How to teach our kids to be average

Nobody wants to be seen as incompetent. We all know that we have strengths and weaknesses. No one is good at everything. But if we cant be good at something, then I dont think being bad at it is appropriate second place. In my opinion, shockingly bad is the next best thing.

For example. I am so bad at ice skating that I literally cannot let go of the side. It takes me about twenty mins to pluck up the courage to step onto the ice itself, and all I do for the entire time I spend at the rink is go round and round the edge holding on with both hands and glaring at anyone in the same predicament who is in my way and stopping me getting past. A really good day is if I can let go with one hand. But this doesnt bother me. I am not embarassed to be awful at this or anything else. Awful is not really humiliating, because it generally connotes “I’ve never done this before.” In the cases where it doesnt, it is normally laughable enough to get you through the experience relatively unscathed.

Being awful, means I can look on in awe at the people who are actually better on ice than on land, exchange sympathetic glances at the equally inept visitors to the rink, and shake my head in companiable mirth at the newcomers who enter with excitement, thinking they’ll be swishing along in no time. If I were merely ‘bad’ at this particular sport, I’d just feel like everyone was looking at me wondering why on earth I’m there. Needless to say, I dont go that much, but when I do, I am truly safe in the knowledge that it looks just like it’s my first time.

Unless you are on the way up towards good, bad is not the place to be.

R is on the way to good. In pretty much everything. Where he has been inept at something, it is an obvious matter of time before the necessary wheels are clicked into place. For example, I embraced baby led weaning wholeheartedly when my son was about 7 months. Until then I basically spent twenty two out of every twenty four hour period worrying that he wasnt eating. The other two hours were spent feeling guilty that I was currently giving him milk when he wasnt eating food. (Shouldnt I be starving him so that he eats orange mush?)

The first time I gave him a piece of broccoli, he opened his mouth wide, and mashed the vegetable against the side of his face. Shockingly bad. Within a few weeks it had improved to ‘on the way to good’ where the food would enter his mouth and promptly fall out again. By 8 or 9 months, he had cracked it, and was eating 3 meals a day, plus various amouns of my own 3 meals a day.

This is his life as a baby. He is introduced to something new, and jumps in with both feet, no inhibitions. He is normally abysmal at it, but quickly progresses, with a swift pause at bad, straight onto good and then normally great. At the moment for example, he is inept at walking. He started off by taking one shaky step, grinning, and falling flat on his tush. Shockingly bad. He now takes lots of steps, but not quickly, and with his whole body shaking, looking to all the world like he is under the influence. I have no doubt that by the time is is 18 months in a few weeks, he will be running around faster than his parents.

But what are we supposed to do when they, or we, dont get to the good part?

One day, he will be awful at something, and then get slightly better. But that’s where it will stop. Whether it’s drawing or dancing or maths or public speaking, he will find a challenge that cant be overcome by repetition or us holding his hand while he does it. And there is nothing I can do about it.

There are plenty of things that I am bad at. I dont mean to the skating extent, just generally not very good. Art, Tact, Patience.. the list goes on. And my answer, probably the same as many adults, is to avoid it entirely. Just stop doing things you find really hard. For most, once school is over, this is a pretty acheivable choice. Choose a career that plays to your strengths, choose a partner and friends who bring out the best in you. No one is going to force you to mix test tubes of liquids if you arent good at chemistry, no one is going to make you lead a group when you would rather be the wallflower. Normally by the end of school, we have all developed the skills to deal with doing subjects and tasks we dont want to do, and while obviously happy to be leaving those things behind, we then carry with us the ability to get on with something we are below average at when the time arises.

Not me. Unlike most people, I made my choice to ignore my mediocre side when I was far too young. And no one really stopped me. If I didnt like maths, I just didnt go. If I didnt like authority, I just didnt listen. And so now, I hate being average at anything in grown up life, because I’ve always been able to ignore it. When something comes up, in my career, or my relationships, that I can’t laugh away by being shockingly awful at, and I cant push past the ‘okay’ and keep climbing towards great, I just dont know how to react.

But then there will be plenty more times in my life where I have to do things I dont want to do, and as I havent really built up an ability to deal with that, I dont know how to teach R either. I dont know what to say to him when he says “Why do I have to?” because I never listened to or agreed with the “Because I said so” reply.

I dont want to force my son to keep doing things that he will never be good at. Personally I dont think it’s fair, or that it does him any good. But I know that a lot of parents would say differently, would say pushing your kids builds character, and teaches them invaluable life skills.

I dont know. What I do know is that when my son is terrible at something, I will remind him of his strengths and abilities elsewhere, and where possible teach him to laugh at his own weaknesses. When he is great at something, I will be the proudest mum ever, while trying to make sure it doesnt go to his head.

It’s when he is mediocre I am worried about.

Thoughts?

 

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Exhaustion

I’m worn out. I cant continue to fight, but I cant continue to try so hard.

Lost in a world of memories that I cant recall,
Hazily trying to assess them all
Work out where this started, where I began,
See the logic, find God’s plan.

If I could only remember the first time,
Erase the trigger, spot the sign
Would the second have happened? And then the third?
If I’d warned myself, would I have heard?

This never ending cycle of hurt
Transitioning, angry to happy to curt
Pretending, lying, enjoying, smiling,
Breaking, mending, building, defiling.

Sometimes I long for a clean slate
Although i believe there’s no way to avoid fate
Sometimes I wish for an end to it all
If there’s no way out then there’s no way to fall.

If we get there, then it will all be worthwhile
Every argument, each painful trial
But what if we dont? What if we cant
Despite our best efforts, things fall apart.

27/10/11

Communication

What to do when the fight isnt worth having?

Most of you know that my relationship with my mum is strained to say the least. Less of you know that lately we have for the first time attempted to do something to improve the way we communicate with each other.

As a longtime fan of counselling, I truly believe that talking things through with an impartial third party can not only help to open lines of communication, but can show you things in weeks that you wouldnt have been able to see by yourself in years. I wont pretend it was easy to convince my mother of this, she is against counselling as much as I am for it. But finally, we started seeing someone, and for the last month, things have been truly the best I can remember them being.

But what to do when a problem arises? We are firmly at the point where we are able to spend time together under normal circumstances and not argue. It doesnt sound like much, but trust me-it’s a huge breakthrough. Yet to work out however, is how to fight maturely and without the drama. You know, discuss things. Like we all have been doing with everyone in our lives since we were about 19. The way I do with everyone else in my life apart from her.

Today I encountered my first real issue of the last month. And instead of confront it and do what we’re being taught, to calmly and maturely say “This isnt working for me,” I chose a slightly different route. I walked away. And when she shouted down the road after me “Are you cross?” I didnt even turn around, just shouted back “No.” no doubt crossly.

It isnt awful. I didnt yell. I didnt get moody. It didnt end in tears. But I’m disappointed. I feel like I have a whole bunch of things left unsaid, I feel like I’m annoyed and missed the opportunity to say so. And most of all I’m frustrated that I didnt trust myself to discuss something that upset me without getting into a fight, so chose to ignore it instead.

It isnt even a big deal. If I tell you it was about a shepherds pie, you’ll see the kind of level we’re talking about here. No doubt this time next week I wont even be thinking about it. But surely relationships are made up of the kind of small things that you forget about each week. In a difficult one, they leave a residue of hurt feelings and clashing personalities and painful memories, whilst in a good one, fun reminiscing and warm feelings and compatibility.

Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. Like I said, we didnt fight. But on this new journey of acceptance, and discussion, and openess with one another, I suppose I’d just hoped for more.

A Cat-astrophe? -groan-

We choose our friends based on mutual interests, shared humour, and similar personalities. The same cannot be said for family members. We would never choose a flatmate without copious interviewing, or guarentee a friendship for life without years of experiences and trust, and yet we are thrown into this world with no choice as to our housemates for the next twenty years, and our relatives for the rest of our lives. Is there any wonder that friction can and does ensue?

Sometimes we luck out. Our siblings share our sense of humour, our parents share our likes and dislikes. But what do we do when those ‘nearest and dearest’ are polar opposites to us?

Within the framework of our journey to communication, myself and my mother have been told to try to see things from each others point of view. She is currently going through a hard time with one of her pets being sick, and I am trying to be as supportive as I know how.

The problem lies in my sentence above. To her, the cats she has had for nine years are as dear to her (if not more so) than her children. She looks after them, plays with them, comforts them (and they, her) and will rearrange her time to suit their needs. To me, they are as I said, pets. Animals. However much they might be an enjoyment or hobby, they are not people, therefore not companions, not in the true sense of the word.

I have no great love for animals. Of course, I try to respect them, I shudder to see any kind of animal cruelty, and I can be awed by the sight of God’s majesty in all its forms, wildlife included. But at the age of 18, it was not a great struggle for me to give up the vegetarianism my mother had instructed on me since birth. I am not the kind of mum who is excited to take my baby to a farm, and I have been to two zoo’s in my life, and once was part of my job.

So how can I sincerely sympathise with someone to whom animals are possibly the greatest part of her life? To whom vegetarianism is almost a religion, and in fact compared my leaving it behind with my brother marrying outside of Judiasm? Who I have heard describe the emotion her cats have for her as “completely unconditional love”?

Truthfully-I cant. And that is part of this journey. We are not similar in many ways, and we will probably never get to the point where we understand each other completely, or even achieve the sense of empathy I have with some of my closest friends. Accepting this, and finding another answer, is a great challenge. All I can say to myself is, This is your mother. This is as important to her as your closest family are to you. Try and put yourself in that position and say what you would want to hear if something awful was happening. If necessary, I almost have to forget the situation itself and that to me it is ‘only’ an animal. To my mum, there is no such thing.

So another work in progress. And although I doubt I’m going to become a great animal lover in the process, I may just learn to be more understanding of others feelings.

Expecting and Accepting

I have been told from time to time that I expect too much. Of life, which makes me the eternal optimist, of myself, which can lead to unreachable targets, and certainly of others. I always want people to do the best they can in our relationship, even if that is more than they think they are capable of themselves. If they dont meet my expectations? I wont pretend that I can’t be harsh at times, and have given up on people when they don’t manage to rise to the challenge of true friendship. This probably sounds very callous. But if two people dont make each other happy, and can’t see where each other are coming from… what’s the point? Life’s too short.

Some might say I wont make many friends that way, I might argue I make the best friends that way. To be fair to myself, I have also been told that I am very quick to forgive, and it is true that any sincere apology renders the slate clean for me without any grudge whatsoever.

But what do we do when these expectations land on someone who cannot meet them, but we cannot mercilessly remove from our stratosphere? Who, despite what may be best for the both of us, must remain in close proximity, and be dealt with if not daily, then certainly often enough.

I’m talking once again about parents. In the most extreme of situations, you see family members, even siblings entirely estranged for one reason or another. Parents are much more complicated, especially with grandchildren involved.

Having spent most of my life holding staunchly to my “You’re not doing well enough, apologize and do better” mantra, (on myself as much as others- i should say) it’s hard to admit to myself that in this case, it isnt the answer. This routine can only work if in the case of multiple arguments and failiures on both parts, seperation can happen. I wont pretend we havent tried that as an answer, but maybe thankfully, it doesnt work. In which case I need a new solution. If “do better” is impossible, and the endless cycle of argument, sort of apology, move on, argument etc is just too exhausting, then there must be a third option.

Be more tolerant. Not everyone is going to do everything the way I might. I am not going to do everything the way others may want me to. Maybe we are both incapable of being the parent/child each other envisage. Maybe it is possible to say “Wow, this is happening because neither myself or X is perfect, and we dont always mesh in the way we think and act. We think so differently, that however hard we try, we will never see eye to eye on everything or even most things. This is not going to change, and these endless fights dont get us anywhere. Unless there is a clear way to ensure this doesnt happen next time, it’s just not worth getting angry.”

Enlightening. Stop trying to change the relationship. Stop trying to fix it. Be appreciative of the things you do have, and try not to dwell on what you wish was there. Try to build something new, not what you have in your mind perhaps, but good nonetheless.

A tall order, and a work in progress.