Saturday, July 19, 2014

Are you an Excuse Maker?

With the school year fast approaching, I wanted to talk about excuse makers. Children are the best at this, aren't they?

     "Did you hit your brother?"
     "He made me!"
I usually come back with something like, "you mean he grabbed your arm and balled up your fist with his other hand and then hit himself?!?! That's incredible!" At this point I remind them that if they did hit, it is their responsibility to learn how to control the feelings that cause them to want to hit so they won't do it again.

We are all excuse makers though by nature. I don't think most of the time it is a problem.

     "What's the matter with this loaf of bread?" your husband asks.
     "I think the yeast was old so it didn't rise," you respond. Then you buy new yeast and your bread turns out fine the next time.

That is an excuse I can live with where as the first example I can't. But, how does this apply to the school year, you ask? I have found in my 15 years of sending kids off to school that they (and us) are quick to blame others (especially teachers) for their struggles in school. I'll give you an example that happened to us.

When one of my boys was in elementary school, he had a teacher that observed the "rule" of not letting the kids work on big projects at home. While I'm fine with that for the most part but this child struggled and couldn't seem to put his project together in a way that he was satisfied with. I asked him to bring it home so I could look at it with him to see if I could help. He told me that he wasn't allowed to bring it home so I asked him if he had spoken with his teacher to ask for help. He acknowledged that he had not, that his teacher was always busy helping the other kids and she wouldn't have time for him (his assumption). I explained to him that if she was going to have that type of rule that she obviously expected him to go to her for help. He was going to have to talk to her because that's what she was requiring them to do. End of story is that he didn't do well on that project (I think he got a C) and he blamed his teacher for his low grade.

I was very frustrated and asked him again if he had asked his teacher for help and he replied he had not. I explained to him that his teacher couldn't be responsible for his low grade if she had no idea he needed help, she wasn't a psychic or a magician. He finally accepted responsibility. I could have easily stepped in and blamed this teacher for the problem that I had with her "rule" but what would he have learned from me stepping in? Needless to say, he has not had a problem since then asking for help from his teachers.

I had a daughter who struggled with grades her sixth grade year and she struggled all year long. She kept telling me her teacher just didn't know how to teach and things like that. I asked her every day if she had any homework and she almost always said she did not. I found websites to help tutor her on math, I offered her books to read to work on her literacy, I got worksheets from her teachers and more. I made her sit down for at least 30-45 minutes every day and do something to improve her grades but a lot of the time she just sat there and waited out the clock. She proclaimed that none of this was going to help, that it was all her teacher's fault she didn't know how to teach.

I finally gave her an ultimatum that if she didn't get her grades up to a C average she would have to do her sixth grade year all over again. If she ended up with a C average but had a D or an F in any subject her second semester, she would have to do summer school. She went from all Fs to a C average with one subject at a D in a matter of weeks. Was that her teacher's doing? No, it was hers.

We did summer school that year and she hated it. We had many discussions about understanding that it was her job to learn and hers alone. She finally owned it and recognized that we had given her plenty of opportunity to bring her grades up. (I should add that she had a stellar 7th grade year.)

When things go wrong with your child's grades or behavior at school, I think it is important to first find out what your child's ownership in the problem is. Are they making efforts with their classwork and doing extra to catch up and something still isn't clicking? Offer them ways to own the problem and resolve it. Please do not step in and fix it for them and please don't immediately blame the teacher.

We are raising a society of kids who don't know how to solve their own problems. We have parents who dash in at the very thought of their kid failing or hurting and solve the problem for them. I truly believe that in order to gain the independence we so desperately want our adult children to have, we must let them fail a time or two. What's the worst thing that can happen from failing a test at school? It might drop their grade a bit but is it really that important to have perfect grades? Don't the kids who get Cs in all their subjects still move on to the next grade?

We want our children to be successful as they learn but they need to have ownership in that knowledge or the value of that knowledge goes down.

Aren't you so glad that the first time you fell off your two wheeler your dad didn't rush back to the store to demand someone fix the problem? Didn't he get you back on time after time until you figured it out? Falling off the bike is a failure of sorts, it is the type of failure you learn from.

Don't be an excuse maker. Take ownership in your struggles and make plans to work on fixing them before you blame someone else for your shortcomings.

**Having said all that, I do realize there does come a point where a parent must step in and protect their child from physical, emotional and mental health danger so please don't think I have never called a teacher and confronted them about something regarding my child. I just think there is a time and place for it and almost always, it is after I have given my child time to own the problem and fix it himself while offering him support and suggestions. Sometimes I don't make that call. Sometimes I let my child fail. Growth comes from struggle and if we don't allow some struggle to happen, there can be no growth.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


I would have liked to have driven my Yukon to girls camp as it seated more girls and has 100K less miles than the truck but the air conditioning went out on Friday before camp (after I just had it fixed) and I wasn't about to drive two hours into the Arizona desert without AC. I begrudgingly drove my pickup truck.

Towing the truck home
Unfortunately, on the way home from girls camp the truck died on me as I was going up a hill. We got my trailer hitched up to another truck and got the girls into other vehicles to go home. I rode most of the way home where I met Ben who was driving our Yukon and a flat bed trailer to tow the truck home with. I turned around with him and we went back to get it. So I still got to drive a few hours without AC in our lovely desert. Lucky me.

Yesterday I finally had a chance to drive the Yukon into the dealer to have it looked at since they had just fixed it a few days prior to it breaking again. As the mechanic opened the hood he realized the serpentine belt was misaligned. "You are lucky you made it in here on that belt!" he stated and I got sick to my stomach when I could see where it was fraying. I don't know much about cars, but I know the serpentine belt is pretty much the most important belt in a car. "OK," I said and waited for more bad news, "I'm just going to let you look at it and call my husband when you know something more." I left quickly.

Ben texted me about 30 minutes later to tell me that we had blown the engine on the truck and the cost to fix it would be significant. I was defeated. Two cars dead in one week? I trudged through my shopping trip, only getting about half the items on my list. I was too upset to care. If I had a blown engine on the Yukon as well as the truck, we were sunk.

When we arrived home I went upstairs and laid on my bed. I wanted to cry and scream but I felt numb. I just laid there until I fell asleep. I woke up to the sound of Ben coming home from coaching football as he gathered us for Family Home Evening.

We started our meeting as usual and then when it came to the lesson Ben told us the story of his afternoon. "When I got the news about the truck and the Yukon, I didn't know how I was going to tell Mom and Drew (the truck is essentially his to drive). I knew they were going to be upset. At football practice I screamed at the boys until I realized I was letting my anger and frustration out on them and at that point I became unusually quiet. My other Coach was unusually quiet as well and approached me as we were walking to the field. I was about to tell him about my crummy afternoon when he started to speak, "Coach, I can tell you aren't having a good afternoon but I have some bad news to tell you. My cancer is back and I will have to do chemo throughout the season. (He undergoes chemo in the off season and has endured this for many years.) Suddenly I forgot I even had car problems."

As Ben was telling us this, he was very close to tears. He loves this coach. Ben realized at that instant that our car problems were nothing. Our thoughts turned to our beloved coach and his sweet wife and all they have endured in their lifetime together.

Perspective is a funny word. In one moment everything changed and my problems seemed insignificant. I decided to count my blessings and they are many. We all have our health. We have an income, we have the most awesome kids and extended family. Life really is good.

And, the truth is that we made it through the last two weeks making several trips an hour north to basketball games carrying most of the team in our Yukon, how tragic it would have been for it to have died en route to our many activities.

Post Note:
They called about the Yukon and the dealer said it was their error that they didn't check the alignment of the serpentine belt so we only had to replace that belt and an AC belt, they covered all labor costs. Then later, our friend and neighbor called as we were driving to get the Yukon to tell us his friend could put in a new engine for about $1000 less than anticipated. That is some good news. We are blessed.