“Life is hard, and then you die.”
Many of you will recognize the above quote as one I use frequently. It’s really not that I’m a pessimist, it’s more that I’ve come to the conclusion that the sooner you embrace that thought, really take it to heart, the easier life is. Life is hard…( wonderful, exciting, challenging)…but hard. If you live for any length of time… people you know will die, jobs will be lost, illnesses will occur, hearts will be broken and dreams damaged. People are messy (both emotionally and in the kitchen).
Denying this reality, to ourselves or to our children, doesn’t create happiness and contentment. In fact, it frequently creates the opposite. When we teach our children to expect life to be easy they can feel extremely disappointed and put upon when it is not. If we lead them to expect that they should always be entertained, happy, and healthy we are setting them up to become demanding little monsters (lovable monsters but…) I certainly don’t mean to imply that we should teach our children negativity, but that we should teach them that life is full of hard parts…and while we can’t control that, we can control our attitudes.
It would benefit each of us to remember that life is not meant to be a smooth road. It is the detours and bumps that stretch and grow us up. It is the persevering and doing what is difficult, day in and day out, that builds character. It is modeling all of this with a cheerful heart that gives our children an example to follow.
We have all seen our children struggle with a subject and start down their own self-defeating path. “It’s too hard.” “Other kids don’t struggle with this.” “I’ll do it tomorrow.” “I’ll never understand it.” They can get themselves so worked up that they waste an hour doing nothing but feeling sorry for themselves. In that time they could have finished the assignment four times over. The fact that the lesson was hard, made them feel they should be allowed to just give up. It’s at these times I would look over at my sons and say.”Life is hard, then you die.” They would laugh, they knew I didn’t mean all of life is hard, but that hard is part of life, and the more challenges we take on, the more we accomplish, the more we are going to bump up against hard parts.
Learning is often hard. It involves work and when it does our children may find themselves surprised. They may expect that they should just ‘get it’. If a subject doesn’t come easy, they are discouraged and don’t ‘like’ it. Day in and day out, over a period of time, this sort of attitude makes learning more challenging than it needs to be. It necessitates the student overcoming their own negative thoughts prior to beginning work on the subject that needs to be mastered.
Last month we talked about nurturing the inner life of our child, getting a good foundation laid…well, this is a big part of it. Our children’s attitudes and expectations need to be carefully monitored by us. All of us have tapes playing in our heads, self-talk. When that talk is self-defeating all of life is more challenging than it needs to be. When our children expect life to be handed to them on a platter, to never have to struggle, they are bound to be disappointed. If we don’t confront the unrealistic expectation and change their ‘self-talk’ they will continue to internalize the message of ‘poor me’.
We are not all that different from our children. Many of us wake up with housework, jobs, and kids that require our attention. Dishes and clothes need washing, floors need sweeping, and windows need…well, you know about windows. Our minds start down a self-destructive path…. “It’s just the same thing every day. I’m tired. It’s easier for Sally, she’s naturally organized. I keep up the best I can. It’s just too much.” Before we are even out of bed we have already dug ourselves a hole…and jumped in.
The truth is, it’s not really any easier for Sally. Sure, she may have a system that saves her 10 minutes, but she’s facing the same house, kids, clothes etc. that the rest of us do. As with our children and learning, the battle isn’t so much with the task that lies ahead, but rather with our own attitudes.
I’ve found that often where we lose the mental battle isn’t in the big crisis of life, but in the day-to-day small skirmishes. That is where we can begin to complain and whine and feel put out that life isn’t as easy as we think we deserve. For our kids, it may be math, or Latin, or chores. For you it may be the dishes, the driving to practices, or separating bickering siblings. It is in these small daily choices that we discover who we really are. We expect our children to ‘just get it done’…do we expect the same thing from ourselves, or do we mire ourselves in complaining, procrastinating, and excuses. More than what we say our children are watching what we do…it’s a scary thought.
Life, learning, working, raising a family, nurturing a marriage, and homeschooling are all hard work at times…but they are also where we will find our greatest joy and satisfaction. As in most things success and effort go hand in hand. Our children are watching us live our lives and absorbing our attitudes. They are very astute. The attitude and outlook on the world we ‘give’ our children needs to be balanced. It is healthy for children to realize that a life worth living is going to require real effort and that they are capable of doing hard things. It is in doing hard things, sticking it out and finishing, that we teach out children valuable life lessons.
So don’t be afraid to tell your children that life is hard, they are going to find it out soon enough anyway. The key is not helping your children avoid all the ‘hard’ parts, but giving them the tools and attitude necessary to successfully deal with all of life, the good and the bad.