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The following was originally published on Wild and Precious.
We’re months into the school year and I started thinking about the advice I’ve been giving my kids the last few months… and years. I got to thinking, is it working? Is it true? Is any of it helping?
We’ve had our fair share of tears before bedtime just as I’m about to turn out the light and a story from school starts pouring out. We’ve had conversations in the car, just me and one child, because that seems to be the only place they can fully vent without sibling criticism. We’ve had meltdowns before school, run-ins with kids who bully, hurt feelings while scrolling social media. So I asked my children, “What statements do we say in our family that you actually believe? That work?”
And here are 5 mantras they told me they use and believe. They told me these concepts help them navigate difficult situations that come up at school, with friends, and even at home. Because let’s be honest, growing up is no easy gig! There’s school drama, family drama, life drama. And it’s not like any of us are out looking for drama, but we exist in small, social microcosms that generate a spectrum of opinion and emotion — ups and down, ins and outs. That’s just how it goes.
But I believe there are ways we can let that drama slide on by, not participate, and choose happiness.
I’ve been trying to instill that power in my children. Sometimes they don’t buy what I have to say. Sometimes they do. And we dust ourselves off and try again. I say “we” because the big ugly truth is: when your child hurts, you hurt. When they’re left out, you feel kinda left out. It’s weird and surprising. But real.
Other times my kids feel like they’re the only one in the world feeling a certain way. And that’s when I remind them they’re not. To my surprise, when visiting with moms whose kids seem to be invited to everything and at the center of everything, even they mention their child feeling left out at times. I think every child and teenager feels, to varying degrees, what it is like to be left out. Some kids, whom we assume have every reason to feel confident and happy, don’t. Some we think might have reasons to feel insecure or unsure, don’t. You just don’t know. Which is why we have to treat everyone with kindness and openness, and give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
So here’s the first mantra my kids are working on.
1. Draw a Larger Circle
This is a phrase I got from my friend Rebecca. She shared the following quote by Pauli Murray with her kids before school started.
“When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them. Where they speak out for the privileges of a puny group, I shall shout for the rights of all mankind.”
This feels even more apt right now, considering the hate crimes and rhetoric that are shaking the US.
The question is this: How large will we draw our circle? My kids and I talked the first week of school about what it means to be inclusive, and how larger circles are more diverse, more vibrant. You learn more from people who are different from you, and when someone draws you out, you can draw them in. Even if it’s only in your mind that you think of them as part of your circle.
There are those relationships that aren’t healthy and maybe shouldn’t continue in proximity. But you can free up your heart if you think of them as still inside your circle.
When I hear from one of my kids that they were overlooked, excluded, or felt sort of invisible, I will say, “That hurts.” And we talk it through. Then I ask, “How are you going to move past it?” And the answer we often say is, “Draw a larger circle that includes that person.”
I’ve been telling my girls, friendship is an interesting thing. Despite what we tend to think, friendship is not how others feel about us. It’s how we feel about others. Friendship actually exists in our minds. (And hearts, conversations, and experiences, as friendships grow). But initially, it’s all about how we view our relationship with someone else.
So I tell my girls, “One of the best things you can do is think to yourself, “I’m fun. I’m likable. And people want to be my friend. If they don’t, they just haven’t gotten to know me yet!” That allows them to start thinking of others as their friends. And the more you think of someone as your friend, the more you show up for them as a friend would, talk about them as a friend would, and pretty soon, that friend starts to think, “Hey! I like Eliza, (or Ali, or Sami). She’s nice to me. She always says my name. And yeah… she’s my friend.”
The photo above is from the first day of school. We invited all the 8th grade kids in our neighborhood over for a breakfast that morning. Eliza loves every one of these girls. I love these girls! Most of them have known each other since they were small. They are dear and good. And even if they don’t hang out all the time as a group, there is power in Eliza seeing them as within her circle. And I’m so glad they see her the same way. Happiness in life is all about how you see your circle, how large you decide to make it, and how well you treat others.
2. Stay in Your Own Business
This is one of my favorites. I got this phrase from Jody Moore. She’s pretty much brilliant when it comes to thought work and cleaning up our thoughts so we can be productive, positive, and healthy. Stay in your own business doesn’t mean, “Stay out of my business,” as the phrase is typically used. It means understanding what is our business and what is not.
So let’s define some things. Your “business” = your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Those things are your business. It’s what you’re in charge of, what you can control. Someone else’s business = their thoughts, feelings, and actions. That’s what they can control. You can’t. But they can.
Then we have one other person in the equation… God. God’s business = Histhoughts, feelings, and actions. Can we control God’s business? Nope. Scripture tells us we don’t know God’s mind and ways. We can try to get on the same page, but we don’t always see the full picture or understand why he does certain things, or doesn’t intervene.
Most of us spend way too much time in God’s business and other people’s business. Trying to figure out why they said what they said, did what they did, or behaved as they behaved. We get all bent out of shape about it. But that gets us nowhere quick. Instead, if we can say to ourselves, “Hmmm… I don’t like that he did that. But, that’s his business. And I can choose to not let it affect my business. I can still choose to feel confident, or happy, or to forgive.” Then we go on our way. We will be a lot happier if we aren’t up in someone’s business, trying to solve it, racking our brains, or wringing our hands over it.
3. Eat the Frog First
Doug served a mission for our church in Korea, where they tell several folktales about frogs. We can’t seem to find this actual narrative in Korean literature. But there is a Mark Twain quote about eating a frog that may have similar origin, and it goes like this:
“If it’s your job is to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
Pretty self-explanatory. (Please indulge our love of the Far Side for a moment.)
Doug learned this truth on his mission and he can often be found telling our kids, “Just eat the frog. You can do it.” When they refuse to do something tough like empty the trash, pick up gross crabapples on the lawn, practice cello or piano, they are reminded to eat the frog first. Every kid has their frogs. Things they would rather procrastinate than do. Whether it’s homework, veggies on the dinner plate, jobs they despise. Same principle. Get the hardest, longest, worst thing done… first!
4. Believe You Can
Belief is so powerful. Remember Roger Bannister, British runner who broke the four-minute-mile time in 1954? When you look at current exercise physiology, the things he did to train really weren’t that helpful. But in his mind, he believed they helped. At the time, doctors and researchers believed that breaking the four-min-mile was unachievable, maybe even deadly. But Bannister refused to listen. Everything inside him, told him it was possible. And he did it.
In China, more babies are always born during the year of the dragon than any other year. The dragon is their most revered symbol. Chinese believe that children born in that year are smarter, stronger, wiser, and more successful. But the reality is, when researchers tested IQ and other capabilities, people born in that year were not any more gifted than other years. But they did perform better. Why? They believed they were special, different, destined.
Ali will repeat this mantra to herself when she has to do something she feels nervous about. She will imagine herself doing well.
Eliza uses it in swimming often. She will decide on the time she wants to beat and put that number in her head. Then she’ll imagine herself swimming it that fast. The last meet she swam in, she dropped times in all her events.
Again, Mark Twain has wisdom to impart:
“If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.”
5. What You Send Out Will Come Back to You
This is a summation of one of our family’s favorite quotes. I had the kids memorize it a few years ago:
“There is a destiny that makes us brothers. No one goes his way alone. All that we send into the lives of others, comes back into our own.”
– Edwin Markham
None of us go our way alone.
We may think our words and actions have no bearing on others, but they do. The ripple effect can be huge. And I’ve seen this pattern in so many lives. What you send out, WILL come back to you. Not always immediately. But eventually.
Christ taught it similarly, but in the context of service:
“Give and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” – Luke 6:38
These two girls have been best friends for as long as they can remember each other. It’s quite a wonder. Sometimes, all you need is just one really good friend.
A school counselor I met one day gave me some good advice. She said, tell your daughters they can talk to you about anything or anyone, but save it for home. Be her safe place. Encourage her not to share gripes with any of her friends, because often, it may come back to hurt her.
Another thing she told me was, “Cream rises. Just remind your girls to keep being kind. They will rise. They’ll find friends who will make them better. Over time, people always remember how you treated them.”
Phone rules at our house consist of never sending anything in a text that you wouldn’t feel comfortable having Mom, Dad, or whoever it is about, read.
We also have this rule at home, “Everyone’s name is safe in our house.” If I hear my kids making fun of someone, or saying something rude, and it’s not to explain an exchange that happened, it’s just to be critical, I shut it right down. It’s not nice to hear. It’s unkind. And while it might seem severe, I want my kids to know negativity and criticism are simply not enjoyable to be around. Speaking that way erodes the trust of everyone listening to you.
Now, I’ll admit, sometimes telling a good-natured story about someone makes for a hilarious laugh. Sometimes we’re angry, or our kids are angry, and we have to let them call the kettle black, say how they feel and how they saw it. As parents, we want to be a safe place for discussion. But if a conversation is mean-spirited, I never feel good afterwards.
What we send out does come back to us. I also love the saying,
“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
And now for the DISCLAIMER: We are not perfect in any of these ideas. In fact, that’s why we are focusing on them. Because we need help in every single one of these areas. But we are trying.
I want my kids to like who they are. I want them to know who they are. I want them to feel like they can do anything. But when they don’t succeed, or they aren’t included, I want them to be okay and know they are loved by our family and loved by a God in heaven who created them and put His spark inside them. I want them to develop compassion so they can see who needs to be drawn into their circle, then have the kindness and courage to do it.
I know, in the end, all of that is up to them. But I hope (and pray) some of what we talk about, day in and day out, takes hold.