By Anne Fligor Sauri, CRNA, DNP.
You may remember the big news story from a few years ago when NFL player James Harrison took away the trophies his children were awarded for participation in their youth football league, believing instead that children have only “earned” the trophy if they win the game. There seemed to be collective agreement from parents that society has become too soft, too easy, and we are responsible for changing it, one participation trophy at a time. As a parent, I encounter this view frequently, not only in sports, but also in academics and other activities. It seems that society is becoming more competitive, more cutthroat, and the mentality that if you didn’t win, you might as well not have shown up is rampant.
This notion is challenging for all of us—humans who spend most of our days on the process and little details of life, where big wins sometimes feel few and far between. However, it can be even more challenging for our 2E children who have to work harder at the day-to-day activities and may achieve big “wins” less often. As such, how can we help them build confidence in their day to day lives? I believe that as 2E parents, we need to honor the process and the effort as well as the outcome of our children’s activities.
My 9-year-old daughter spent more than two hours on homework last night without shedding a single tear—an anomaly in our household. Even after hours of work with a still incomplete math assignment she did not become frustrated. At the end of the evening, we were both a bit deflated—all that effort and she couldn’t even check the box in her assignment notebook that she had finished the problems. However, as a reward for her hard work, we spent 20 minutes together before bed looking at Lego creations on the Internet (her favorite pastime), and by the time I put her to bed, both she and I were content and satisfied with her effort.
When I came downstairs to talk to my husband after putting her to bed, I couldn’t help but be proud of her perseverance and consistent effort on a difficult assignment. She may not have made it to the reward of finishing the problems, but she honored the process of sticking with it and trusted that her effort would be sufficient. She has a test in class in a few days, and while I hope that she aces it, no matter the outcome I believe that she has already done much of the important work.
As parents, if we overlook the details of the process, focusing only on the outcome (successful or not), we rob our children of realization that the majority of life is in the effort and that they are worthy, win or lose. Not only that, we deprive them of critically important training for their adult life. In my career as an anesthetist, a significant portion of my day is spent on less-than-riveting details of providing a safe anesthetic—checking the anesthesia machine, looking up patient lab values, drawing up medications into color-coded syringes, watching a patent’s every heartbeat on a monitor. Even though there is rarely a big, exciting “congratulations” at the end of the day when patients have a good outcome, these details must be attended to with precision. The process requires constant attention and vigilance. While there are “wins” when a particularly challenging patient does well, or a surgeon notices and appreciates a well-planned and executed anesthetic, most days there are not “wins” or grades, or evaluations, and I suspect that most careers are like this.
The good news is that all children and parents have an equal shot at the process. We get the opportunity to try new things and practice skills every day, and when we are not successful, another opportunity is only a few hours away. So rather than focusing on the big win, or the perfect grade or performance, we shouldaward trophies to those kids who showed up to the practice field every day and gave it their all, whether they won or lost.
As parents of 2E children who will inevitably struggle with some skills, we can take solace in the J.K. Rowling quote, “it is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Some children may not be able to get an “A” on the test, or win the football game, but that should not diminish their success. Our 2E kids can make huge strides in the day-to-day process of life, whether that be getting through a homework assignment (and remembering to turn it in), helping to prepare dinner, or getting themselves ready for the day.
I have a good friend with a disabled daughter who, after years of therapy and hard work, just took her first steps at age 5. What better reward could there be as a parent than to witness your child’s first steps, whether they be at age 1, 5 or 25? She was successful because her family has been honoring the process of therapy and practice for years, never knowing what the outcome would be. As such, my 2E parenting mantra has become “honor the process, honor the effort. Baby steps, big rewards.”