As a typical kid trying to assert my independence and navigate the world, I experienced many verbal conflicts with my parents. When attempting to convince my mom that I could skip morning chores to ride bikes with my friends, I would cross my heart and solemnly promise to take care of the chores later in the day. But it seemed the more I pleaded, cajoled, bargained, and begged, the more she stood her ground. When it slowly dawned on me that I was destined to lose the argument, I would predictably whine, “Why can’t I?” to which she would reply with the most cringeworthy phrase that every kid on earth dreads hearing, “Because I said so!”
I often vowed that when I became a parent, I would never utter that phrase to my children. Instead, I envisioned winning over my children with reason. I saw myself calmly and clearly explaining my sound and indisputable logic in a way that no kid would want to challenge.
Well, it seemed that the universe had other plans. One perfect fall day a week or two into the school year, I heard myself blurt out this exact phrase to my then five-year-old son when he had been begging me to allow him to stop at Harold’s Candy Store on the way home from school. As Matt proceeded to make his appeal, I shut down any further discussion with an abrupt “Because I said so.” I had become my mother!
Perhaps that was not my best parenting moment, and I would love to say that I learned my lesson but unfortunately, I had a variety of parenting gaffes throughout my younger parenting years. Remember the phrase, “Don’t make me come in there!” or how about, “So help me, if I have to pull this car over…”?
Looking back on the candy store encounter and many others, I realize now that I had allowed myself to become an active participant in a power struggle with a five-year old, and worse, I had let him get the best of me. The most confounding thing was that I didn’t even recognize it until we were fully engaged and by then I was more committed to winning than to creating a space in which reason, logic and feelings could thrive.
Regardless of our good intentions, these emotional tug-of-wars with our children are sometimes hard to avoid. As a new year approaches, it is common for parents and children (and yes, teachers and staff) to become nervous, even anxious, in anticipation of the school year.
Recently, I read a post which reminded me that we each have the power to create our own reality. What if instead of focusing on how hectic our schedules are about to become or how difficult it will be for our child to navigate his way in a new building, we imagine, instead, that the year ahead will be an amazing adventure, one filled with fun, growth and possibility?
Our kids count on us to provide them with a roadmap to help guide their way in the world. Because they follow our cues it stands to reason that if we view the world through a lens clouded by fear, nervousness and anxiety, then they, too, will be likely to interpret the world in this way.
We know that there is solid research linking the process of visualization to things like happiness and performance. In fact, professional athletes use detailed and vivid images as they visualize their run-through for an upcoming play or performance. Gymnasts and ice skaters go through their routines step by step and golfers and baseball players visualize the perfect swing. Brain studies reveal that this type of mental rehearsal produces the same cognitive processes as actually performing a task. In other words, the brain doesn’t differentiate between an imagined or real event so thoughts can produce the same outcomes as actions.
But we always have a choice. Do we tend to see the good in any given situation, or are we more inclined to identify all of the things that might go wrong? I am not talking about ignoring legitimate issues and problems and hoping they go away on their own. Just the opposite. Any healthy organization openly addresses areas of concern in order to problem solve and improve the system. However, while this practice calls for honest assessment and frank conversations, it does not require us to dwell on problems.
As I contemplate my last year of professional service in Robbinsville, I want to place all of my focus and energy on helping to create safe, challenging and joyful places of learning for our students. With almost 30 years in the district, our schools, our town, and our students have always held a special place in my heart. I hope you will join me in choosing a reality of ever-expanding good for our children, our community and ourselves.
This will be a great year! Because I said so!
Kathie Foster is superintendent of Robbinsville Schools