Friday, March 25, 2011

If all else fails, just give up.

This was originally published on our Motherhood Matters blog at the Deseret News - but I thought I might as well put it here as well!

Did I really just type that title? Aren't we supposed to keep trying and never give up? The younger, more optimistic version of me would be appalled that I now view giving up as a viable strategy. It's not that I'm jaded now. It's just that I'm realizing that some things are not worth the fight and that I should save my energies for the things that really matter.

Generally, patience coupled with hard work and hope is a beautiful thing. When we go after our dreams with determination and grit, we often find satisfying success. But sometimes we may be working and waiting for the wrong things. And sometimes we patiently try to help someone else towards a dream they simply don't share which is a recipe for disaster.

Here's an example. I have a son who always leaves his stuff everywhere (I'm not using "always" and "everywhere" frivolously here). His PJs and underwear are always strewn across the bathroom after he takes a shower, and the towels never make it back on the hook. I'm pretty sure he's never made his bed without me standing over him. There are candy wrappers, books, dirty socks and components for his beloved Lego Mindstorm all over his room. His dresser drawers are always open (strangely - as he never seems to actually put anything in them). His coat and shoes can never be found when it's time to head out somewhere - and that makes us late.

I've tried charging him for each thing he leaves laying around. I've left bills on his bed: "I love you, buddy, but you owe me $5 for picking up the 10 things on the floor of your room after you left for school today." I've tried making him miss things to clean his room. I've tried "guilting" him into cleaning his room by explaining that he's really being a poor example to his little brother who seems to be picking up his messy ways. I've tried working with him to clean it up and really showing him how things should look when it's cleaned up properly. But I must admit that sometimes when I walk into his room right after I helped him clean in the day before and find a big fat mess, I do a little more yelling than I should.

I have been patient and helpful (usually) and have worked hard to help my son become the neat and tidy person I think he should be. But you know what? I'm realizing I can be patient forever and this wonderfully creative and intelligent boy of mine may never be entirely neat and tidy. It just might not be in the cards for him. Sure, he can and should improve. But perhaps my standards of cleanliness and neatness may not ever really work for him. I need to give up on what I think he should be and learn to more fully accept who he really is and who he's really meant to be. I need to decide what really matters and pare the list of neatness expectations down quite a bit for this beloved boy of mine. I can give up on some things, and, in this case, giving up isn't wimping out. It's being deliberate and realistic and loving.

Here's another example. My mom had a vision of a family orchestra. She had us all going on musical instruments at a young age. I took to the violin naturally, and my sister just younger than me worked at her violin as well. But my brother wasn't interested. He hated the violin. My mom thought maybe he'd like something more "manly," and he tried the trumpet, which seemed exciting at first, but after a few weeks of horrible blasting sounds and no lasting interest in the trumpet from my brother, we were all happy when my mom let him quit trumpet lessons. She tried to teach him a little piano herself – she'd been a music teacher before she had kids. No dice. I remember my mom sitting by my brother at the piano day after day, trying to patiently explain things and correct his mistakes. Each session started out nice, but piano bench battles between my mom and brother became a daily ordeal.

So my mom gave up. Her son wasn't going to be a musician, and while I'm sure that really pained her at first, she says she realized that her relationship with her son was way more important than realizing her dream of a family of accomplished musicians.

Sometimes patience and hard work is the right thing. Sometimes giving up is the right thing. Some things are worth the work and time and patience. Other things just aren't.

But figuring out which is which isn't so easy! Often it takes quite a bit of working and trying before we realize that something just isn't going to work out. And sometimes things end up working out on their own after we give them up.

Interestingly, today my brother is a musician in his own right. He bought himself a high-end keyboard a couple years ago and has taught himself to play - quite well.

Maybe someday my son will be a neat person. Who knows. I'm still going to remind him to clean up and ensure his room gets straightened every few days. But I'm not going to expect that he'll think of cleaning up on his own - at least not right now. I'm not going to let my desire for him to be neat get in the way of our relationship.

I guess I'm realizing that when we give up, we put our hopes and ideas and visions away and stop looking for them to happen. And sometimes, when we take the pressure off, things just happen by themselves. So perhaps giving up is really an ultimate form of patience!


Sweating in the endless heat said...

Well put and couldn't agree anymore with you. I had to do this with my oldest. I don't know if I was expecting more from her cause she was the oldest, but I completely relate to this post:-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Saren - I got to your blog from reading Shawni's (which I got to from...I'm not sure.) Anyway, I wanted to let you know that I was that messy child when I was younger. My poor parents tried everything, and eventually just accepted that I would be a slob. When I moved out to go to college, I slowly learned to be neat. Now that I'm living on my own, my apartment and my car are always spotless. My parents are delighted when they come by! All of these words are to reassure you that I bet your son's time will come, too. In his own time :)

Brigitta said...

Hey I don't know if you remember me...I am shawni's friend I met you a few times. Anyway just spent about a half hour reading some of your blog post and love your thoughts and writing....just wanted to say hey and I'll be checking in on you. You are so spot on with so many things on life and mothering.

Patty Ann said...

I gave up that fight with my kids years ago and developed the rule that if I couldn't see the room, than you had to live in it, but if you left your door open or your stuff somewhere else in the house and I had to see that room when I put things away, than you had to work on your room until it was clean. That worked very well when they were teenagers and had places to go and people to see and they couldn't go until the room was clean. It saved us many wars in the house and I felt that was better than fighting all the time.

Eyrealm said...

Just want to remind you that "that brother" was the biggest mess ever when he was a kid and you know that now, he has to have things in perfect order...especially his computer! Love it!

Josh said...

The funny thing about this is now I look back on this and wish I had practiced more. I wish I could visit my younger self and whisper in my ear that "you really WILL regret it if you quit, just like your mother says."

I tell this story to my 2nd and 3rd grade students and some really take it to heart!

Thanks for sharing this story on your blog, Saren!

Sue said...

In keeping with what Josh said, it's hard sometimes as a mom to determine what will truly be detrimental to the relationship and what your children will resent you for. Older teens have a great way of holding you accountable for all you didn't do as a parent. "Why didn't you make me practice more?" This usually comes on the heels of not being able to impress some girl at EFY with his piano prowess. Or, "Why didn't you make me study harder?" This comment comes after not receiving the desired ACT score. Do any other moms out there feel like they are between the rock and hard place of relationship versus accountability?


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