In the list of personal traits I prayed my boys would inherit from me, my shyness and poor self talk were not among them. Unfortunately, my oldest son took those as his own. Hearing it shatters my heart.
Last night was a bad homework night. My little 1st grader had been doing so well with his reading. He'd turned that corner and was reading longer and longer to us every night. Gone, it seemed, were the days where when he reached a word he didn't automatically know he would get frustrated, refuse to sound it out, and declare he would never read again. With a relieved sigh, and a proud smile, we listened with joy to him showing off his improved reading skills.
Then came last night.
He had to read a short story with unfamiliar words, but he quickly got frustrated having to always sound them out, and embarassed. He is of the opinion that reading should come as easily as everything else in school, so when he doesn't automatically know it he gets very embarassed, then mad. He's a good reader for his age, but to him that's not good enough. By the end of the night he was yelling, crying so hard he was choking, and declaring he was too stupid to ever learn to read.
Can you hear the tinkling of the shards of my heart shattering and hitting the floor?
My baby, my very bright baby, truly believed he was stupid. He's not, of course. He's actually quite smart. But it doesn't matter if HE believes he's stupid. He has a strong shy streak he inherited from me. As a kid there were so many things I longed to participate in, to try, but I always held back. I was afraid. Afraid I would not be good and everyone would just laugh at me. I cannot remember a time when I had some traumatic incident that led me to this fear, I was just wired this way. As an adult I still struggle, though now I've learned coping mechanisms to help me overcome it most of the time. My 6 year old son does not yet have a lifetime of experience to draw from. As soon as he has to work at a skill, he gets embarassed and shuts down. If I can keep him calm he reasons his way through the problem with ease. Once he's frustrated, though, mentally he's shut down.
We sent him up to bath time in an attempt to hit the reset button on the night. He was angry. Very angry. At first, no matter what words I said he'd cover his ears. His sweet, hazel eyes were red and raw from the crying. He was convinced he was stupid, and he was telling himself over and over he was. The entire bath he just sat there and made me wash his hair and his body for him. His arms were crossed, his muscles tight with tension. As I drained the water, I asked him if he remembered asking me for a fish. He snapped back a very tart "YES". I ignored his tone, and continued calmly, almost quietly.
"Do you remember how I told you it could be earned?" I asked.
"I had to learn to ride a two wheeler up the whole street," he answered, still harshly, but slightly less so. He wasn't sure where I was going with this.
"What did you say to me then?"
"That I couldn't do it. I could never do it." He answered. And he had believed it. He was afraid to ride without the training wheels. He was soooo ready, I could see he was. But he lacked confidence in himself to get it right. He begged and pleaded, negotiated and yelled to try to get me to give him another way to earn that fish he wanted so badly. I stood firm. Stubbornly, he'd quit trying to get a fish, and I didn't push it. Then, one random summer day in July, he asked me to get out his two wheeler. I will never forget his face when we reached the end of the street, him pedalling and me running along beside him encouraging him, and I looked him in the eye and told him he'd done it. On his own. He'd done what he told himself he couldn't do. No one had made it easy. No one could do it for him, he had to do it. And he did. He rode that street 100 times that night, til it was so dark we had no choice but to drag him inside. He has never looked more proud of himself as he did that night.
"You didn't think you'd ever be able to do it, but you did. How did you tell me you felt when you finally got to pick out your fish?"
"I was really proud," he answered very quietly. I told him he had to stop telling himself he can't do things. He has to start convincing himself he can. I don't care how many times he tries something and doesn't get it right. I only care about the time he quits. That time makes me so sad to know he is cheating himself. The harder he has to work for something, the more exciting it is to get, the more proud we feel of him for not giving up. I dried him off, helped him brush his teeth, babying him a little, I know, but he needed it in that moment. There are times when a little tough love is called for. And there are times when it will not get the message through. He needed a hug, not a threat.
In his pj's, hair still wet, he asked to try his homework again. Calm now, he did it just fine. Twice he needed help thinking through the problem, breaking it down, but once he talked it out with me he got it. Excitedly, he showed it off to his Dad and I, knowing how proud we would be. Then we read 3 short beginning reader books he has, and did some math flashcards, by far his favorite, and easiest subject. He went to bed confident and proud again.
It will not be the last time he goes through this. It will not be the last time he talks himself out of doing something. I just pray that it will help the next time be a little easier to turn around. Thankfully, he usually breezes through his school work, so these nights are not the norm. As a mother, I hate that my boy cannot see himself as others see him. He's popular at school, liked by his teachers, but blind to it. As I checked on him later, asleep and curled up with his favorite teddy, I ran my fingers through his hair, and kissed his cheek. I pray to God that next time he'll help me find the words that break through the anger and fear, as he did that night. I pray for the wisdom to guide him in a healthy way. I pray he learns the resilience we all need to never give up, and to go after our dreams. I pray he will be as happy with himself as I am with him. He's so sweet, so kind, so smart and funny. I thank God for letting me be his Mommy, so blessed to see his smile every single day.
And I vow to do better at my own self talk, and try to show him the way. To lead by example, not just words. And to lead with love. Always, deeply, love.
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