August 16, 2018 When Your ‘Easy’ Kid Suddenly Doesn’t Have It So Easy
Do you have an ‘easy’ kid- EK for short? You know, a kid who grows up great without needing much hand-holding?
My son is an EK.
He doesn’t have ADHD or extreme introversion like my daughters and parenting him always felt seamless. We just moved from one phase to the next without big challenges or surprises.
He’s blessed with a personality that allows him to make friends easily and because he’s highly observant, he can blend with whomever he’s with. He can feel the vibe of a room and adjust accordingly- it’s second nature to him.
He’s athletic and outgoing- never was bullied. Just a happy, like-able, charismatic kid that was always pretty self-sufficient. A ‘secret sauce’ personality.
Everything seemed OK all the time- no worries.
However, we learned that everything is OK with EKs…until it’s not.
When something happens outside the calm, still water that is your EK’s life, it’s like being blindsided by a truck.
You’ve gone with the flow for so long that when something happens, it’s jarring and highly unsettling…you want to make it go back to status quo asap. Your first instinct is to just fix it.
This happened to us when we moved to Texas from Illinois just a few years ago.
My son had a great attitude about this major change, but he was heading into high school leaving behind a huge group of friends and a girlfriend he cared about. He was leaving everything he knew during a time that’s challenging even without a big move.
I could tell he was building a wall around his sadness as we prepared to leave.
He was determined to just focus on football and totally rock his freshman year.
But when we got to Texas, we experienced culture shock. We had to learn to embed ourselves in a small town where people had lived their whole lives and everyone knew one another- super tight knit.
My son was hit the hardest, I think. He went from being a star in a large community with tons of friends to being a ‘nobody’, an outsider, in a small rural community overnight.
All of that simplicity we’d enjoyed in raising our son vanished.
He went from being someone who constantly smiled and hugged me to someone who just wanted to lay in bed with a blanket over his head, sometimes crying.
We had never seen him like that and it was scary.
I felt panic and loss of control- feelings that were pretty foreign. This knocked me for a loop way more than helping my girls did.
On the way to football practice one night, he started crying in the car and said, “I can’t do this. I just can’t”. I told him, “We’re going to take this one second at a time. Each second is a win. If you master that second, move onto the next. It’ll get easier.”
I was trying to use mindset tools to help him, just like it helped my daughters…but I knew it was kind of bullshit.
This was beyond mindset- this was more like grief; a deep, heartbreaking sadness… but I didn’t know what else to say.
Guilt crept in. I felt like I ruined my happy, well-adjusted kid.
Here’s the truth though- this move, this enormous challenge was one of the best things that could’ve happened to him. It wound up being a wonderful gift.
The real world isn’t easy. It’s tough and if people don’t have coping skills before leaving the ‘nest’, they’ll never come into their own. They’ll break when faced with a major challenge…something that shakes up their identity.
Without being faced with challenges, people don’t learn how to face adversity.
EKs are the most in danger of missing out on this vital skillset.
Success comes easily to them and there’s no real struggle to get what they want. You feel like a rock star parent as they achieve, achieve, achieve…and you ARE a great parent as you cheer them on, but if you never make room for challenges, you’re missing out on teaching them how to thrive despite their circumstances.
Never facing adversity or real challenges might seem like a blessing, but it’s not.
If people don’t experience real challenges or setbacks when they’re young, they’ll enter the adult world expecting the same level of ease. Reality can come as a horrible shock from which some don’t recover.
I’m sure you’ve met someone like that before. Someone that was a star in school with a stable, awesome family and seemed to have it all but could barely function as an adult outside their little ‘perfect’ world.
Their coping skills are pretty much non-existent.
So after really thinking about everything we could do to help our son, we decided to stop fighting so hard against this painful process and learn from it instead.
To help my son get through this difficult time, I prayed and did three things:
I let him be sad.
I let him take the knocks that come with being the new kid.
I got involved in some of the school organizations and I asked the community for support. Not to control anything or force friendships, but to make room for a word of encouragement…a high five…
I approached my son’s coach and explained how hard the transition was on him. I told him, “Hey look, he needs an arm around him and sometimes mom isn’t enough.” His coach took it seriously and said, “We’re just gonna love up on him.” and that’s what they did. (I seriously love it here in Texas!) Small gestures and words of encouragement went a long way. They told my son that everything was going to be all right and he really needed to hear that from someone other than me.
If your kid is struggling, consider letting your kid be sad, but watch for indicators showing it’s going too far. Talk with them a lot about how they feel without constantly saying the “Well, you need to just….” statements. Those statements can sound like judgement to a kid who’s used to pleasing you.
Coach but don’t control (I know it’s tough!). Give them options and suggestions but if they ignore some of the advice, that’s OK too. Provide support, but not every answer.
Show them that you believe they have a solution inside themselves and that your love is unconditional.
Keep a close watch without being a helicopter parent. It’s a fine line!
My son learned a lot about himself during this time and grew in his faith. Our relationship became deeper too.
We gave him the space to struggle and face this form of grief and identity crisis.
Sometimes it was hard to not swoop down and try to force a way to make everything better…to accept the fact that humans learn best when they struggle and that sometimes the Lord is trying to teach us something valuable in the process.
This is really the cornerstone of The Red Notebook- We’re perfectly imperfect.
When we live outside of judgement, and live to follow the Lord…when we focus on living well vs being ‘perfect’, that’s when everything comes together.
That’s the magic.
That’s when the difficult times become our greatest gifts.