For the most part, my kids hang together well. But other days I worry about whether they’ll be on speaking terms when they grow up. They bicker and taunt each other. They mimic one other until someone is yelling and slamming a door. Sarcastic comments have led to hurt feelings. They are not unique kids; they are American siblings. And I am always listening to my own inner voice that tells me when I need to intervene and when I shouldn’t. It’s a learning process for all of us.
Then – once in awhile – they surprise me completely.
Saturday, my 12 year-old daughter and I were in Pittsburgh for an Irish dance competition. She was tired because we’d gotten in late the night before, and after lunch she still had two dances to go when I told her:
“Don’t use up the tank on this third one. Save it. And then just give it all you’ve got for hornpipe.”
Hornpipe was the dance she wanted to win. She’d been dancing well all day, but this last dance was the one she needed to finish off her current level and move closer to becoming a champion.
“Mom,” she said, “You’re really bad at giving pep talks.”
“What?!!” I feigned surprise.
“You don’t want to hear from me?” I continued, knowing full well she really doesn’t, but by that exhausted point, I was clueless about what to say next.
“How about Dad? Does he give good pep talks?”
“Huh. Who does?”
Then – shocker of them all – she mentioned her older brother.
“Really?!!? What does he say?” I couldn’t imagine a 15-year old being a font of wisdom.
Giggling for the first time in hours she said, “Stuff like, ‘Kick the dancer in front of you.’”
“Oh!” I laughed, “That would never occur to me.”
“Of course not, Mom! You’re you.”
She got in line for her third dance and I texted her brother, saying his words were needed.
Right away he responded with this.
I stared at my phone like it was the best Christmas present I’d ever received.
You are going to do great…I have faith in you…
Did I read that right?
I read it again. And again.
After she came back, I handed her my phone and told her to call her brother. She snatched it with gusto.
A few minutes later she returned, laughing and smiling broadly. Her brother’s encouragement strengthened the words of his text, and hearing his voice soothed her soul. Just like that – he had completely changed her day.
Parents are a family’s leaders. But we often feel sidelined, taken for granted, and forgotten. Most of our work is unseen. While we may ultimately be remembered for the jobs we dutifully perform to provide, to feed, to enable participation and so forth, we are seldom thanked for the even more important work we do: building character in our kids, and showing them how to forge relationships in their lives.
When was the last time you heard a kid say, “Thank you for teaching me forgiveness and gratitude. I really love my sister/brother”?
Yet this is what we do, every time we speak to our kids about why we treat one another with respect and love, and why we expect them to behave with decency and goodness.
Instilling virtue in kids is like throwing cooked spaghetti at the wall. Do it enough and eventually a piece sticks.
Or so I keep telling myself.
It had been awhile since I’d seen a reminder that this was still truth.
My daughter’s hornpipe dance was absolutely beautiful – probably the best I’d ever seen her do it. And her smile and posture – my gosh….She was on fire with joy.
In the end, she got fourth place. Not the first she wanted, but she had no regrets and had made no mistakes. Judging is a little subjective, and she’ll get her first another day.
And on that day, her brother will be cheering for her while I root for the two of them, from the sidelines.