There’s a book called Mindset by Carol Dewck. It’s becoming widely read by educators, and many parents. A friend of mine just wrote an awesome piece about it here. The idea of cultivating a growth mindset has been popping up for me, beginning with a consultant at my boys’ school handing me the book three years ago. I put it off, being busy and all, and I think I actually over-borrowed her book by a year or something. Oops! So I finally read it, and the gist is that we can choose to have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. You can change your way of thinking, and you can choose to try hard at things that aren’t easy. Of course there is much more to it, and you should pick up that book.
This seemed like a really simple concept, and I pshawed the idea that I needed to change my mindset. Of course I had a growth mindset! My mind has had a lot of attention! I spent my late teens and twenties working on myself, understanding how I worked, and I came pretty darn far with that, thankyouverymuch. I needed those years for that. My mindset was solid. It was my kids who needed some help here, not me.
The last couple of years brought parent-teacher conferences where I heard that my boys were awesome, except they needed to learn to persevere when things didn’t come easily right away. I would heavy sigh, internally blame it on Latefordinner, and say “I don’t know where they get that!” That’s not how I do things! And I work on it with them. I take them for very long hikes in the woods and make them figure out how to get back, dragging them for miles when they want to quit. I make them do chores for screen time, teaching them new chores and following through with my rules. I use the mantra my parents used: “You can do hard things!” I make them problem solve, forcing them to figure things out before I help them. But the desire to work hard still doesn’t seem to be ingrained in their psyche, in their mindset.
The other day Tuna got a new Transformer. He was frustrated because it wasn’t easy, and Latefordinner wouldn’t help him. He reminded him that he used to get frustrated when he was four (he’s almost 11 now), but now he had to big-kid-up and figure it out. Tuna carried that thing around with him all day, working and working on it until he could transform that thing in 10 seconds. And he did it! He was so proud of himself.
Then he came to me and wanted ME to try it.
Asking me to do Transformers is like asking me to sew something–I might throw a tantrum and smash stuff. I have avoided Transformers for seven years now, passing them off on Latefordinner, because I CAN’T DO THEM. I HATE doing them, and no one is going to make me!!
So I wouldn’t do it. I actually snapped at him and asked why he even wanted me to do it. Did he think it was funny that I’m not mechanically inclined? Did he want to watch me fail? No, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t sew, and I don’t do Transformers. I had the fixed mindset that I couldn’t do Transformers, and I refused to try something hard. I told Tuna I would not try. Now, there are some things in life we just don’t have to do as adults–taxes, sewing, washing cars, dishes…oh wait, gotta do those. BUT, when my child came to me and wanted me to try his Transformer, it was an opportunity to teach him how to do hard things. I stomped my foot and refused!
The whole thing didn’t sit right with me. I knew I was being hypocritical and childish. I almost blew my opportunity to model the growth mindset. …..until I realized what I was doing. I took me a day, actually. Once the lightbulb went off–I think it was Latefordinner’s account of telling Tuna to work hard that flipped the switch– I went to him and asked him to teach me, and to be patient with me. I explained that I really should work harder on the things that don’t come easily.
It turns out he is an excellent teacher! And, I was a pretty good student. Transformers are hard when you’re me. I can do hard things.
How many other times had I unknowingly taught him not to try? How to quit? How to not even begin?? How many other opportunities have I blown?
The good news is that Tuna (10), Binker (6), and Squishy (3) are still young enough to catch on, and they’ll have minimal damage. I am always brought back to the mirror in parenting. I used to call Tuna my little mirror–he shows me the truth of who I am–he is a reflection of me. Somewhere along the chaotic way I lost that, (I think because it’s a bit overwhelming to see three different perspectives of your own reflection, like a three-way mirror), and this has been a shining reminder to do some inward reflecting. It’s the same concept as putting on your own oxygen mask first before helping others–how can I grow their mindsets if I’m in denial about my own? I’ve spent too much time projecting, not realizing that I’ve been giving away my opportunities for growth. Mindsets, like reflections, are never solid. We are never ever done growing. Who was I to think I didn’t need to change? I really hope to hear some hard work reports at conferences this year.
This parenting gig is hard! Good thing I can do hard things.