Embrace the struggle

This is an email I sent to my mother.
Dear Mom,
Mel Robbins (my Vegas trip?) shared a few lines in her latest newsletter about learning. I’ll copy/paste that bit here so you can get the context.
Apparently, the best way to learn…is to struggle. And boy oh boy—is that in my face right now. Our 13-year-old son is struggling in school and he’s not okay with it. So much so, he has basically just phoned it in at school. I get it. I can think back to the times I did whatever it took to avoid the challenges in front of me. While in the short-term avoidance feels good, the problem is we miss out on what challenges teach us.
I found this video on learning that features a group of professors, journalists, and engineers to be reassuring. There’s a number of great tips but the most powerful takeaway is that we all have to learn to be okay with struggle.
That means I have to learn to be okay watching our son struggle, and not rush in to rescue him. And he has to learn to be okay as he struggles with certain subjects at school, so he can face challenges and become a better learner.
[I bawled after reading that. I hadn’t even seen the video yet.]
Mom, I know you’ve told me that life is hard. I have only recently begun to accept that and to even invite the challenges. When in the midst of a trial, I am leaning into it, knowing I’ll be coming out the other side a better, stronger individual.
But why didn’t I know that when I was young – that struggle is not to be avoided. (I am sure you told me – I just didn’t hear you.) That pain is part of growing like labor pains are part of birthing. Labor pains don’t have to hurt as much if we work with them, lean into them, not resist the process. In school, I just hated struggle – to feel stupid. What I didn’t know then was that everyone else was struggling and feeling stupid, as well. I don’t recall teachers leading us into learning with questions. We were just fed info and tested.
I resisted the process of learning. I avoided the opportunities. I didn’t value the time I had to learn to struggle. Out of habit is still resist the struggle of learning. Until very recently. I now recognize it when I do and push through. Then I get the rush that comes with success. The joy of reaching the top! (Caleb knows this. So do Hannah and Emma from high school courses. Laura is discovering this finishing her GED. Clara with struggling to find work. Becca is discovering this with her health as is Sarah. Matt, has his own struggles, as well. Steve seems to be between struggles but then I don’t see him often to know.)
The natural extension of this is – and the point of her message is – to also let my children struggle. As she said, we parents must be okay with watching our kids struggle to learn. And that goes beyond the classroom. Life is an inexorable teacher!! Lessons abound and struggles are inherent. But taking our kids out of the struggle or protecting them from it is like cutting the egg away from the chick or the cocoon away from the butterfly – it kills the creature.
I am seeing the result of protecting my children in their youth – particularly my older ones. Seeing them struggle as an adult is painful and probably far more painful than letting them experience the full struggle as a child.

Quail nest in Barney’s roses

Here is a cute ongoing story… last Sunday I was trimming back Barney’s potted roses. They are at a very weedy stage (growing from below the crown) and I suggested that we take them out altogether as the rhodies are shading them anyway. So, I go in there clipping away when all of a sudden there was a chirp and fluttering whirrr of wings startled me. I had disturbed a mama quail. She chip chip chipped at me from the opposite roof and called to her mate. He made loud noises at me as well.

I respectfully tidied up as quickly as I could, leaving their nest area ASAP – but not before taking a picture. I told Barney about the little family and he began to tell me that I had to find a way to move them. “There’s not enough room in that pot” (I told him they leave the nest almost immediately). The neighbor’s dogs will find it, put a fence around it. (not practical)” “The young quail will fall and break their little necks or legs when it’s time to leave the nest, so put a ramp from the pot to the ground. (that would scare the mama away for sure and they’d all die)” “the mother bird wasn’t as smart as us, she needs us to make things safe for her” “we need to contact the authorities – maybe they could sedate them transfer them to a better nest area”… on and on he went.
I convinced him to call the Audobon Center to get their input (leave them be. Let nature take its course). I hope that settled it for him. I basically told him I won’t interfere with them. That perturbed him but he seems to be dealing with it.
Thankfully, mama returned to her little clutch of 13!! eggs. I peek at them through the blinds and hope I’m there when they are ready to leave.
We are always inclined to protect and interfere with nature – human nature, as well. Teach about fire and guns and running around traffic… stuff like that. But otherwise, let them just live. Let them learn from the pains of life and let them feel the joy of learning and succeeding.
To my kids: I am truly sorry for my part in sheltering you. I suspect I was trying to protect myself from feeling the pain and experiencing consequences of watching you suffer. Totally a selfish move on my part.
You younger ones know that I have since changed my stance on this.
To you older ones, I send you strength and wish you well as many of you learn that life is full of lessons/struggles. It’s okay – don’t resist. Face them and walk through that “valley of shadows”. You have what it takes to get through. Enjoy the journey – both the trials and the joys! Learn to embrace struggle.
I love you!
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