While visiting Humboldt this summer, my mom, sister and I capped off the visit by going shopping at a very cool store in town. We must have spent twenty minutes just on the entry display alone! That’s where I found a few treasures, including a little dish that I had to get for Sienna. School was about to start in a couple weeks so I envisioned giving it to her as a little “back-to-school” morale gift. It totally captured a sentiment I’m trying to instill in her and live by myself. The dish says, “Beautiful girl, you can do hard things.”
Making the transition to The Cambridge School was challenging on many levels. Sienna has borne the brunt of this difficulty as she matriculated in the fourth grade. Cambridge is very intentional about the progression of learning and she missed a lot of the fundamentals in challenging subjects like math, grammar and Latin. Also, Sienna is an artistic, creative, imaginative little soul. Liner, logical topics (like the ones just mentioned!) are not her favorites to begin with, and now she had to shore up gaps that other students took years to fill.
Although in my heart I wanted to embody a growth mindset and believe in the message you can do hard things, I sadly let fear trigger my need for control as the school year began. Fear kept repeating a mantra in my mind that Sienna needed me to help her be organized or else she’d fall behind. This fear and compulsion to control the situation led to very difficult day at the end of September.
I woke early in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep for awhile. One of the ideas that caught my attention was, “How am I going to get Sienna to finish Peter Pan this weekend?” She was on her second recommended reading book for the trimester and she’d just missed finishing the first book by the deadline a couple weeks prior. In my mind this issue somehow became symbolic of the entirety of Sienna’s academic career.
After breakfast I started in on my helpful reminders to Sienna to read Peter Pan. She flatly refused and continued to read other books throughout the morning. “Why doesn’t she just read the book she’s supposed to be reading?!” I kept fuming internally. Around noon, I went into her room and said, “Can we have a heart-to-heart?” without really knowing where I was going with my question.
“You want me to read Peter Pan,” she deadpanned and stared at me.
In an uncharacteristic moment, I paused and took in her comment and obvious annoyance. “Well, yes. But, the degree to which I want you to read Peter Pan is not healthy for either of us,” I replied. I then apologized for nagging her and told her she could read it whenever she wanted.
The rest of the day I prayed and contemplated why I’d gotten so hooked onto this need to make Sienna read the book. Our relationship felt strained as I continued to push and nag her. The thought occurred to me: I want to cherish her, not manage her. Suddenly, I remembered a book I’d read years before about how people respond to inner and outer expectations. Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies helped me recognize my “Upholder” tendency and Dennis’s “Questioner” tendency, which was hugely helpful for our communication (and marriage!).
I was actually about to donate my copy of the book, figuring I’d already learned the lessons I needed from it. On a hunch, I pulled it off the shelf and started reading about the “Rebel” tendency, which is the type of person who doesn’t meet either inner or outer expectations. Rebels like to do whatever they want, whenever they want. They also have a strong need for individual expression and sense of identity. As I read, the lightbulbs kept going off in my mind. Sienna is such a Rebel! And, as you could imagine, Rebels and Upholders (those who readily meet both inner and outer expectations) have trouble relating because we basically see the world from opposite angles.
Literally, all my “helpful” suggestions and ideas of what Sienna should do and how she should do it, were backfiring! Instead of guiding and teaching, my advice just triggered her rebellion as she proceeded to do the opposite of whatever I suggested. This frustrated me and kept me striving to find just the right way to motivate her. How liberating to realize the best way to motivate a Rebel is simply to provide information, explain potential consequences and let them choose without lectures, micro-management or rescuing them from their choice.
While I excitedly read sections of the book aloud to Dennis in the living room, Sienna chimed in from her bedroom (I swear that child has the best hearing ever!): “That sounds about right.” We talked about the dynamics going on between us and then embarked on this new way of relating.
It has been transformative for our relationship! Sienna is taking much more ownership of her schoolwork and achieving great results too. I’m not nagging her or telling her what to do. One night, she’d expressed an interest in doing a few different activities before bed. I asked her, “Love, how are you going to finish your reading, go on a walk with Teo and me, take your shower, and chat with Chloe before bedtime?” She considered and said, “I guess I’ll tell Chloe that we’ll talk tomorrow.”
Yesterday when I came home from work Sienna asked for a long hug. She’s now just the right height for me to comfortably rest my arms on her shoulders. We often hug like that for a minute or two. As we parted, I commented: “I sure love our connection now that I’m not telling you what to do.”
Sienna smiled and said, “Yeah, and it makes me feel more responsible.”
“You’re doing great, beautiful girl. You can do hard things.”