My flowerbeds are in desperate need of attention. In fact, they have been for a while. I guess I’m putting them off so I can do one big push before winter, get everything cleaned up, bulbs in, and move on. Really, I love gardening, but this just hasn’t been my year for digging in the dirt. I should have removed the spent gladiolus a few weeks ago, but if I had, we’d have missed this:
A single, tall, perfect gladiolus graced our home last week. It was incredibly late, the last week of September, and yet it bloomed. Partly because it was late and because it was the only one, it was perhaps the most beautiful of them all.
The arrival of this lovely flower brought company to thoughts I’ve had a lot lately. If you really think about it, growing up is all about learning skills. Some of us grow up and are taught healthy skills which we use to deal with our problems. Others of us grow up learning ineffective skills which take many years to replace with effective ones. I call these lagging skills. Most of us are a combination of those two categories, partly due to our upbringing, partly because of life’s journey, largely due to our own personal set of strengths and weaknesses. We’re never really done with the process but a very important stage of that process happens in our childhood.
And so, effective parenting can be boiled down to this one thing: teaching skills. Over the weekend we had a number of situations, all part of daily life, but which revealed different lagging skills in various children in our home. I started the day with a long list in my mind of the coaching that needs to be done to help each of them learn an effective skill for dealing with the next occurrence of the specific situation/feelings. In some areas I see my children, all of them vastly different from one another, with skills that awe me. In their own way, they’re all light years ahead in some things. In others (their personal weaknesses) they struggle, as do I. When they’re little, the skills are so simple. They learn to walk, feed themselves, get dressed, and then to read and write. When they get older, the skills can be more complex, like learning how to deal with people you don’t like but can’t avoid. There’s also a large dose of self-discovery and awareness required for us to recognize the problem and identify the skill we need to work on. When self-awareness is one of the weak areas, teaching skills can be very difficult. I’m also learning that I have great skills for teaching certain children in certain ways, but there are other children in our family whose needs really challenge MY skills, making it more difficult for me to effectively teach them healthy skills. It’s such a fascinating thing.
If I think too far ahead, these lagging skills can really get me down. I begin to worry and stress. Yet there has also been something very liberating about learning to identify the challenge in terms of skills. My own emotions, my fears, can fly right out the window when I think in these terms: I can learn skills. My child can learn skills. I can learn how to effectively teach each child the skills they need. This goes right along with the whole idea that “You don’t feel your way to better behavior. You behave your way to better feelings.” For example, instead of letting a certain student’s academic performance eat me up, we can identify the skills that need to improve in order to fix the problem. Is the lagging skill simply the habit of doing homework daily? Is it the habit of turning homework in? Is it the habit of writing assignments down? Is it the habit of managing time wisely? Once the skill is identified, then we can go to work on it. It really doesn’t matter if a child hates doing homework right up until the day she graduates from college. What matters is that she DOES the homework. In like manner, it doesn’t matter how I feel about the situation either, what matters is that I teach them the skill they need to learn. That’s my responsibility.
I’m learning that if I make a timeline of my life and mark certain events on it, I can make another timeline right under it to track the feelings of my heart. Sometimes my heart keeps time with the actual events. Sometimes my heart is racing ahead of the event timeline, perhaps even influencing it. Other times something will happen, and my heart is delayed. Perhaps the reaction is delayed, or my heart gets stuck somewhere while life keeps marching on. We do need to take good care of our hearts; I’m not preaching that they should be disregarded entirely. But sometimes we have to just live with the life timeline and not worry too much about where our hearts are, at least where habits go. Does it matter that I love or hate exercise? No. It matters that I do it, regardless of how I feel about it that day. The same goes for laundry, cooking, cleaning, paying bills. For my children, it applies to doing homework, speaking respectfully to others, and so forth. I expect my children to do the right thing, even if their hearts don’t “feel like it” in the moment. I believe God expects the same of me. And the thing about doing our duty, choosing the right thing, using effective skills to deal with our problems, is that eventually we feel GREAT about what we’ve done. Our feelings catch up.
As a mother, it’s so easy to compare our lives to others, to compare our children to the children of our friends. Of course, we’re always comparing the inside of our lives to the outside of theirs, but we rarely remind ourselves of that detail. It’s easy to worry if it appears our child isn’t “blooming” like the others. Sometimes we wonder if we will ever “bloom” as parents, too. But sooner or later, if we keep working, we all bloom.
In recent weeks I’ve seen evidence of emerging skills that I’ve been focusing on in some of my children. It really doesn’t matter to me how long I’ve waited for it, what matters is that it happens. And perhaps the wait makes it all the sweeter. I’m grateful to my flower for giving me the analogy I needed to pull some thoughts together, remind me of my plan of action, and train my heart. What an amazing education motherhood provides, and what a kind Heavenly Father we have who provides beautiful lessons for us daily in things as simple as a late September gladiolus!