Beyond FRUSTRATION: The Choices We Make
I’m going crazy. I’m driven to take on too many projects, I welcome them into my life and brain, yet I have a hard time reconciling my inability to complete each one to a perfectly satisfactory degree with the fact that they don’t all need to be completed to any degree. Once you start something, you’re supposed to finish it, right?
This attitude has led to me having a hard time allowing one of my girls to quit theatre camp, which is supposed to run through a second week and finish with a musical review-type of performance next Friday. Of my two girls, the older one has complained about camp non-stop this week and decided this morning, when given the choice, to go today and not return next week. The younger one, not altogether thrilled with camp either, opted to return next week because she really wants to be in the show.
Probably because I just finished reading The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development by Richard Weissbourd, I’m especially sensitive to the fact I’m allowing my one child to quit a project in progress, especially since it’s a team project she insisted she wanted to take on. Furthermore, this same child was just the other day given the choice by me and her art teacher to continue with her weekly art classes only when she feels up to it. Stress takes its toll on this child in an emotional way, but am I being too easy on her? Shouldn’t I continue to insist (which I have for a while with these art classes) that if she says she wants to sign up for something, she MUST follow through?
My first instinct is to let it all go, to lighten up. But then I think about all the writing projects I’m dying to get to. I’m anxious to rework my second novel, have started sketching ideas for a third, and would love to get back to poetry and short stories. I’ve got assignments from current classes that need to be finished asap, “real” work that needs attending, and yet here I am journaling. And this is also supposed to be a post about The Parents We Mean to Be, a book of tremendous importance for anyone who works with children, and I’m feeling guilty on that front for a variety of reasons: I’d agreed to post on this at the same time as other bloggers (but am jumping the gun), the book is overdue at the library and I want to return it today so the next person on the wait list can read it, and I’m anxious to get this project checked off the to-do list. (Which doesn’t make it less important, it’s just one that’s been hanging over my head for a few weeks. Ack, can’t have that!) The bigger question, though: Am I teaching my child, through my wishy-washy sign-her-up-but-don’t-hold-her-responsible-for-making-it-work attitude, that it’s ok to take on a project and not finish it just because you don’t feel like it? What if other people are involved, like her friend at theatre camp who gave me a look as though she’s utterly disappointed in me because I won’t insist my daughter return next week, or the camp’s director, or the other kids? Shouldn’t they be considered in all this?
Richard Weissbourd seems to think so. His book includes a timely chapter on the Morally Mature Sports Parent that not only discourages parents from promoting only their kid to the expense of their kid’s team (much like the over-achiever parents will do any cutthroat thing to advance their child’s chances for academic success; that’s covered in The Real Danger in the Achievement Craze chapter) but encourages parents to remind their children that their teams and coaches really do depend on them, just as one’s larger community depends on each of us to be civil, law-abiding citizens who vote and clean up after our pets in the park. But in a show, my daughter argues, anyone in the “crowd”—her designated group—can drop out and no one would notice. It’s not like she has a solo or anything. (Another reason for her disenchantment with theatre camp? If she were a cutthroat kind of overachiever I’d call her on it, but she’s not. I honestly think there are other emotional things at play here, which is why I don’t want to force her to endure it all for another week. Not that the experience has been altogether horrid, though she has used that word to describe it.)
When Weissbourd, a child and family psychologist, discusses children and moral issues, he tries to stay pretty grounded. “I am talking about children who grow up to be alert to signs of distress in other people (and) feel compelled to give to the world in some way,” he states in his concluding chapter. Should it always be convenient to pitch in? I don’t think so, and neither does he. But should it be painful? It’s hard to force your child to endure anything she insists is “torture,” but sometimes it seems that’s necessary for them to learn the toughest lessons.
The sections of this book that most resonate with me are the chapters on Cultivating Mature Idealism in Young People (my son will be a junior in high school this fall) and Key Moral Strengths of Children Across Race and Culture. Both these chapters I look forward to revisiting in future posts. What’s most immediate for me at this time and with my current questions regarding my older daughter is found in the chapter on Promoting Happiness and Morality. Weissbourd discusses at length empathy, the basis of appreciation, as well as appreciation, “the ability to know and value other people,” an ability that is “at the heart of almost every quality we think of as moral.”
In his discussion of developing empathy and then appreciation, Weissbourd addresses the happiness epidemic so common among contemporary parents in the U.S., the attitude that their child’s self-esteem is of utmost importance. Whether making oneself happy then leads to the ability to help others or whether often painful self-sacrifice and helping others leads to making oneself happy is one widely debated aspect of this issue. What strikes me at the moment, however, is this quote by one mom:
“The principle of being a mother of a child who is a good person is more important than how much my kids like me or how happy they are in the moment. I couldn’t go to them all the time if they cried or always be a fixer or problem solver…I had to make real demands on them.”
As someone who’s much more comfortable making demands on herself (and continues to struggle with managing those demands in a sane, productive manner), this is one of my toughest challenges as a parent. While my one daughter may be quitting a project I think she should see through to the end, I want to teach her to be empathetic and kind by giving her an out. She made it through the first week, but if she really doesn’t want to invest her time and energy and emotions in this project (and complain to her weary mother about it) for another week, that’s ok. I was impressed she took the initiative to go to the director this morning at drop-off and give her a heads up that one less person may be singing in the “crowd” next week. The director’s answer: “Let’s see how today goes,” which is also what I suggested (though with a lot less enthusiasm) this morning. Maybe I’m not too far off track after all.
Photo by Ned Matura posted with Parenting.com article 7 Ways to Fix Rude Tween Behavior. :)