I was in my regular spot on the couch on Sunday morning, sipping coffee, when Camden tiptoed down the stairs, waved his wand in my direction and commanded, "Luminous!" When the lamp beside me did not respond, I promptly told him to try again, and this time, with the wave of his wand, the light snapped to life, casting a soft glow on my little person's ecstatic face.
Later on in the day, Justin would tell me that Camden had climbed into our bed, whispering the words, "Can I ask you some more questions about Harry Potter?" To which he happily obliged, as much of a Harry Potter buff as I am. We have been binging on the Harry Potter films on the weekends, since Camden suddenly expressed an interest in them. And then last night, we started the first book. At only 6 years old, we know he may be a little young for them, but also know he has absorbed a lot of the story line through the movies, so he should be able to comprehend the book. Especially when he says at the end of every page, "Can you catch me up?" As I begin to give a summary, it always turns out that he has understood more than he thinks he did, and we are quickly on to the next page in the life of Harry Potter. He never hesitates to ask, though, if he is confused about something or if the story is moving a little fast for him. Which is a lot more than I can say for my adult self.
A few weeks ago, I stomped angrily off the treadmill, my attempt to change the speed of the belt thwarted yet again by some unseen glitch in the wiring. Our movers (who were wonderful in every other way) had accidentally dropped our treadmill off the back of the truck when they were moving it into our new house. Aside from a few scuffs on the display, and a bit of a slow response time when pressing the buttons on the sides of the treadmill to move between belt speeds, we were pleased to find that it still worked well. Until that slow response time became no response. Other buttons offered the convenience of selecting MPH settings in increments of 2, and those buttons still worked. So, I was stuck at running at a 6 (equivalent to a 10 min mile) or an 8 (equivalent to a 7:30 min mile). I prefer to move between 6.5 and 7 MPH but when the buttons stopped responding, there was no way to change from a 6 to a 6.5. Or so I thought. Until I stomped off the belt angrily, and muttered a few choice words at it, in the company of my husband, who pointed out there were buttons labelled "fast" and "slow" located on the display of the machine that would enable a runner to move one tenth of a MPH up or down. It had never occurred to me that those buttons could do that. But then again, I had never asked.
All of this got me thinking about asking for help. Nothing makes the mama bear in me come out more than when one of my kids tells me that they wanted to ask their teacher or their coach something and they were waved away, as if their question was not important or valued. But it happens. All the time. It happens to me, when my kids want to ask me something and I am too busy looking at my phone to really hear them. I may be doing something important on my phone, like checking my calendar, or reading an email, but the message I am conveying is that they are not as important as what I am looking at. And they don't know--I could be watching youtube.
The reality is, we all have questions. And we want to be heard. But when life seems too busy, and our people seem too far away, and the answers can be found more quickly through stuff and screens and things that may not be the most healthy outlets, that becomes what we reach for. A quick purchase that will satisfy our inner shopoholic. A dive into the rabbit hole of social media for a quick dopamine hit delivered by the likes that have accumulated in the 5 minutes we haven't checked in. A youtube clip of some famous athlete doing stunts that are way out of our league that we admire but also secretly abhor because we know we'll never be that strong or that fit or that buff. And before long we have traded people for products. Community for seclusion. Lasting fulfillment for instant gratification.
It seems that I cannot turn on the news lately without hearing about a teen that has committed suicide or a student who brought a gun to school and shot another student. It is heartbreaking and disturbing. And I often want to wrap my kids in a bubble and keep them here within the safety of our four walls. But I know that I have to prepare them for the world, and so I must teach them to be secure in who they are, to rest in who God made them to be, and to seek happiness in the form of being kind to others, doing good in the world, and being the very best version of themselves that they can be.
Whether we like to admit it or not, our kids are always watching. They are like sponges, absorbing everything going on inside our homes, every relational interaction, every word exchange...whether we mean for them to or not. And so, I decided to narrow down what I want to make sure I am doing, so that my kids will follow suit.
Admit when I need help and ask for it
Like, ask an actual person for help. Not just google it, read 10,000 articles about it, or worse, stew about it until someone finally comes to my aid. If I want my kids to feel comfortable asking for help, I need to model doing it myself. I need to share with them how I went to the hardware store to ask about how to replace the weather stripping on my front door, how I called my friend who is a better decorator than me to ask where I should hang a picture, or how I asked their dad how to fix the treadmill.
Show them I'm a life long learner
The other day my kids were saying how lucky I am that I do not have homework. I took the opportunity to tell them that managing our money so we can pay for their college years, writing a check for the water bill so they could take a shower, and shopping for the groceries that fill their bellies every day was what my homework consisted of, and they shut up real fast. :) However, I also want them to know that, in addition to admitting I need help and asking for it, reading about how others have conquered problems similar to my own can be comforting and affirming. I make sure they see me engaged in my bible study book, completing online classes, and reading tips in self-help books, all things that make me a better mom, wife, and person, written by experts who have gone before me.
Join a book club, bible study, dinner club
We were made for community. Genesis 2:18 says that after he created the world and Adam, God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." Our souls crave community, where we can share struggles, victories, and encourage one another. I belong to a women's bible study, two books clubs (because I am just that much of a nerd), and have a regular coffee date with a good friend the first Thursday of the month. I belong to these groups and make coffee dates regular because otherwise, I'd get lost in the everyday laundry, meal prep, shuttling kids insanity that is my life and forget that my soul literally cries out for connectedness! Our kids need to see us place importance on being engaged in healthy relationships with others, so that they understand the value of being in community, and so that they will build a core group they can count on and trust when they need them. And believe me, they will need them.
Engage with neighbors
Engaging with neighbors is a great way to teach your kids that you are open to friendships and cordial harmony with people who are not just like you. You don't get to choose your neighbors, just like your kids don't get to choose who they sit next to on the bus or in their classrooms. We made a point of writing down the names of each neighbor we met when we first moved in so that we could call them by name when we passed on the sidewalk. We also know their dog's names, but we're dog people, so that came naturally. Teach your kids to be welcoming to everyone, by waving to neighbors and engaging in friendly chit-chat when you see them walk by.
Have some tech-free time
One of my biggest pet peeves is when my kids try to pull out their phones during dinner because there is some basketball player on the restaurant TV and they need to know his height, his shooting average, and what he had for breakfast this morning, pronto. No. It will not kill you to wait until this meal is over, In fact, it is ok to let your mind wonder a little bit. I have begun leaving my phone downstairs at night, and not powering it up until I am finished with my bible study in the morning. It is amazing how much more productive one can be with a little distance from the technology. I'm planning to make a list of things I used to enjoy in places like waiting rooms and carpool lines before I had a smartphone, and then choosing those things instead of getting lost in my phone. Also, tech-free Sundays are coming to a home near you.
Admit when I screw up
Oh, this is a toughy. But I am learning that they need to see me handle my screwups as gracefully as I handle my wins. Stomping around and wallowing in my shame and regret (do I do that?) is not healthy for me, and it definitely does nothing for my kids. When they see me make a mistake, dust myself off, and resolve to do better, they are learning how to fail gracefully. And when I've make a mistake that trickles down to them? Saying I'm sorry, genuinely and sincerely, may be the best lesson I can ever give.
I am the first to admit that I fail miserably at most of these, a lot of the times. But I do know that I have become much better at admitting I need help, and asking for it. Often, the sign of making lasting change for the better, is stating what you feel like you need to work on, and then tackling it head on. So, my next assignment for myself is to do a better job of not getting angry with myself when I screw up.
What will you work on? I would love to hear if this post was helpful to you, and any ways you are working on modeling for your kids. We are their first teachers, and they have a lot to learn, so let's give them our best, every day.