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Thankfulness

When it comes to raising my kids, I sometimes act like a teenager. I think I know it all and that there is one way to do things…my way. I like to think I’ve gained a lot of wisdom over the years and that what worked for me should work for them. I’m mostly talking about school and a little about the attitude my kids need to have to excel at whatever they want to do. But I found myself stuck on a train with tunnel vision and, because my way wasn’t working, the result was a deterioration of my relationship with my son. As much as he has the same aptitude as me, he is not me. I spent the bulk of last spring and then the first two months of this fall lecturing, yelling, screaming, bartering, guilt-tripping, threatening, pleading, carroting, etc. with mixed results. Most of the time, my son just learned to give me good eye contact and respond when a question -rhetorical or otherwise- was posed. But he was like that dog in the learned-helplessness experiment. That would be the one where the dog initially receives shocks in response to nothing. He eventually stops reacting and just lays there taking the shocks. He can’t do anything about the shocks, so why bother reacting? Just lay there and let it happen. The result? No motivation.
Interestingly, my ex and I were on the same page with approaching him the same way. But, the last thing I wanted to do was alienate my son. Yes, he broke my trust with fibs about homework and in-class assignments. Yes, his actions are disrespectful to my sacrifices for him. And, yes, I let him know. But, then I noticed that we were living in a house (he’s with me 90% of the time now) with a dark cloud not only hanging over it, but permeating every room. This isn’t the kind of household I wanted. This isn’t the kind of leader I wanted to be or be remembered as. I spent many days and nights agonizing over this. I spent a lot of time with a very good friend who listened and validated me. I’m a brooder. And I know that it’s a choice to be a brooder. But it was taking up my time, energy and mental focus. It was affecting my business.
So I made a decision to the remove the dark cloud. It still matters to me that he does his best and it still bothers me when he doesn’t. And I still remind him daily how to study and how to attitudinally approach his school work and how to problem solve. But I do it in a way that allows him to feel respected while remembering that this is all for the betterment of his future. In fact, the day I decided this, I sat down with him and said, “I’ve given you the skills to succeed, but now it’s up to you. I’m going to let you have all the distractions without restricting you from them and it’s going to be up to you to get your work done and score well on your tests. You’re a young man now and you have to take care of yourself.” (or something like that). Call some of it reverse psychology, but I swear to you that the change in tone from me caught ┬áhim off guard and it dawned on him in some way that I was right…it is up to him.
Well, I’d love to tell you that everything is perfect, but it’s not. It’s much better, but there’s an occasional slip, like when he doesn’t quite understand an assignment, but doesn’t think to ask the teacher for more guidance. That’s where I have to remind him to use his resources, like a parent should. What’s funny is that I keep running into other parents who have the same problem. I know it’s all going to work out eventually. I have plenty of friends my age who can attest to that.
So what does this have to do with thankfulness? Everything. Because every time I was done yelling, lecturing, screaming, etc., and the learned helplessness experiment was over, he would hug me and tell me he loves me. Every. Single. Time. And the night I went to bed intentionally without telling him I loved him was one of the darkest nights I’ve ever had. And it was wrong. And thankfully, that chapter is over.
It’s not lost on me how much I have taken for granted. Facebook posts and Twitter tweets and regular news have made that abundantly clear. For starters, my son is physically and mentally healthy while other children are not. My son and I also get a lot of time together where work or other circumstances make that impossible for others. And he will soon be his own man with his own responsibilities and less time for me.
So, as I read the news about a man who violated the trust of so many young men and a university that covered it up, I’m moved to think about the things for which I am thankful as they pertain to me and my children. And as you read the following list, I hope that you stop to think about what you can be thankful for, despite whatever imperfections exist in your own world.
Today, I am thankful:
  • -that I have two sweet kids who tell me they love me every chance they get;
  • -that I have special friends whom I can count on to listen and help me keep perspective and who serve as great sounding boards;
  • -for love;
  • -for other people’s children with whom I get to watch grow up and for whom I get to cheer and encourage, one in particular who makes me laugh almost daily with texts;
  • -for all the inspirational posts my running and triathlon friends put on Facebook to inspire me to succeed;
  • -for the connections I get to keep with people from different eras of my life, even if it’s only a once-a-year birthday wish on FB;
  • -for the wonderful diversions that football and fantasy football are;
  • -for fresh beginnings and the lifting of the other dark cloud over my old office;
  • -for the rights of Americans to occupy spaces to make a statement over something they are passionate (or lazy) about;
  • -and finally, for so many wonders and experiences in this world that reveal glimpses of God to me (one was just shown to me via a unique theoretical perspective by my son’s Biology teacher).
Happy Thanksgiving,
Bill
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