The girl, no older than 10, finished an impressive physical feat on the uneven bars. Her body, straight as a ruler, has just completed a 720° turn, and at the zenith she let go, letting her body fly through the air before she tucked herself into a tiny ball, spun twice and landed. She faltered on the landing. Her foot turned in and she nearly fell, but she held herself up. I wanted to stand and clap.
I was alone in that sentiment though. Behind, a woman, presumably her mother, began a diatribe about how long “we” had worked on those landings and how frustrating it was that “she” couldn’t get it. No mention of her acrobatic flight, no mention of her fight to stay standing even when her foot betrayed her.
Just a women, holding a Starbucks cup, focusing on her daughter’s failing.
She’s not alone. We all do this, myself included. The recent release of report cards really brought out the ugly in me. I breezed past the perfect scores and moved onto the subjects my son finds challenging, namely listening to the teacher. I honed in on these like a guided missile. When I picked him up from school, it was the first thing on my tongue. I bombarded him with questions. “Why aren’t you paying attention in school? Are you bored? You have to listen to the teacher.” You’ve undoubtedly had the same conversation with your children so you know the results. Silence, arguing, and more silence (add or subtract tears here). In the end, we were back to the beginning, with him parroting a half-hearted promise from me to listen better in the future.
I had been in this conversation before, sitting in my son’s position, way back in 1989. I was falling farther and farther behind in math. It’s not surprising; I have never liked math. Like any good mom, mine got me a tutor, so I spent more time practicing a subject I struggled at. Struggle turned to disdain and I ended up hating math. When I called my mom last month in a frustrated rant about my son’s listening, she reminded me of this story.
“You know, when you were little, you had a hard time in math. So I put you in tutoring. I should have put you in more art classes as well.”
“But I wasn’t struggling in art.”
“No, you weren’t. You were exceling in art. That’s the point. You should focus most of your energy on what you love, not just what you don’t.”
That conversation reached me (thanks Mom!). I realized that I’ve spent too much time stressing over the areas my son struggles and not enough on the areas he excels. I need to change my thinking, to stop focusing so much on the failure and start focusing more on the success.
I’m a work in progress.
Obviously we need to help our kids when they’re struggling, and it helps to step back and allow someone else to take up the reigns when we can’t see clearly anymore. But don’t forget the importance of focusing on what your child is great at. If they are amazing at science, find ways to incorporate more science in your life. Get them tutors for subjects they’re excel in so they can be more challenged and engaged.
And to the mom at gymnastics, your daughter just finished flying through the air like a bird. It’s not surprising she had a rough time coming back down to Earth.