Lessons We Learn from Our Children

By Jen Ashenfelter

Our children are amazing. Their accomplishments are inspiring. Their achievements in the classroom, on the playing field, in a performance, or out in the community make us proud parents.

These days—compared to when I think back to my years in school—the parenting trend is to involve our children in a multitude of sports and activities as well as nurture a well-rounded honor student. Whether you subscribe to the tiger-parenting philosophy or your approach is less hands-on, as parents it’s our responsibility to prepare our children for the future.

Sometimes our children’s efforts are self-driven because they are naturally competitive, thrive on the positive feedback, or simply enjoy what they are doing.

Sometimes it’s not that easy. As parents, we cheer them on, share our wisdom gained from years of experience, dish out advice—wanted or not—or basically lay down the law to motivate and challenge them to do better.

My youngest and I had a nice conversation recently which made me smile and got me thinking. To set the background, students can choose a musical instrument in fifth grade; he decided to play the trumpet. Having never expressed an interest in playing an instrument before, we had many in-depth discussions about his decision and the resulting commitment. He didn’t waiver in his decision. The trumpet was rented and the lessons began.

If we quit too soon, we may never know our potential.

If we quit too soon, we may never know our potential.

Many times I could be heard saying, “I want to hear you practicing that trumpet.” By the time Christmas break was over, he got off the bus one afternoon and announced he wanted to quit playing the trumpet because “everyone” was allowed to quit, and he felt it was taking up too much time.

(What? The kid has nothing but time. And who is everyone? Wait, I don’t care about everyone; they are not my responsibility. Would you jump off a bridge if everyone was doing it? You gotta love the everyone argument; I’ve used it myself back in the day. And then it bubbled up and spilled out of my mouth, that voice of a mother…)

My response was a firm “No” with a reminder about the commitment he agreed to for the school year, and I expected him to do the work as required by the teacher to earn a good grade. I knew he was frustrated over the time and practice it took to sound good. Who wants to sound like a dying cow in public? The fear of failure and public humiliation can be paralyzing—just quit before it reaches that point. But that was the end of the conversation and we began to hear him practice more often during the last month.

Our recent chat:

C: I’m going to work on getting 140 minutes of trumpet practice this week. If I practice for 30 minutes on Saturday and Sunday, that’s 60 plus 80 minutes during the week…that’s 80 + 60 = 140. (Students are expected to practice 80 to 100 minutes a week.)

Me: Ok, that’s great! Do you think you are getting better with all this practice?

C: I think so, but I still have trouble with the high notes.

Me: Maybe you should devote a few minutes of each practice to just the high notes?

C: Yes. On the weekends, I could do 15 minutes on the high notes and 15 minutes on the songs.

Me: Sounds like a good plan to me. See how it works out. (huge smile, fist pump when he left the room)

By simply not letting him quit and challenging him to honor his commitment and push through the frustration, something grabbed hold. It was his decision how to handle the situation. I’m proud of him.

At that moment I realized a few things. As adults, who challenges us? How many times do we give up on something new because there’s no one above our authority to encourage us to push on? What can we learn from the accomplishments of our children when we challenge them to do better?

Sometimes it’s what we teach our children and what they teach us in return!

  • To challenge ourselves as much as we challenge them
  • To choose how we will handle a challenge and create a plan to rise above it
  • To put our best effort into everything we do
  • To manage our time wisely
  • To push through the difficult moments—we are stronger than we think
  • To learn from failures and try again
  • To practice, practice…and practice some more—success takes patience and hard work; striving for perfection shouldn’t be the goal
  • To determine when it is the right time to change direction
  • To take pride in a job well done and celebrate success

Do you set the same expectations for yourself as you do for your children? Do you feel you set expectations for your children higher than you do for yourself? What can you learn from their efforts and accomplishments? Next time you are struggling with a challenge, listen to your own advice—or call your mother—and see what happens next!

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4 thoughts on “Lessons We Learn from Our Children

  1. We all parent based on our experiences growing up and on how we were parented (whether we differ in that regard from how we were parented or incorporate some of how our parents raised us). Sometimes I think we have to be careful not to set too many expectations on our children in areas where we “failed” or feel we didn’t achieve enough (should’ve/could’ve/would’ve) while at the same time teaching them about responsibility and the commitment it takes to reach a goal. I think your approach is very balanced, Jennifer — allowing your kids the freedom to explore their interests and try new things, while remaining gentle but firm about honoring their commitments even if in the long run they choose not to continue their pursuit.

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