One day Iliana (age 6) seemed to want to strike up a conversation as she was leaving school with her Mom.
“Goodbye, Mr. Rick.”
“You’re the principal.”
“That’s right. I am the principal.”
“You are in charge of everything.”
”You can DO anything you want.”
At that point I realized I was in a different conversation—not the usual pleasantries in which mutual affection is communicated, but a conversation with substance.
“Well, no, Iliana, I can’t do anything I want. I have to obey the same rules you do. I have to respect everyone. I have to be kind all the time.”
“Yeah, you have to follow the rules on the play structure.”
“Right,” I said. Then a little thought: “Actually, you can do some things I can’t do. I can’t climb on the play structure. I am too big.”
I miss having children around. Their absence compromises my education.
If you are lucky enough to be responsible for the education of children, but are not feeling so lucky right now (like they test your authority too much, or ask too many questions, or keep getting into conflict, or keep making mistakes, or their achievement is sub par, or in some other way just too challenging), maybe it would be more relaxing to frame the challenge differently.
Maybe they are doing their job (learning how to make something of themselves in the world), and you need to let them help you with your job (learning how to make something of yourself in the world). Here are some little mantra-type things we can keep in mind.
1. Challenging authority? —Play position. Their job is to test the environment. Your job is to be there, pushing back when necessary. They are working at becoming an authority, themselves.
2. Asking too many questions? —Their job is questioning; yours is answering. (…and sometimes with a question of your own.)
3. Getting into conflict? —Good. They have learning opportunities. (We might have an opportunity to help make it a learning experience….or not)
4. Making mistakes? Mistakes are learning opportunities. Their job is to create. Yours is to deliver feedback that is hearable, seeable and doable (sometimes).
5. Achievement is too low? —Loving the challenge of learning IS the achievement. (“Achievement” is a by-product and often a function of luck.)
Life provides us all with the same fundamental challenge: the challenge of learning the art of allowing ourselves to be changed. As Carol Dweck keeps reminding us, success depends on maintaining a growth mindset. Adults can help by counteracting our brains’ natural affinity for fixed mindsets.
Many years ago my wife and I were young parents. One day I asked her what was wrong. “You seem so anxious.”
“I AM anxious,” she said. “I don’t know what I am doing? I don’t know how to be a mother.”
“It’s okay. It will be all right. You’re a learning Mom,” popped out of my mouth, and she relaxed.
A few years ago she told me it the best thing I ever said to her, and in the 44 years since then I have learned just how smart that was. Kids don’t need us to be perfect. We only have to be good enough. Children are designed with all sorts of internal resources. They are actually planning to do the whole gig on their own. Even at the age of 65 with four children and five grandchildren, I am still learning how to be a Dad.