Wednesday, February 8, 2012

February, 2012: A parenting do-over

When I was in grade school, playing kickball at recess, every so often a player, upon messing up a kick, would yell “do-over!” and get to try the kick again. I don’t remember there being any rules around the shouting of “do-over.” You would certainly not yell it all the time, but rather in specific instances, such as if you stumbled on your approach and the resulting kick was extremely weak and sub-par. A yell of “do-over” for a strong kick that was caught for an out was quickly dismissed as unworthy. While we certainly couldn’t have articulated it, do-overs were for mistakes and missteps that were uncharacteristic of the kicker’s normal ability.
            My husband and I just took a parenting do-over.
            Our youngest daughter Jamie turned eight right before third grade began this past fall. St. Monica’s birthday cutoff is September 1, so Jamie had always been one of the youngest kids in her class. For the past three years, Jamie has been doing grade-level work, but with lots of help from Bill and me at home. Hours at the dining room table on school nights. More time reading and practicing math facts on weekends. Summer tutoring and extra academic classes. We’ve been pedaling furiously—not to keep her in front, but simply to make sure she keeps up.
            And suddenly, this past fall, after a difficult third grade parent-teacher conference, Bill and I came to a conclusion that we arguably should have reached years before: We should have not sent Jamie to kindergarten when we did. We should have held her for another year. Our daughter was in the wrong grade and we needed a do-over.
            The month following our epiphany at parent-teacher conferences eventually resulted in a decision to move Jamie to Holy Family, a neighboring Catholic school, and drop her down to second grade. It was a heart-wrenching month of visiting schools, praying a Novena for good decision-making, and staying up way too late discussing what would be best for Jamie and our other children.
            After her first day in the new school and new grade, Jamie bounced into my arms with a joyful exuberance that made the difficult discernment process worth it. “Besides my adoption day and my baptism, this was the best day of my life!” she said. 
            Decision-making as a parent is complicated by the very children who we are making decisions for. We may want input from them, yet at the same time, we recognize the final decision must be ours, not theirs. Good decision-making involves three components—prayer, time and courage.
            Prayer: Prayer in a time of decision-making should be focused on being open to any direction God may want to take us. The human impulse is to take the path of least resistance or risk, yet, often the decision that is best for us or our children may require a departure from our own plans. Praying for openness can help us see possibilities that we may otherwise have been closed to. “When we were deciding between two high schools for our son, I found that I actually needed to pray to accept the signs God was sending me,” said Bob, father of two. “I discovered what I wanted was affirmation from God to send our son to a school I felt had more prestige. When God’s path for us started looking different than what I planned, I felt uncomfortable. Praying to be open helped me to be able to follow on what I sensed what was God’s will for our son—it helped me to listen to God and not my ego.”
            Time: Not giving a decision enough time can lead to an impulsive act that we eventually will regret. Decisions that drag on beyond a reasonable time period can loom larger than they deserve to be and can draw our attention away from other equally important issues in our lives. Each decision has its own reasonable timeline, and finding a sweet spot in terms of timing is key. At the beginning of the process, create a deadline. But as you approach the deadline, take it seriously without allowing it to take you hostage. For Jamie, we had planned to make a decision so that she could start a new school right after Christmas break. When we didn’t have clarity by that point, we gave ourselves a new deadline—a couple weeks after Christmas—and were able to make a decision by then.

            Courage:  It is often the few days just before we actually execute the decision that are the most difficult. The reality of acting on the decision—not just thinking about it—can make us second-guess ourselves. Two days before Jamie’s grade and school change, I was nauseous and unable to sleep.  Jamie herself was blissfully unaware, but Bill and I were burdened with the ramifications of moving her from a school community our family had been part of for thirteen years. Courage in decision-making required us to believe at this point, that God was with us, whether we were making the correct decision or not. When Trinette and Greg, parents of three, had decided to move from Washington, D.C., to Milwaukee in order to live in a more family-friendly environment, the couple began to feel uneasy right before the move. ”Our pastor understood our worry,” Trinette said. “He told us: ‘Have faith that what you are doing is the right decision.  It isn't because of what you might find once you reach your destination, but that you found the courage to lead the life God set forth for you. Until that moment I had doubted and questioned our decision, but when he said that, my faith was able to relieve my fears.” 

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