I found that quote I scrawled somewhere that I wrote a while back. (Awesome that I know it was on page 198, but it would help to know from where. Ha!) It’s a simple statement, nothing earth shattering, but obviously it hit me enough to write it down.
And I agree, letting them grow like weeds and giving no direction isn’t a great approach. That’s why we are parents after all. But giving too much help is not right either. There’s a constant balance to be found between helping kids and letting hem fail. How much pruning do we do? If you’re bored of this topic, just go ahead and skip this post, but I thought I would share two “case scenarios” of giving help to illustrate working to find that balance.
They are both stories about Claire, written with her permission:). Because, you see, that sparkly girl of ours put herself “in the arena” a couple times right off the bat within her first couple weeks of her high school career. And that is nerve-wracking I tell you! Not only for the one in the arena, but for the one who loves her most (ok, along with her dad cause he loves her an awful lot as well…) watching from the sidelines.
These different experiences are worthy to share together. So here we go.
Case Study #1)
I have to give a little background on this one since this is part of the story.
Over the last year, Dave and I have helped Claire find volleyball. As her parents, we saw some volleyball potential at around the same time she was starting to lose steam for her beloved soccer. Over and over I had had the feeling (or “nudge”…I love the word “nudge”) that sure, we were late in the game. SUPER late in these parts. But that we should at least give it a try.
That little nudge got fortified by the fact that Elle mentioned once or twice that she sorta wished she had at least given volleyball a chance with her height (she played in junior high but decided to focus on tennis in high school…which she loved, but that height sometimes makes her curious as to where volleyball would have taken her). Claire was growing like a weed, and although I don’t think she’ll be as tall as Elle, she’s gonna be on the tall side.
Some volleyball friends recommended we try out a rec. league just to see what we thought. Claire, being on board for any sport, decided to give it a try: she and her good friend together in that brand new arena of volleyball. I had the biggest smile watching them that first game…the one where they both stood there and on that court looking at each other with big eyes having practically no clue what in the world they were doing but trying their hardest. Dave and I were so excited to see them learning. And they were quick learners, those two. They started to fall for volleyball. Claire fell for it enough that she really wanted to try out for club.
She went to the open gyms and played her heart out and made the lowest team for her age group which was great, but the coach told her she could have the choice between that team and being a practice” player for the next higher up team if she wanted. She jumped on that chance and had a pretty great season of just learning and practicing, and learning and practicing some more, working her tail off. She loved her team and great coaches and went from scarcely being able to hit that ball a few feet in front (or above) her with absolutely no aim, to being able to hit serves over the net and semi-learn complicated rotations (those rotations can be tricky sometimes!).
Fast forward to this summer where they held open gym at the high school for anyone thinking about trying out for the high school team. Practices were at 5:30am for three weeks. Claire was up and ready, bright as the sun every morning and came home glowing. Glowing with that glow that only comes when you are stretching your capacity and doing some deep learning.
Right alongside all that practice, I swear she grew four inches in two months. For reals.
The first week of school arrived with volleyball tryouts after school each day.
Tryouts are nerve-wracking, but she emerged victorious and was over the moon when they let her know at the end of the week that she had made the Freshman team. All that hard work and effort had paid off.
And this is the least goofy picture I could get when she got home:
I just re-read this and I think I may have made it come off that she is this volleyball prodigy or something when in reality she has lots to learn. She’s so new to the game. But it sure seems to be a great fit. She had every intention of trying out for the high school soccer team and doing both sports if she made it. But she has decided that she wants to fully concentrate on volleyball and just loves it!
I’m so glad that as her parents we could help her find that love. From our perspective we saw that it could work, and we were able to “prune” the opportunities to help her see if it was something she really liked. She was the one who had to put on the full-court-press effort, but we were able to guide and support and it just felt right.
Case Study #2
Claire also decided to run for student council. She and Grace had been scheming about this plan for a year I swear. Grace loved student council so much last year and is Senior Class Secretary this year, so they thought it would be quite grand if they got to have that class together.
So the three of us went to the mandatory student/parent meeting right at the beginning of school. There were only four positions available (Freshman president, vice president, secretary and treasurer), and there were a LOT of kids at that meeting! Yikes!
But Claire decided to go for it despite the numbers. She decided to run for Vice President.
And we got to work.
That “we” not “she” up there was intentional. Because Grace and I were pretty excited about it. Oh, Claire worked for it, that’s for sure. But she was a little distracted by finally being a freshman in high school for crying out loud (yes, so exciting I must agree), and also by that exciting volleyball news. We came up with a campaign slogan together, I helped her edit her essays, and Grace and I helped her come up with a kind of funny banner idea to hang in the front hall.
(At first she was embarrassed about the idea of using that picture we happened to take at Bear Lake this last summer, but then she decided to just embrace it. And I love that about her.)
After that initial help I backed off on the push/helping role because I figured if she really wanted it, she’d put in the effort. I was encouraging, of course, but I didn’t push anything.
She had the interview (worth fifty-percent of whether she would win or not), and came home sad thinking she had done horribly. She (and all the candidates) made little videos for the high school news to be aired during homeroom classes. They forgot to show hers, and then apologized at the end of class and showed them then, but none of her friends saw hers…by then all the televisions had been turned off.
I told myself all this was ok. Let her fight her own battles. But when she came out from volleyball practice before any of her friends that Friday with tears sliding down her cheeks and told me she just found out that she lost, every ounce of my mother-bear defenses went into gear. I wanted to turn back time and fix everything. Had I taught her enough? Had I really given her the tools to work hard things like that?
I think those are questions mothers ask often. How do we appropriately help our children prepare for the world that is stretched out in front of them in the most positive way?
I had to remind myself (again) that failure is how we learn. I can’t “give” her the tools for some things, she has to find them. Boy, it sure takes me a long time to learn that simple thing! It’s ok to back off on the “helping” as our kids grow…in fact, it is essential. We are working ourselves out of a job, right?
If I carry that bright, capable girl of mine through all the tough stuff of course she’ll never learn to do it on her own. She is smart and capable and strong, but after this she’s going to be even better prepared for what comes next. Because there will for sure be another failure on the horizon, gosh dang it! How great to be that much more prepared.
It is true what they say about time healing all wounds. Of course, we are all going to survive. But we’ve both learned a lot. And now she gets to concentrate more on her newly beloved volleyball.
In the wake of my pondering, my sister Saren asked if I’d do a podcast with her about all this “helping but not too much” mumbo jumbo over on her website Power of Families. I hate listening to myself but it is HERE in case you want to listen in.