We’ve made our way to the library today, just the two of us, me and Amy. It’s important to carve out those times when a kid gets a parent’s attention all to themselves. This was Amy’s time. We had a lively conversation in the car where she didn’t have to wait her turn or allow time for others to chime in. It was all Amy and she enjoyed it. For those of you who have raised daughters, I’m sure you understand. Girls talk. A lot.
I listened mostly, only adding in a question or comment here or there. She talked, telling me about plans she has made and things she would like. Amy has been with us for a year. The first year is tough for all of us, but mostly for her. Sometimes at night, after I put her to bed, I wonder what she’s thinking. She is still pretty guarded. Giving me only glimpses of her real self from time to time. One day, and it won’t be too long; she’ll let down those defenses and learn to trust us. That’s when we’ll learn who Amy really is.
Sometimes I try to rush her. I get frustrated that this part takes so long. Why can’t she just see how much we love her? Why can’t she understand what we are trying to do? Why can’t she just get with the program? But then God reminds me that He’s not working on my timeline (and neither is Amy). This is not my first rodeo, but some days in the midst of the hard work, I go back to those first days with my first one.
Tough days. Long days. Demanding days. I had no idea what I was doing. Teachers called me daily. Hannah was a mess in every situation. I was trying to fix it, but I had no idea how. I wasn’t meeting her where she was. I was trying to make her meet me. It didn’t work. We struggled and carried on for over a year before I stopped long enough to listen to what God had to say about it. When I finally stopped to listen I learned something very simple that changed everything: This is not a race.
What a game changer. You mean I don’t have to resolve every single dilemma today? No, I don’t. What freedom! I had been feverishly working to cram eighteen years of training into nine. It felt like I was on the fast track of parenting. Not only did I need to train her in what to do, I needed to undo what had already been done. It was exhausting. I was wearing myself out. I was exasperating her. We had nothing to show for all our hard work. Talk about defeated!
So I slowed down, took a deep breath and started to prioritize. I made a list of those things that mattered most. I stopped trying to get her to do things my way and started to focus on the majors. My list included character qualities rather than specifics: honesty, consideration, and diligence. I no longer considered leaving shoes in the middle of the floor or not putting the milk carton back in the refrigerator a big deal. Even academics took a backseat in our new system. I couldn’t do it all at once and neither could Hannah.
Our new focus gave us a clear picture of where we were and where we wanted to go. The journey became more enjoyable. I corrected episodes of lying, unkind words or actions, and poorly done tasks. The hours in our day weren’t limitless. There was only so much a day could hold. Sometimes homework didn’t get done. Sometimes she failed spelling tests. I was still getting the calls from school, but I would break down her behavior in my mind and try to teach to the character issue rather than her actions. I no longer wanted to change the outside; I wanted her heart.
Seven years later I have that heart. Hannah is thriving. She is honest, kind and diligent. She is helpful and full of dreams. She loves people and seeks out ways to serve. Sometimes she still leaves her shoes in the middle of the floor and every now and again I find the milk on the counter. I’m glad I chose to focus on the inside because a spoiled gallon of milk is a small price to pay for all I’ve gained.
As Amy sits across the library table from me reading her book, it’s easy to trust she will one day be different. Her tough exterior will be softened toward us. One day she will no longer fight to be first, but will offer someone else that spot. Her feelings of self-preservation will be given over to feelings of safety and security. One day she will not only hear that she is family, she will believe it as well. I’ve seen it happen. Twice. It’s beautifully addicting and I’m looking forward with anticipation to this third time around.
So if you find yourself in the midst of a difficult season, take a breath, slow down and prioritize. You may have to let some things go. Believe me, I understand how hard that is. I was president of the “my way or the highway” club. It took a lot of change on my part to get to the point where I could help my girls. I’m here to say it was worth it. Sit down with a pen and a piece of paper. List your top three challenges. Focus on those and let the rest wait. You can’t do it all. I tried and ended up spinning my wheels for an entire year, accomplishing nothing. Progress can be made only one step at a time. Giant leaps are the exception. Baby steps are the norm.
Do you teach difficult kids? Do you have one student (or many) that makes your days long and your school year feel like a lifetime? Then grab your pen and paper too! You can’t turn the tide overnight. Focus on their greatest needs and move forward from there. Be patient. It’s not a race.