Requiring Kids to Do Hard Things

The time you face something harder than you’ve ever done before is the time when you either crumble in despair or discover that you are stronger than you thought you could be.

The thing no one ever told me before I became a parent is that sometimes I would have to be the one who was inflicting the hard things on my own children. I faced it first when my two month old baby girl had to be vaccinated. I helped hold her down, looked into her eyes, and let the nurse stick a needle in her leg. That was not the end. Dozens of vaccinations followed and they only got harder as the children got big enough to resist. They would not have believed it, but helping with those vaccinations was every bit as hard for me as it was for them. They calmed down and were done. I stewed for days with a mix of fear, guilt, and relief. I’ve only got two 12 year booster shots to go. I rejoice at the thought.

Vaccinations are a clear case of “we must do this for your health and safety.” They are also accompanied by either a doctor or a nurse to help bolster my flagging spine. Then there are days like yesterday when I have to stand over my 8 year old son and require him to finish the work he did not do in school. It took three and a half hours to finish 18 math problems and five sentences. Less than thirty minutes was actual work, the rest was distraction and tears. When you include the two hours of classroom time he did not use, it was five hours spent on thirty minutes of work. I stood over him and tried to determine whether I was watching Can’t or Don’t Want To. In the end it was some of both. When my son stopped fighting me, we were able to identify the blockages and devised some very simple strategies which he can use next time to boost himself over. I rehearsed the strategies with him three or four times, “When you get to a word problem, skip it and complete everything else, then come back.” He rolled his eyes at me. I watched his face, unable to know whether he would actually remember. My children have amazing memories, but they do not always focus on the things I know would help them. Please let him remember, because I can not bear another afternoon like yesterday. If he comes home with his school work done, then I can know that yesterday’s hard challenges were beneficial. If he doesn’t complete his work, I have to consider whether to stay the course or to adjust my expectations.

I say I can’t bear another afternoon like yesterday. I can. I will. If I know it is right, I can deal with a lot. I can do it even if it leaves me exhausted and weepy for the rest of the evening. My fatigue is less important than doing right by my son. The part I don’t know is what kills me. Until he either steps up and becomes strong in the face of adversity, or crumples under the pressure, I can’t know whether I’m helping or hurting. During all those hours I alternately cajoled, scolded, encouraged, slathered on guilt, and extended praise to my son. Through it all I loved him. All of my words were tools focused on getting him to sit up, take control, and try. The work got done. I can only hope that he also learned lessons which can be applied to new work. The lessons were the point, not the work. If the lessons weren’t learned, we’ll have to do it all over again. The thought makes me weary.

Weary though I be, this is nowhere near the hardest thing I have ever done. I can do this.