DIY Parenting When Your Kid is Struggling
When I need to fix something in my house or on my car, I generally go to YouTube and search for videos that can help show me how to do it. I follow the steps…very carefully; watching each detail with extra care, because I don’t want to break something or kill myself. Yes, that’s how adept I am…there’s always still a fear I’ll kill myself changing an electrical outlet; yet I persist. At the end of the project, I flip the switch or turn over the car and I’m absolutely amazed that it worked. What a great feeling!
That’s how I feel about parenting right now. And in a way, what I’m feeling currently is the most gratifying stage since beginning the parenting journey with my wife. To boil it all down, parenting is hard and tiring, and when your kid is really struggling, it’s hard to know what to do.
Oh, it’s all fun and games when you’re sporting a beautiful baby and helping him learn and grow…
“Oh look, he’s walking!”
“Oh look, he’s talking!”
“Oh look, he’s pooping on the toilet!”
“Oh look, he’s demonstrating social & emotional competence…” Well, maybe we don’t shout that one out, but there’s a whole mess of learning in there.
And then kids reach an age, where of course they still need help, but they start doing it on their own. They have to concentrate in school and each grade gets progressively harder. From the outside, it looks like some kids just get it. But some (like my son) may struggle.
I know that Yale’s not going to be looking at his third-grade report card and he has lots of time to turn it around, but it is alarming when your kid is in danger of failing third grade. And he’s not the only one who is failing: we are too. At least, that’s what it felt like to me. We can’t do the work for him, but what can we do? The days are long and hard. The evening disappears before you know it. We’re tired! But we can’t ignore that our child needs additional effort, additional support. And that it starts with us.
I think that’s what’s most gratifying about this particular experience is that my wife and I looked at each other and said, “We need help!” So we started talking with people and getting ideas. We asked teachers, friends, family, as well as looked at ourselves and how we were operating to come up with ideas to help flip the script.
Asking for help and getting additional support, perspectives, and ideas are great. But most importantly, acting on them is necessary. Like in a Parent Café – most people who attend a Parent Café will share the amazing experience they had, the connection they felt with the other parents in the room—the similarities in successes and challenges and, ultimately for me most profoundly, the recognition that all parents love their kids and want what’s best for them. We all want our kids to succeed.
But what happens after the Parent Café? What do you do with that knowledge? What do you do with that experience? If you’re not doing the work to apply the tools into your own parenting, it’s nothing more than a good time and maybe a stress reliever. You have to learn from the wisdom to make it worth it. That’s what you do on an individual level, and on an organizational level BSF has embarked on a national Parent Café Evaluation effort to help us understand the full story of the benefits of Cafés for parents, families, and communities. So, if Cafés are where we can ask for help and learn from others in a non-judgmental way, what does it mean when we step out of the Café?
For us, it meant stricter limits on screens. It meant more time and effort with homework and studying. It meant more encouragement and reinforcement with our son. He’s a person that wants to do better, and the results were affecting his confidence. He needed to believe that he could do it.
What else did it mean? It meant communicating more with the teachers at school and asking for more help and clarification on assignments. (Imagine that! A 3rd grader not communicating what’s going on in class or writing down assignments all of the time. Shocking, I know!) And that communication created a pipeline into the house.
It also meant getting some assistance from a friend, who is a teacher, to work with him outside of school. It meant sharing our challenges with family so they can be on the same page and provide their own insights and experiences.
In the long haul it means perseverance, which might be the prequel to resilience. This doesn’t happen overnight.
And it’s working. Not exactly how it was scripted or exactly in the way I envisioned, but he’s doing it! He continues to impress me with his resilience and how, with assistance and guidance, he’s creating his own norms for learning, retaining the information and building his confidence. It’s so important for me that he simply believes in himself. That no matter what, he can persevere. I don’t know what his future holds, but I fully expect him to be a Rock Star like his dad.
I’m reminded of the windshield wiper transmission I replaced in my car, which resulted in my wipers resting in the upright position. When I drive on a beautiful day, the wipers are visible on the windshield. But when it rains…it doesn’t make a difference. So, what does that mean to me? Parenting isn’t perfect and there are no instruction manuals. But when you’re getting the job done, who cares if you draw a blue duck.