It’s Okay If You’re Struggling

On day #1,467 of sheltering in place, I was watching my daughter participate in her regular dance class, now delivered via Zoom videoconferencing. We’d created a makeshift dance floor in our kitchen by pushing the table against the windows, positioning my laptop at just the right angle so her teachers could see her.

My daughter doesn’t like the online sessions as much as seeing everyone in person. But she seemed to be adjusting well to the new format.

Then it happened: She was struggling with a small correction to a newer dance step. A tiny adjustment, something easily fixable. I could hear her teachers over the video, calmly explaining the mistake.

And I watched my daughter grow more and more frustrated. I could sense a meltdown simmering, and I couldn’t understand why. She’d received corrections before. It was all part of the process. No big deal.

In that moment, I’d forgotten how bizarre this all was. How much we’ve asked our kids to simply absorb and deal with as their regular routines collapse. How much strain we’re all under, trying to cope and make the best of this odd new normal. How none of this is, in fact, normal.

I didn’t like what my daughter’s reaction was bringing up for me. I needed her to chill, to just be cool, because I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth right now. I felt myself spiraling. Angry words perched on the tip of my tongue, ready to spill out in a fiery burst. 

“Why can’t you just adjust?”

“Why can’t you just deal with this?”

“Why can’t you just control yourself?!

When the lesson was over, my daughter’s eyes were full of tears. I could tell by the way she looked at me that she was expecting an angry lecture. It broke my heart, because a lecture was exactly what I was prepared to give. It wouldn’t be the first time, either — not even close.

Then I thought of something Bj Hickman, an emotional wellness coach, said on one of my favorite podcasts about how we jump to criticism when our kids are acting out. We try to “discipline out” the behavior that we see as unacceptable: “How dare you do XYZ, that is inappropriate/disrespectful/immature!”

What might happen if we tried not to take this behavior personally? What if we recognized that, even if our kids might seem to be coping well, they’re grappling with all of these massive changes too? What might the result be if we used tough moments as a chance to reinforce that we’re here for them no matter what?

There’s a lot I can’t control right now. So much I want to fix for my kids, and I can’t. But my actions and choices are mine — that part of the equation is still in my grasp.

I swallowed the disparaging words in my throat.

Then I asked my daughter what was happening for her in that frustrated moment. What was it about that dance step that was bothering her so much?

“I don’t understand it,” she said finally. “I can’t really see what my teacher wants me to do in the video.

“Ok, I totally get that. These video lessons aren’t the same. If you were face-to-face it would be a lot easier for your teachers to show you the step. I know everything is different right now and it’s really hard.” 

I felt my own anger fizzling out as I watched her face, now full of relief.

“I don’t care if you do every step wrong,” I said. “If you’re trying, that’s all that matters. Now, what can we do so next time you feel better?”

We came up with a plan. We hugged. And I realized how differently we both would have felt right then if I had indulged my knee-jerk reaction.

I won’t always navigate these moments with grace, but I’m trying to remember these things for next time:

If you’re struggling right now, that’s normal.

If your kids are having extra meltdowns, that’s normal.

If you vacillate between feeling calm and optimistic in one moment and terrified and sad in the next, that’s normal.

What we’re coping with is not.

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