Last night my mind was on struggle.
I imagine struggle isn’t far from your minds most days…be it on the macro level, the micro level, or the internal level…or let’s face it, all of the above.
But here’s a Magda gem for you to think on:
There’s dignity in struggle because it gives our soul muscle…
without difficulty, there would be no development.
Oh, wow, where has that quote been in all my years of teaching? In Liz Memel’s heart and mind. Liz is another of my mentors. I was her Practicum and Intern student while working as a Lead Teacher in an infant program. She is one of the original Associates, from back in the late 70’s. She knew and worked directly with Magda, and she was a college professor as well as a parent educator…her knowledge is deep AND wide.
Magda would ask us to ask ourselves…how do we view struggle? The first things that come to my mind are strife and angst: you hear about struggling and suffering all too often in the news…and all of the definitions you pull up have a negative bent…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 with…and yet, we all struggle every day.
We might struggle to get out of bed, or struggle to get our children (or cats) TO bed. We struggle with work problems, or to figure out new avenues for work and finance. We struggle with the question of whether or not it is safe to return to our daily lives in the outside world and with others’ judgements (and our own self-recriminations). We watch children struggle…babies struggle when they are learning to move and struggle when they are solving problems (or seeking to thwart us by pushing that limit one more time).
But let’s go back to 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,
and DO do…
and this is one of the things we so often,
with the best of intention,
DO NOT LET THEM DO.
Just think of that for a moment. Babies come into this world completely equipped to learn…their brains are primed and wide open, able to learn ANY language, ready and internally prepared to learn mastery of their bodies, to learn who these people are that take care of them, and to learn how to learn. When you watch a child playing, so often we see something that looks like a problem to us: a baby pulls a handkerchief across her face and she can’t see, a baby on his stomach stretches and strains to reach for a toy that is just out of reach, a toddler tries to pick up 3 cups that nest together only managing to collect 2 because as soon as she bends over for the 3rd, the 2nd cup falls out (repeatedly). It’s so tempting to step in and fix these ‘issues’ for children…but Magda always asked us to WAIT.
Wait and allow it to unfold.
So very many times you will see that what you thought was a problem, isn’t. Or what you thought was a solution is not what they come up with…they came up with something better. And yes, sometimes, it will be beyond them, and we can offer them a little encouragement and presence, maybe a bit of help or advice. But when giving advice it’s important to remember two things: 1) the solution they come to on their own is always going to be better than the one that is served on a silver platter and 2) when you solve it for them, they are learning that the most direct way of solving a problem is to ask you, instead of themselves… and 3) when you jump in to solve or offer advice too quickly, you can teach your child that struggle is something negative…to be avoided.
Of course, waiting may be easier to do this when a child is not actively struggling and working, when a child isn’t showing signs of frustration and angst, and perhaps most difficult when they have language and are asking or demanding you to fix something. 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.
In those times, it might help to think about this beautiful quotation I happened across last night, just as I was thinking deeply about this topic:
…[it] is not that there can never be moments of despair, but that those moments cannot define us. Rising again, rising anew, is the debt we owe to ourselves, to each other and to God who fashioned us. Feel dismay, express despair, experience defeat; fall and fail. Then stand and breathing deep, carry on.
When asked to sum up life in a single word, Magda chose “struggle.” 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.