A really interesting thing happened with my youngest daughter, Abby. She was at the breakfast table the other day, just looking at her math homework. But she wasn’t doing it. “I suck at math.”
And I’m like, “You have to do it.”
“I hate math.”
And I’m thinking, what do I need to do to get her to do her math homework? So I start asking her questions, “Why do you hate math?”
And she intuitively turns the questioning back on me. “When will I ever need to do this when I’m older?”
And within minutes, it’s a battle, back and forth. She is not doing her homework.
After a few more minutes, I just gave up. I just didn’t have the energy to do battle with her. I’m standing there in my kitchen, I walk over to my refrigerator, open it up, stared into it — really just trying to buy some time, and after standing there for a sec, I realized how lame I was being. I’m trying so dam hard to get her to do her homework, I’m trying to reason with her; I’m interrogating her; and none of it’s working. I’m really just bullying her at this point. And finally, I’m just like — stop trying so hard.
And when I did that, I sort of got my breath back. And it was weird, I saw Abby differently. I saw myself in her. I remember literally sitting at my kitchen table, hearing my parents bark orders at me, “You have to do your homework.” And when I recalled that experience, I felt bad for Abby.
So without thinking, I just said, “Sweetie, I remember my parents yelling at me to do my math when I didn’t want to do it.”
“When?” she asked.
I told her how I remembered being 14 or 15, really messed up in Geometry, and my parents were off in another room, yelling at me to do my homework. And I very clearly remember the feeling of being all alone. All I wanted was someone to help me, but I didn’t know how to ask for it.
And then I said, “Abby, move over, you don’t have to do your homework”. At this point, I wasn’t thinking of “getting her to do her homework” anymore. I just didn’t want her to feel isolated.
“I’m gonna do your homework for you.” (probably not the best parenting, I don’t know). So, I sat down next to her, grabbed her book, and started on her worksheet.
She looked at me like I was nuts, but then told me, “No, I’m gonna do it!”
And I was like, “NO, I’M GONNA DO IT.”
We went back and forth for a few, but she won. And she started to do it. And she did it with ease. She didn’t suck at math.
But then, as she was doing the work, something else happened; she started to tell me about her day and how she was raising her hand but her teacher wasn’t calling on her. And, that she felt her teacher didn’t like her, and felt ignored. What she was really telling me was that she felt no one was paying attention to her. And here I was really just barking orders at her, and really, I was absolutely ignoring her. The truth is that it was never about math. It was about people paying attention to her.
I only got there when I stopped trying so hard to get to the outcome.
When I let that go, I started to get her. And everything – everything changed. It’s not that important to me that she did the homework, or not. Something more meaningful came from it: I got WHY she wasn’t doing it. She revealed herself when I stopped bullying her; when I stopped selling her. And all the yelling, and all the barriers just disappeared.
It was a beautiful lesson for me.
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