Struggle…

As we, here in Southern California, sit in anticipation of the next wave of rain showers heading our way, I’m finding myself thinking about troubles.*

Woe.

Misery and strife.

Difficulties.

Life is full of hardships. It’s also full of joy and accomplishment and ease, but those moments (and sometimes days and weeks and months) of hardship don’t quite have the same emotional impact as moments of joy and accomplishment and ease, do they?

It’s those moments (or seasons) of struggle that help us grow, to learn and change (even if all we’re learning is that sometimes life is just dang hard!). Just like all of the rain we’re getting now will give us gorgeous green hillsides and riotous fields of flowers in a few weeks and months, the struggles your children are going through (and maybe that you are also going through) are going to yield some new learning or movement or pattern.

And what if we could re-frame our thinking around struggle? Magda suggests:

There’s dignity in struggle because it gives our soul muscle…

without difficulty, there would be no development.

Magda would ask us to ask ourselves…how do we define struggle? The first things that come to my mind are along the lines of what you find in the dictionary…making a violent effort to be free of restraint, to strive to achieve or attain something in the face of difficulty or resistance, to have difficulty handling or coping …and yet, we all struggle every day.

We might struggle to get out of bed, or struggle to get children TO bed. We struggle with work problems, or to figure out the best routes to beat traffic. We watch children struggle…babies struggle when they are learning to move and struggle when they are solving problems.

Let’s stick with babies for a moment. In Seeing Infants with New Eyes, Magda said

“You have to try and fail, try and fail…

and that’s what babies are

ready to do,

happy to do,

can do,

and DO do…

and this is one of the things we so often,

with the best of intention,

DO NOT LET THEM DO.

It’s so tempting to step in and solve problems for children…but Magda always asked us to WAIT.

Wait and allow things to unfold.

Many times, you will see that what you thought was a problem, isn’t.

Or what you thought was the solution is not the solution they come to (and their idea is almost always better).

And yes, sometimes, it will be beyond them, and that’s where things get hard. When children are really struggling, crying, and maybe even asking or demanding you to fix something, we may feel the need to fix it for them…but even then, try to wait, try to be there, to be supportive without solving…there will be times in your life when you will give anything to solve your child’s struggle, and there will be nothing you can do. This is part of preparing you both for those moments.

Recently, a Mom shared a story with me about her daughter’s drive to figure out how to climb over her Pikler triangle…that part is normal, but what was puzzling was her daughter’s response was to rage-cry as she tried to master it…why keep going back to something that makes you so frustrated you cry? Over and over, her daughter “sobbed up the Pikler” only to need rescuing and an opportunity to recover each time. Hard work for both mother and child! But aren’t there times when you are drawn to master something, even though it infuriates you?

And while the perfect button on this story would be “and she climbed up and over the very next day,” that’s not how life works. I have no doubt that she’ll someday learn to get up and over that triangle, but this time what she learned was that it’s okay to struggle, and you can do so safely in the context of a caring support system. You don’t have to win every battle. It is our role and responsibility to offer children the gift of knowing that hurt feelings come and go and while they feel terrible, they are bearable.

Getting back to Magda’s thoughts on struggle, she actually said that was the word she’d use to sum up life. I don’t think she meant that life would be a constant battle… but that there will always be challenges. Indeed, she said In life, you are upset and then you are happy. You are challenged, you solve problems. You make choices, some are good, some are not so good, and HOPEFULLY, you learn from the choices that you made, the good ones as well as the bad ones. I think, IDEALLY, life is an ongoing learning experience, from birth til death.

Sometimes, quite often, the biggest gifts and gains in life come from meeting challenges, whether we succeed or not. Magda asked us to think about those challenges, those ups and downs, as normal pieces of life, to be accepted as part of ongoing learning…and when you do that, indeed, it is a more ‘comfortable’ life we can create for ourselves and for our children.

Wishing you a week of ah-ha’s…

*I’m not sure why I’m drawing a cliched parallel between stormy weather and difficult times because I actually love to listen to and watch the rain!