Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Teacher - just one of the roles of a mom

Being a home-school mom, I have tried various tactics to get my kids to learn, to get through school work and to grind that information into their little heads.  Sometimes I felt that the standard way of teaching was the only correct way, but it often became so tedious that it resulted in more headaches, frustration and tears than actual learning.  Other times I felt guilty taking more time to teach smaller lessons thoroughly with more attention to detail, and not stopping until they really internalized what was being taught.  That resulted in lessons that really stuck and are remembered with fondness, even though they slowed down the school year quite a bit.

Through the mistakes and successes year by year, I got one through till graduation with even a year and a half of community college under his belt before he went off into the big wide world to find his own direction.  He seems bright, well read and capable, so I suppose I can chalk it down to a success, though in retrospect I can see how I could have done even better.

One problem I see is that many mothers and even school teachers never learned to enjoy the process of learning.  They don't like to read, they don't enjoy correcting their mistakes or learning new vocabulary.  When it comes time to helping their children learn, they already have a negative attitude in their minds that school is a drag, which naturally spills over to their kids.  That's right, even teachers!  Go figure...

Even if your child is not a homeschooler, the job of educating him or her lies squarely on your shoulders - not the school.  It's up to you that he does more than get his work done, but that he understands and appreciates it.  Of course he may be more talented in one subject over another, but you are the only one who can help him appreciate the value of them all.  Sometimes the time-consuming effort of you sitting down with him to talk him through every step of his homework is an investment that will reap life-long rewards.  Naturally you don't want him depending on you for this all the way through high school, but there are times when close, one-on-one care is exactly the motivation that he needs.

When children are feeling stressed out, are struggling with inner problems of insecurity or confusion, no matter how smart they are, they cannot focus their attention on simple school work.  Little ones are so easily coaxed out of this with the wise direction of parents who can calm that confusion.   The older they get, the tougher.  You have to transmit a love of learning to them that they will pick up and build upon, even when they're not doing traditional school activities.  The question is, are you the cause of those inner struggles they have?

You can spark that sense of discovery and fun in your daily relationship with them - when they need to help you make a budget for the groceries, figure out how much they can save to buy that special toy, enjoy the history of the town where you live as you pass by famous landmarks, and so much more.  Pick up on the simple questions they ask, like "Where do clouds come from?"  Right there you have a mini science class ready to be taught on the spot.  "Why do dogs howl?"  Pull out your computer, type your key words into your handy Google search engine, and class has begun.  As they have to face the more mundane class work that is required of them, these moments of learning with you will color all the rest with a more pleasant relaxed feel.

Believe it or not, even you will start to love learning too.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

No More Apologies

OK, so you got my angst-ridden teenage story in a nutshell last week. (Finally for the girls who have been patiently waiting for part II!) So where do we go from here?  If so many young women suffer silently, not knowing what to do about their inferiority problems and loathe to admit that they even have one, are so easily offended by those who would want to help them and yet badly want help, who do they turn to and what becomes of them?

I don't know about you, but every little girl I have ever known loves dressing up in her mommy's clothes, clunking around in her high heels, trying on her lipstick and pretending to be a beautiful lady.  Loving beauty and wanting to be feminine is programmed into each of us to one degree or another.  As we grow, people, circumstances, our own worries, fears and expectations shape our behavior and self-image.  That's what happened to me.  That little girl never left me, just got pushed into a corner and told to be quiet.

Breaking out of my old insecurities meant finally embracing the fact that if I felt I was a woman of value and beauty in my character, what was wrong with trying to let it show externally? I wasn't being irrational, superficial or unspiritual to love feminine things.  That I didn't need a practical reason why I should wear these cute heels, other than I thought they were cute.  And that I didn't have to apologize in front of my all-male family that I wanted to watch a romantic comedy, even if I knew the acting would be lousy.  Funny that even writing this makes me kind of squirm with embarrassment, but as I've said, I'm a work in progress...

But one thing I have witnessed in both myself and in so many other women, is that though we may resist and insist that we are perfectly happy with the way we are, that "this is me" and "I'm just not the feminine kind," we all want to look and feel better underneath the barriers we put up for ourselves.  If God created us this way, we only harm ourselves to ignore it.  From the girls who go wild with suggestive clothing and promiscuous behavior to the ones who, like me, wanted to blend into the scenery with a dull nondescript appearance, they all have the same insecurities inside. Every one wants to be loved for who she is and seen as lovely and feminine, both inside and out.  

Encouraging friends have helped me to bring out that stifled part of me, and has made so much of a difference.  Loving who you are is such a trite cliche, but there is no other way to put it.  Knowing how God made you and wired you as a woman is all a part of that.  Being surrounded with supportive women of God is key to all of this. That means loving suggestions, and loving criticism - laughter and the kind of compliments that only women know how to give.

I used to look around a room full of strangers and neurotically compare myself with the women I saw.  Now I very often see the familiar looks in the eyes of women who have the same insecurities I once had.  I want to tell them how beautiful they are and how they could have so much fun enjoying their beauty, but I dare not say a word, because I know how painful that subject can be.  Maybe they'll read this and start to see themselves through God's eyes.  I wish I had learned this a long time ago.  Better late than never!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Girl Who Couldn't Take a Compliment

September 1975, Lewis, Indiana.  I just turned 14, had arrived from Korea where my parents worked as missionaries, just one month before.  It had been five years since I had last been to the US, and though it was my home country it didn't feel anything like home to me. I was starting 9th grade knowing absolutely no one and I was terrified.

Day one, my dad drives me to Craig Jr. High, a modern (for that time) building all shiny and new.  I walked into my home room class filled with beautiful, fashionably dressed white kids with blond hair and smooth complexions.  I was the little half-Filipino girl with weird clothes that had been bought at the Korean market, with a hair-cut done by her mom, no make-up, no jewelry, no friends.  People stared, but worse that anything were the monstrous thoughts that filled my head.  I was certain that everyone hated me, that every laugh or muffled conversation was about me, that I was a freak.  I sank into my seat not wanting to be seen,  not knowing that my paranoid behavior made me look even stranger to their curious eyes.

I prayed that I would die right then and there.  I prayed that Jesus would return, that the earth would be destroyed and I would be spared this unbearable misery.  It didn't help that when I went home and cried my eyes out to my mom in shame that she just told me what she always said since I was little "But you're such a pretty girl!"  I knew that I was anything but.  The thought of fitting in and looking like the rest of them just wasn't possible. Make-up was forbidden and my mom was convinced that the price of American clothes was ridiculously high, that pierced ears were for "barbarians" and that I was just fine the way I was.  I cried after school every single day for the first five months, much to the distress of my mother who couldn't console me.

The trauma of that year marked with self-hatred and humiliating experiences stuck with me for decades, literally.  Moving back to my old school and being with old friends in Korea didn't make those negative spirits vanish, they just hovered, whispering in my ears, smothering my sense of self-worth.  And so I did what I now know has become the most common and safest defense mechanism of all self-conscious girls.  It's the "I'm-too-intelligent-to-care-about-looks-you-superficial-egotistical-jerks Syndrome."

I decided that I liked just wearing plain jeans and my brother's hand-me-down clothes, that pretty girls were probably brainless snobs, and that wanting to be feminine was an insult to my intelligence.  People would have to like me for who I was, not what I looked like, and I wasn't about to bow to the dictates of the fashion world.  I would dress the way I felt.  Sloppy, unfeminine, bland.

I convinced myself that I wore what I liked, but it didn't stop me from hating what I saw in the mirror.  I secretly envied girls who looked better than myself and wished I could have their figures/wardrobe/skin/hair/make-up/sense of style/confidence. But if anyone would try to offer help or a suggestion that I should change my appearance, I was up in arms, offended that they would dare imply that I was not happy with the way I was.  My superior intellect transcended the shallowness of society's obsession with physical beauty - so I thought.  If anyone tried to compliment me and tell me I was pretty, I was also insulted. They were being condescending and implying that I needed some lame encouragement to feel better about myself.  I felt just fine, thank you, how dare you treat me like I need your compliments!  How I could be so insecure and so arrogant at the same time, I have no idea.

How I became totally secure in my sense of self-worth and beauty and lost all traces of arrogance, is a chapter that will never be written.  Overcoming all of this is still a work in progress and I have to admit those thoughts still attack me, sometimes daily.  But things most definitely have changed.  But I have written too much for one post, stay tuned for part II....