But in real life some things are WAY more important that how you feel. Facing your feelings and doing what is right even when you don't FEEL like it is the definition of courage.
Monkey Do with a TON of prodding made it all the way around our tiny culdesac. twice. It was hard to prod her and balance the pushing and the cheering. but she did it and at age nine she now LOVES to ride her bike!
Yep. I can live with my kids having the courage to face life with responsibility and dignity.
Because when push comes to shove, these kids will have to look at themselves in the mirror every day. I want to raise kids that can live with that reflection.
When push comes to shove...