Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Spirited, Not Broken...

The other day, I gave my youngest son 7 math problems, a feat that I expected to be accomplished in just a few minutes. Of course, it ended up being much closer to 15 because he insisted on flying the mancala game pieces that he used for counting in the air, while making whooshing sounds. I had to bite my lip for much of that time, otherwise I would have blurted "No! stop pretending that those beads are space ships! Pay attention to your work! See? Your brother has already completed TWO pages!" All the while thinking "Why can't he just focus? What do I need to do to correct this?"


My crazy kid. He insisted on a bowl of milk with a side of fish for lunch.
While watching him play with those little bright pieces of colored plastic, I realized that his "problem" was in fact not a problem at all - I was the problem.

In this moment, I have come to realize that my ultimate job as a parent is to help my child flourish and rather than try to shape him into someone that he is not.

Both of my boys have an incredible imagination, and my youngest has the uncontrollable urge to make everything fun. It is so incredibly easy for him to get lost in his imaginary world of being a fighter pilot - a daydream that I am so quick to take him out of by nagging him to finish some very boring worksheet or change into some "real" clothes versus his costumes. He loves attending his lessons dressed as Batman, Wolverine, or any other number of superheroes.

Image credit Time.com
After moments like this, I close my eyes and force myself to imagine what it would be like if all of our world's greatest minds and contributors were told to fit into the perfect-cookie-cutter-selves that they were told to be, rather than what they aspired to be.

The first person that usually comes to mind is someone that I have truly admired for quite some time, Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani girl who chose to stand up for her and other girls' right to go to school. She survived a bullet wound to the head from the Taliban while on her way to school.

A couple of years after, her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, gave a speech at the 2014 TED conference and spoke beautifully about his daughter and her courage to stand up against the Taliban and her fight for women's rights in a very patriarchal society. During that same year, Malala became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and was also named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Ziauddin Yousafzai opened his speech with this: "When in many [societies] fathers are usually known by their sons, I am one of the few fathers who is known by his daughter, and I’m proud of it". I have watched his speech multiple times, and love how he speaks of his daughter who breaks the "good girl" mold of Pakistani culture.

“The story of a woman (in Pakistan) is a story of injustice, inequality, violence and exploitation. When a girl is born … she is not welcomed, neither by father nor by mother. At the age of five, when she should be going to school, she stays at home … When she turns 13, she is forbidden to leave her home without a male escort … She becomes the so-called honor of her father, brothers and her family. If she transgresses the code of that so-called honor, she could be killed... 
This plight of millions of women could be changed if women and men think differently if they can break a few norms of family and society, if they can abolish the discriminatory laws of the systems in their states that go against basic human rights of the women. 
Malala stood out, and she stood for the right of education..she spoke from every platform she could… and her voice was the most powerful voice, and it spread like a crescendo all around the world...
Dear brothers and sisters, we learn from her how to be resilient in the most difficult times… Despite being an icon for the rights of children and women, she is like any 16-year-old girl… People ask me what is special about my mentor-ship that has made Malala so bold and courageous, vocal and poised. I tell them, ‘Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings, and that’s all.'”

Some reading this may be thinking, how does the story of this girl relates to me telling my child "no, you cannot wear those shorts today" or "no, focus, this is how it is supposed to be done! You cannot do that, you cannot say that. I am right, you are wrong!"?

Trust me, this story has EVERYTHING to do with telling our children no, no, no while insisting that they conform to this perfect, clean image of who we think they are or who they should be.

It breaks my heart when I see other parents hover over their children, correcting their art work or freak out because they are turning their dinner into some building that, in their mind, rivals the Statue of Liberty or Eiffel Tower. Our arguments about what he should and shouldn't do definitely seem frustrating and minor, but to him, his thoughts and creations - as well as my approval - means everything.

I will be honest, I have done this on multiple occasions, and still do. However, I am a work in progress and make it my duty to embrace my child's strong will and creativity to help him flourish as the amazing person that he was created to be. I strive daily to remind myself not to "clip my children's wings", and to embrace that beautiful and strong inner spirit that makes them so unique.

In closing, I wanted to mention this...

A couple of weeks ago, I came across this post from L.R. Knost entitled "The Gift of the Strong Willed Child". Knost admits that "the children who come into the world with their ‘boxing gloves on’ so to speak are often the ones who become the biggest world changers. It’s not easy raising these little world-changers...but the rewards are phenomenal!" I HIGHLY recommend that any parent who is finding it hard to "cope" with their child's strong independence to read it, I have worked through these exercises and have found pure beauty in my child's personality and behaviors.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with our children, or anything that needs to "fixed"...allow them to grow and flourish with their natural born talents and dreams. 

They are spirited, not broken.

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