“Making” My Kids Try: Raising Children Who Do Things

“So, you were right, Mom.  It was really actually very fun.” Words every mother wants to hear, “You were right, Mom”.  Aren’t they?  Such words were especially sweet to hear after my four year old had reluctantly been dropped off at his first day of “preschool” (a supplemental program run by a homeschool friend in her home).  For weeks, ever since we made the announcement that my youngest, Drayken, was going to school two mornings a week (not only so that I could more successfully homeschool my two third graders but also so that he could spend some of his time out and about doing things with other people, children his own age, rather than sitting all day with an iPad and headphones watching endless episodes of “Daniel Tiger” or “Curious George” on Netflix), he has insisted that he was not going to attend school.

Our response was to simply encourage him and ensure that he was going to enjoy his day at school very much.

A little peak into Drayken's first day of school.

A little peak into Drayken’s first day of sch

When the day came, earlier this week, he had a rough time getting going.  Of course, I expected that.  There were tears and crossed arms.  A grumpy mouth which proclaimed, “I’m not going”.  However, a gentle reminder that his grandparents and little cousin would be picking him up after lunch for an afternoon of playing and swimming motivated him to move his body to the car.  He knew he didn’t want to miss that.

We rode in silence all of the way across town to school at the Little Log Cottage.  After pulling into the driveway, I got out and opened his door.  Huge tears were rolling down his face.  He was scared.  I said to him, in a kind voice, “Buddy, this is a new experience for you and sometimes that can be scary, but I’m certain if you give it a try, you will be successful.”  He got out of the car.

I left him that morning.  He seemed to have recovered by the time I headed home.  And just as I predicted, he did have a great time.  I’m not sure which part of what I said or did was the magical element to helping him cope with this new experience.  I’m not even sure that I had anything to do with it.  But what I am sure of is that if he’d had his way, he would have skipped school that morning and not had nearly as much fun at home fighting with his brother and being scolded for throwing shoes at people.

I am reminded of my own childhood.  I am reminded of the countless times I was allowed to make my own decisions.  Of the times when my parents followed my lead.  There were many.  Like the time I passed the test for band and secretly wanted to do band but was scared it was too expensive so the one time I was asked, “Do you want to do band?” and I said, “No”, my parents just dropped the subject.  And the time I expressed an interest in trying out for basketball and then quickly let my insecurities stand in my way.  Or that time I didn’t bother to apply for the Governor’s School for the Arts because I knew there was simply no way on earth I’d be accepted but I wanted it so badly I could taste it.  How about that time my mom found out I was 19, pregnant, and going the next day to an abortion clinic, yet she just let me because it was my “choice”?  In each of these incidences, I deeply wanted someone, anyone, to step up and tell me I had to do things differently.  Someone to drag me to the audition or lock me in a bathroom to keep me from making the biggest mistake of my life.  I needed someone to “make” me do the right thing.

Sure, had someone made me do the right thing, I might not have liked them very much right there, in the moment but maybe I would have come out the other side liking myself a little better. 

I am less interested in what my children end up thinking about me than what they think of themselves.

Trying and being a failure is 100 times better than not trying at all.

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Theater is an important part of my young son’s life.

At some point my kids will learn that if they tell me they are interested in something, I will bug the heck out of them until they either try or have sufficiently proven to me that they are no longer interested in that thing and they have moved on to being interested in something else entirely.

When my older son, Hunter, expressed an interest in acting, I set out getting him head shots, an agent, and gigs.  And we did all of that.  He wasn’t wildly successful but darned if he’s not been in a feature film, a commercial and is currently cast in his seventh theatrical production.  Before auditions for this last show, however, he announced that he wasn’t going to auditions.  He’s done this several times.  In the case of this show, he didn’t want to be involved with a production in which his brother was also cast.  I ignored him.  He dropped it and auditioned anyway.

My daughter, on the other hand, has been in three plays and a commercial.  Though talented at acting, she’s no longer interested in continuing to go to auditions.  And that is fine because she has something else she likes better:  softball and being a part of American Heritage Girls.  Theater will always be there if she has time between ball seasons.  The important thing is that she stays actively involved with something that gives her confidence and an important skill.

Also, I’m of the opinion that busy children yield busy teenagers. And busy teens are less likely to make huge mistakes.  They don’t have the time.  And I don’t mean kids should have no down time.  Mine get at least a couple of hours of free time a day thanks to home school.  But I do feel it’s important for children to develop a sense of pride in hobbies and activities within their community so that when they are teens they will be less likely to be looking for recreational activities.  I did not establish healthy hobbies and I wasn’t part of any activities in my community.  When I was a teenager, I was bored.  Boys became my community activity.

I want more for my children.  Which is precisely why I will “make” my children try things, follow through, and give 110% before throwing in the towel.  I find it an intricate part of my game plan to eliminate the need to one day lock my daughter in the bathroom to prevent her from making mistakes.  But I’ll do that, too, if I have to.

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One thought on ““Making” My Kids Try: Raising Children Who Do Things

  1. Hi Mandy,

    I found you through a post you did on christianunschooling.com 🙂

    I really loved this post. It addresses one of the biggest challenges I keep facing as a new unschooler: how to do unschooling without it degrading into unparenting — how to push my son when he needs it and when to back off and let him quit when it’s time to move on.

    It’s good for kids to learn to push themselves out of their comfort zones and “force” them to keep pushing forwards when life gets hard or when their motivation is low…without beating a dead horse or becoming a control freak.

    Do you have more posts on this topic? I’d love to get more input on how unschooling parents find that balance…

    Aloha, Chris

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