the end of the story

When I was a kid, my parents told me all the time that I had a good memory.   It started when I memorized Horton Hatches the Egg word for word when I was four.  At first my parents thought I was some sort of genius who had taught herself to read.  Not so much.  But they were impressed nonetheless and it become part of my story.  From that moment onward, I was the kid with the good memory.  Up for a part in the school play?  No problem, said my mom.  With your memory, you’ll have no trouble with those lines.   Studying for a tricky multiple choice test?  Easy peasy, my dad told me.  You’ll ace it with that memory of yours.  And they were right.  I routinely rocked the rote tests in school and memorizing lines and speeches never daunted me.  As an adult now, I pride myself in the fact that I’ve memorized our credit card number, all our social security numbers, our library card numbers, you name it.   I’m also the family historian, remembering and recalling all manner of memories that have fuzzed over in everyone else’s mind, reminding everyone of the little details that have long since been forgotten.

But I got to thinking a few months ago… is it actually true?  Do I really have a good memory or has it simply been a self-fulfilling prophecy in my life?   Was I told so many times and heard it repeated in so many ways throughout my childhood that I simply believed it was so and thereby made it come to pass?  Either way, whether I truly have an impeccable memory or my parents just repeated it so often that I believed it, I don’t think it really matters.  It has become part and parcel of who I am.  It might seem a minor detail but it is a defining characteristic of mine.   Everyone expects me to remember.  I expect myself to remember.  And so I do.  Maybe I have a unique thing going for me, some special memory gene.  Maybe I don’t.  But either way, I’ve got a good memory.

I’ve heard that you aren’t supposed to tell your kid that they are smart.   Have you heard this?  It’s based on research done by Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck, and the basic thinking goes like this…

  • If you constantly tell your kid that they are smart, when they fail at something, they lose the “smart” label.  Fail a test and they are no longer smart and therefore prone to throwing in the towel.
  • But if you tell them that they are a hard worker, then even if they fail at a task, they still see themselves as a hard worker and will try even harder next time.

Make sense?

It’s actually sort of hard.  Of course my children are absolutely brilliant, right?   But I’ve been trying hard to stifle the “wow!  what a smart boy you are!” remarks and replace them with “Wow, Isaiah, you are such a hard worker!  What great problem-solving, bud!” and things along those lines.   It’s been remarkable to see the response in the boys, especially Gryffin as he’s been getting older.  He truly sees himself as a hard worker.  He repeats it all the time now.  “Look at me, Mama.  I’m such a hard worker”  and “Aren’t I a hard worker, Mama?” and “Look at us, Papa.  Aren’t your boys such hard workers?”  I feel like I’m witnessing a self-fulfilling prophecy in the making and I find it sort of astounding.  What a wonderful gift you can give your children.    Like my folks did with my memory, I can tell Gryffin and Isaiah all the wonderful things that I believe them to be and then allow them to slip into it, try it on for size, and claim it as their own.

Jason listened to a podcast last week about a man who has been addicted to internet pornography since he was in 5th grade.  Think about that… just 11 years old.  And as he relayed the story to me, I felt that familiar sense of fear that often grips my heart when I hear such a thing.  We talked late into the evening about how daunting it feels to raise kids in an era with such easy access to technology.  We wondered about how we might be able to protect them in these early years and how we will help them navigate it all and make wise choices as they get older.   And the conversation wandered into other equally terrifying areas, to alcohol and drugs and dating.  And ultimately we shook our heads and admitted that we felt sort of helpless.

But then we started talking about Gryffin and how adorable we find his little proclamations about being a hard worker.  We marveled at how easy it was to help him believe it, to speak those words to him and how satisfying it feels to watch him own it.   Now, I will admit that he’s our first kid and he is only 4 and we have NO idea if he will continue to believe this about himself, if Isaiah will grow to believe it about himself as well or what the future holds.  But instead of feeling hopeless to help our boys, we suddenly felt like we had an answer of sorts.

Maybe instead of focusing on what we don’t want them to do, we can focus on what we do want for them.  Maybe we can tell them that they make great choices, that they are kind, that they are stalwart friends, joy-filled, adventurous, wonderful helpers, wise… that they are delightful.  It’s like telling a story in reverse.   It’s telling our boys the end of the story before they have lived it.  It’s speaking hope over them and in them and through them so that they can live into it.  By telling them the end of the story now, telling them that it’s who they are, what incredible things might we be able to bestow upon them?  I can’t wait to find out.

What about you?  Have you experienced this?  What things did your parents, or other adults, tell you about yourself that you have lived into?  Good or bad.  Because it works in reverse as well, right?  I think some of the bad things, the ugly things, we were told about ourselves growing up are some of the hardest things to overcome – because just as firmly as Gryffin truly believes himself a hard worker now, he will also believe the negative things we tell him.

Isaiah working hard on his frisbee golf skills – and, miraculously, wearing a coat
Gryff, working hard on his playground skills