Parenting is filled with joys and challenges.
Recently, my family went from the high of my 4-year-old son learning finally to dress himself (by the way, I didn’t know there were about 10 different ways to put on a shirt, including wearing it upside down), to the low of my 5-year-old daughter’s confidence being crushed as my son learned to ride his bike without training wheels before she had mastered the same skill.
The area where we live is filled with children—10 or 12 of various ages—with my children being the youngest.
Mostly boys, the dead-end street is constantly filled with the sound of a basketball bouncing or a stomp rocket soaring high into the sky.
It’s the happy sounds of kids being outside being kids and my son thrives in this environment.
He loves to be out there mixing it up with the other kids, playing basketball, riding scooters, and (until this one weekend) riding his bike with his training wheels. He yells to his neighbors to look at him as he puts his legs up on his bike or makes a basket with the ball. “Watch me!” he says.
I am proud when I see him so brave interacting with others and trying new things.
My daughter, on the other hand, seems a bit intimidated by this setup. She tends to be off to the side, observing everyone. Or, she’ll ride her bike (with training wheels) around the edges while the rest of the children play. She is fascinated by all the activity, but is quietly an observer versus a full participant. It’s a stark contrast to my son. My daughter, with the big voice who takes the lead inside our house, becomes a mouse when outside with all these older kids.
This particular weekend, my son was watching all the other kids ride their bikes and suddenly asked his Dad to take his training wheels off.
My daughter, not to be outdone, followed suit. Then, I helped my son get on his bike and wobble around the court a bit, me running alongside, steadying the bike, before he got it. Within 20 minutes he was zigging and zagging around the court with very little help from me.
Everyone noticed. The other kids were yelling, “Good job!” and “You’re doing it!” He said, “Look at me, I don’t have training wheels, I am riding my big boy bike!” It was exciting to see the support of all these kids for my son, and to see him succeed at doing something new.
My daughter, on the other hand, was devastated.
In fact, she went into the house and cried. Used to being first at everything and (usually) having an easier time with picking up new things than her younger brother, she sensed that she was not going to be able to pick this skill up as easily and was scared to even try, especially in front of the other kids. I comforted her and tried to build up her confidence. I encouraged her to give it a try.
What she was worried about, it turned out, was that she didn’t want any of the kids seeing her as she learned. We walked her bike off of our street and around the corner where she could practice in private.
I helped her get on the bike as she struggled to balance. As I pushed her along, she whined and cried out in fear when the bike wobbled. I assured her that she would eventually get the hang of it and that it was like all of the other things she had mastered over time, that it would be hard until it suddenly wasn’t. She kept saying things like, “I want to be better than my brother at this,” and “This is hard,” and “I can’t do it,” and “I’ll never learn it.” She wanted to quit.
In that moment, I remembered my father teaching me not to quit when I felt defeated as a kid.
His lessons kicked in, and I told her that she could not quit when she was down, but that by practicing and persevering she would eventually prevail. I found myself remembering how I felt when my own sibling had an easier time picking up certain skills than I did, and wanting for my daughter to realize how strong and capable she really is.
I talked with her about how she has had many skills come naturally and easily to her while it’s been harder for her brother. She wanted examples. I gave them to her: writing, reading, and craft-making, to name a few. I told her that her father has some things that come easier to him than to me, and vice-versa. Again, she wanted examples and I gave them.
She has not mastered the skill of riding a bike yet, but I know she will. As her mother, I can see her resourcefulness, capability, and strength, and I want so much for her to see it in herself.
As a business owner, I constantly find myself in situations where I am tempted to measure my success against others.
When I do this, I often find myself falling short, and I can, in those moments, relate to my daughter wanting to slink out of sight and practice in a place where no one can see her. To quit before she’s started.
In this day of instant gratification and immediate access, our children are not always given opportunities to struggle. While it can be painful to watch, it’s important for them to learn the valuable lessons that come with attempting, failing, and succeeding.
And yet, it is our children’s own journey. My daughter ultimately needs to find that well-spring of resilience in herself.
I wish that for her more than anything.