(Oh, yes! I think I have a good one here!)
This weekend was challenging, but well worth it.
My son has started studying for his trimester exams and, as always, I sit with him and help him as he does so. Can you believe someone who starts studying for exams 2 weeks beforehand!? I say nothing. At this point, I don’t even have to review his grades or check in with his teachers. They know him and I have complete confidence in all of his instructors. Not only that, but my son is able to self advocate for anything that he needs or is uncertain about and any issues or problems are resolved before I even hear about them. My wife and I have worked very hard to help him get to this point. But the real credit belongs to our son and his teachers – especially our son as he knows what is expected of him and he innately strives for “personal excellence.” That boy has learned to fly on his own. Soon, I believe, we’ll watch him soar.
One more quick comment on this. I believe that part of the reason he’s doing all this and doing so well is that he’s been through very tough times, but he’s had support and love all the way through. My son has been through years of 4, 5 or more hours of therapy a day, every day for a very long time. He knows what it’s like to struggle, but also knows what it’s like to overcome the seemingly impossible. That’s what love and support create: Self confidence and a nonchalant determination.
Our son doesn’t consciously remember or think about such things, he simply expresses the best of who he is…naturally, by default and assumption.
Anyway, he and I studied between 12 and 6 all weekend and yesterday (which was “Presidents Day” holiday). At times we did problems together, other times we would review material and he would explain it to me, still other times, he would practice vocabulary or work on a problem and I would just sit by and cheer when he got something right or figured something out…
…but there was something else I offered him as well.
With study, there are some times when just reading or thinking are required. At such times, he needs to review the material himself, without my assistance or input. At such times, my getting involved would actually prevent him from learning things in a way which works best for him. As I’ve mentioned before, my son thinks differently than I do. His thinking process is much more like my partner’s than mine, so any effort from me would only be confusing interference.
At these times, I just sit quietly next to him. There were times he read and thought – stared at the wall, mumbling formulas to himself – for an hour or so. I just sat. At times I got him more juice or a snack, but for the rest, I sat silently next to him. All I would do was pat him gently on the back when his face lit up with some success or revelation he had been struggling with internally. He didn’t acknowledge my back patting, nor did I expect him to. But I know he felt it and I know he enjoys such nonverbal praise. At times, I didn’t pat him on the back, but just shook my fist gently and whispered “nice!” or “sweet!” Sometimes, though still deep in thought, he would grin and cast a quick, sidelong, glance at me before re-submerging within his own, solitary thoughts and meditations.
But every time, the whole time, he knew I was there. Deep within his mind, as he struggled to comprehend and memorize, I know he felt that part of me, within him, which helped steel his determination and gave him the desire to reach beyond his understanding (of the material). My parents and their family tore me down for their own purposes. My spouse and I tear ourselves down in deference to him. Our child will be the ultimate expression of the better part of ourselves – and yet the heights will be of his own achievements to claim.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that our children don’t always need expensive tutors or prep courses. They don’t need us (parents) scrutinizing current grade averages or test scores. They don’t need to hear what we think the answer is or how we would solve solve the problem or answer the question. They don’t need us to pound our fists on desks at parent / teacher conferences or fight with the administration.
What our children need is our faith in their abilities and talents. They need respect and love for who they are, rather than who they are not or who we might want them to be. They need our praise for “best effort,” regardless of what the score or grade is. They need to know that we have only one, primary, uncompromising demand: Personal excellence which comes from best effort. However, sometimes, and this is the most important thing of all…
…they just need us to sit with them quietly – to just be present. To gently ruffle their hair in silent praise. To gently shake our fist at their smaller successes and whisper “YES!”, “nice!” or “good job!”
If we support and praise them for their smaller successes, they will find, within themselves, pleasure and joy in the achievements of the larger ones.
I’m filled with rage and bitterness at my own stolen potential…but watching my son take flight and soar – Oh does he soar! – fills me with joy and makes all things alright with the world.
Be Well, My Friends