Ed note: Reprinted with permission from Train Strong to Remain Strong and in honor of the many new kiddos we have joining our Ohana!
My husband and I decided that martial arts was an activity our children would participate in. We were the adults and guardians of our children and we had the education and experience necessary to make such an informed decision. And we had the authority to make it stick.
One son loved martial arts from the beginning, until about age 9. The other hated it until …well we aren’t exactly sure. (No names to protect the innocent.)
We were prepared with the usual excuses that arrived 30 minutes prior to leaving for Kaju. “MOM, I want to watch Sponge Bob. I need to quit.”
“Class is only 60 minutes. You can watch Sponge Bob later.”
We were prepared with the usual excuses that arrived immediately upon entering the car at school pick-up. “MOM, I am SOOOOOOOOOO tired today. I want to quit.”
“No worries, you can go to bed right after Kaju.”
We were prepared with the usual excuses that arrived when classes got harder and expectations were increased. “MOM, it’s just too much. I have to do 25 pushups. I want to quit.”
“I understand your feelings. Dad and I want to make sure you get stronger which is good for you. Only two hours a week, you got this.”
We were prepared with the excuses that arrived when their schedules got busier. “MOM, I really don’t have time to do piano, abacus, Kaju and homework. I need to quit”
“Let’s adjust your schedule a bit. Instead of 10 hours of computer and TV time per week, let’s adjust it to 6. That will allow ample time to get it all done.”
We were prepared with the excuses that arrived when their extra-curricular lives became a priority. “MOM, I absolutely cannot do Ultimate Frisbee and Kaju. I really like being with my friends. I must quit.”
“How about we change your schedule to do Kaju only once a week. Talk to your coach and work out a schedule. Then back to your regular Kaju schedule when the season is done.”
We were prepared with the excuses that arrived when socializing became a priority. “MOM, I have a date. I can’t come to Kaju and date girls. I want to quit.”
“How about she comes to the test first and you guys leave from there. Your father and I won’t do or say anything embarrassing. You can go out after and still be home by midnight.”
There were countless other times that they wanted to quit, and a countless variety of reasons. We knew, based on our education and life experience, that they only felt like they wanted to quit. At that moment. Because it was easier.
It was in those moments that we became parents. We had to be the educated and experienced adult parent that our child needed.
At each excuse, each pleading, each session of a child rationalizing, crying, and gnashing teeth, we sincerely thought about it.
Is he physically able to do the work? Is he mentally able to do the work? Will the work benefit him now? Will the work benefit him later?
The answers were always yes. So, we did not give up on our kid. Nor did we allow him to give up on himself.
They probably hated us. They probably rolled their eyes behind our backs. They probably complained to their friends who in turn told their parents (which explains how our reputation as militant dictators always preceded us). They probably said a million times how they would NEVER make their kids do anything they did not want to do.
Believe me, it was tough. But so is life for a quitter.
Looking around, I saw my friends having different relationships with their kids. They were popular and fun. They would show me the essay their daughter wrote entitled “My Mom is My Best Friend.” I saw the kids who literally ran to their mothers in the school parking lot, jumping in their arms and saying, “I love you mommy.” I saw my their kids texting them during dinner filling them in on every little detail of their lives. I had my feelings hurt when friends told me “Oh, I could never force my kid to do anything. I accept them for who they are.”
Admittedly, I wanted a bit of that. At least I thought so. Who doesn’t want to get that type of adoration and attention from their child? I assume it feels like a solid validation of the decisions and parenting actions you are performing. Plus it was tiring to be constantly defending myself when asked “How do you expect your child to be able to make decisions if they don’t start as toddlers?”
Doing the tough stuff was worth it.
My sons are confident enough to not be quitters. My sons can push through physically challenging tests of life. My sons can push through mental and emotional challenges knowing they have experiences overcoming obstacles and tough times. My sons can manage a busy schedule. My sons can negotiate the tricky “want now” versus “benefit later” paradox. My sons can reach goals and self-motivate. And help others do the same. My sons have a respect for those who run small businesses. My sons are not afraid of hard work and look for opportunities to do so.
And guess what? They LOVE martial arts. They always did. They just did not love it at that moment when perhaps they needed to make a choice or felt stressed or saw a shiny distraction beckoning them.
It did not have to be martial arts. It could have been competitive swimming or baseball or speaking Mandarin or cooking. The activity did not matter but the life skills acquired did.
In my boxes of artwork, pictures, awards and school mementos, I do not have anything indicating I was my son’s best friend. It’s okay. I look at their current life situations and successes and I know I had a part in making that happen.
The tables have turned now. “SON, this is going to be hard. And will cost some money and take some time and you might get hurt. You up for this challenge?”
“MOM, I got this.”
Moral of the story: What’s hard in the beginning usually turns out to be easy in the end. And unfortunately, vice versa.