It’s from Little Women. It is arguably the climax of the story, when Jo Marsh finally gets married. At this point in the story, all the other sisters have gotten married. Jo had thought for a while that she would never get married, but then she does and it’s beautiful.
We just had this moment as a family. My sister, my dear Abby, got married last month. There are four of us siblings, just like in Little Women, and the three others have already gotten married, and now it was Abby’s turn.
I was my sister’s matron of honor. So, I thought I’d share my speech from the reception. There was much crying when I read it, so get some tissues if you need.
For clarity, I am specifically going to talk about my own experience with one of my children, and what I have done that has helped my family.
What do I mean by “Struggling Reader”?
There are lots of definitions and terms in talking about students and reading. A reluctant reader or struggling reader is typically a student who is not motivated to read, does not enjoy reading, complains about reading, etc. The student may find the process of reading difficult to do, yet, without practice they cannot advance their reading skills or fluency. So, because they don’t practice reading takes more work, so it is hard, and therefore not enjoyable. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle.
My eldest son is a struggling reader. His birthday is late August. So, just because of where his birthday falls he is one of the youngest kids in his class. Reading has not – to this point, over halfway through the school year – come easily for him. It’s hard for him, and therefore he is not super motivated to do it.
My son is a typical human. He wants to do what is fun! Not hard! He’d way rather go run around, or build Legos, or tease his sisters, or really anything else besides read.
As his mom, and as a person who really loves to read, and write, I have found this struggle of his really hard for me! I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but sometimes I do. I want my son to enjoy what I enjoy. I want him to love books. I don’t want him to struggle. I don’t want him to have difficulty in school when I know he is a smart, capable child. And, and, and, and… (cue the spiral of mom guilt).
But let’s not wallow.
What have we done?
What have we done to help our son, and all our kids? It’s pretty straight forward: we have worked to foster a love of stories. Not a love of books (not specifically), but stories.
This has turned out to be key for our son. If we force the books issue, then books become an obstacle at best, and the bad guy at worst. If we instead make the issue stories, that opens up a whole range of things for him, including shows, movies, audiobooks, bible stories (my kids don’t count the bible as a “regular book”. Kid logic, it’s cute), even songs.
My husband and I have worked to make our home a place of stories, starting when the kids were babies. Reading out loud has been an important part of this. We have been reading out loud to them since they were born. We read books before bed for years. Now, with school schedules and early mornings, we read before dinner and/or at the dinner table (after we eat, no food on my books please!). We tell stories all the time, about things we imagine, dreams we had, what happened in our days, etc. We play pretend with the kids – which is basically acting out stories. We watch movies together. We talk about the shows we watch (my kids will literally shout out “teamwork and friendship!” to their shows when they see the trope because we talk about it so much!). Anytime a story is being told, we jump into it.
I can now officially tell you that this has paid off. After seven and a half years of this, my son figured out just two weeks ago that books contain stories. More specifically, that the pictures don’t tell you the full story – but the words do. He just figured out that in order to understand the whole story (including the jokes, because of course he likes funny books best), he actually has to do the work of reading the words.
I didn’t tell him. My husband didn’t tell him. Even if we had given him the lecture about “you should really read the words, not just the pictures, because you’re missing the story”, he wouldn’t have listened, or believed us! (To be honest I did get halfway through this lecture, and stopped because I realized he had 100% tuned me out.)
If you have a struggling reader, this is the key, I think.
Keep reading to them. Keep engaging with stories. Keep things fun! Don’t avoid hard things, but don’t make them feel like they are on their own, like it’s this insurmountable task they have to do alone. Do it with them. Sit with them as they struggle through the words. Be their cheerleader. Celebrate any victory, even the small ones on the normal days. It’s a cumulative effect. They will figure it out. They will find the story that they love.
Kids are way more interested in what we adults find interesting, what we value, what we spend time doing with them.
Maybe I’ll have my husband do a post on how he encourages our kids in loving math!
What are you doing to encourage your kids in whatever they struggle in? Is there something you struggled in as a child? What encouraged you?
Update: I was looking up some books that might interest my son. He found me and joined me, and we researched some books. He got very excited about one in particular, and counted up his money to buy it. Just a few days ago it arrived in the mail! This is the first book he’s ordered for himself. So exciting!
Something happened the other night that doesn’t happen often: my three year old woke up to go to the bathroom. This doesn’t happen often for two reasons. One, she sleeps like a rock, and usually only wakes up when she is sick. Two, she wears a pull-up to bed and therefore doesn’t wake up to use the toilet. She did wake up though, and she DID use the toilet. She was not sick, and was in fact happy to go back to bed, snuggle up with her blankie and roll over to sleep.
Except for the second thing that happened that doesn’t happen that often: my three year old didn’t sleep. For whatever reason, she could not settle down, and she could not go back to sleep. Being a three year old, she did the only thing she could do. She cried for her Mama, for me.
The result was that I was up with her, getting in and out of my bed, and down to her little bed that nearly touches the floor. Every time I thought I had settled her down, I would get back in my own bed, and pray. I’d pray that God would settler her heart, mind, and body down, that his grace would extend to her, that his grace would keep her siblings (who share the room with her) asleep, that his grace would get us all back to sleep. “God give her the grace to sleep” I sighed the fourth time I heaved myself out of bed, and went to wipe her tears and kiss her forehead.
Oh, did I mention that I’m currently seven months pregnant? Factor that into your mental image of me getting up and down in the middle of the night. I didn’t just want her to sleep. I wanted to sleep too!
Finally, I grabbed a pillow, and headed back to my daughter’s side. This time, I had given up, and do the thing I rarely do, actually lay down with her in her own bed, hoping against hope that Mama being with her would calm her down. As I lay down, trying to get as comfortable as possible on her much thinner mattress, the very words of my own prayer came into my mind. “I am the grace she needs to sleep.”
I smiled into the darkness, and kissed my little girl. She put her hand on my belly, rubbed it, then cuddled herself as close as she could get to me with that belly in the way. I had been praying for God to be my magic sleep potion for my child, and myself. I had been praying for God to do the work that he was calling me to do as my child’s parent. I prayed for the grace my child needed to sleep. And God answered my prayer, he gave her me.
How often does this happen and I’m too blind in my own selfishness to see it? How often do I just want my kids to be good, or be quiet, or get along for ten seconds without me doing anything? How often do I want God to parent my kids, but I don’t want to do any parenting?
God blessed me and my husband with these kids. We purposely had all these kids. Yes, intentionally, on purpose, all four of them. We prayed with desperate tears for this fourth child still growing within me. This fourth child is our “rainbow baby”. This pregnancy has been difficult, and scary. Yet, it’s a blessing. The pregnancy and the baby.
I’m thankful for that sleepless night. I’m thankful for the rough few days that followed because Mama was tired. I’m thankful for what those difficulties – self inflicted to an extent – exposed in me: selfishness. Parenting has a way of breaking you down as a parent and exposing sin in you that you would have sworn up and down you didn’t have. Mine is selfishness, and anger. These few days of little sleep, on top of regular third trimester tiredness, and typical childhood folly have really shown that to me.
So, my prayers are changing. I’m still praying that God would give my family grace, but specifically, I pray that he would give me grace. The grace to get up, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a podcast, in the middle of a sibling fight, in the middle of a really uncomfortable Braxton Hicks cramp. I need the grace to get up out of my comfort zone, to stop yelling from across the room, and to image God to them by being the grace my kids need. God wants to give my kids grace, I can see that. More importantly, I see how he wants to give it to them, and it’s through me.
Life does not stop because of crisis, or rules, or sickness, or personal issues, or job losses, or stir crazy children, or school closures, or whatever. Life still happens. Importantly, relationships still happen. Most importantly, the calling and commands of God do not change (or completely evaporate) because of circumstances.
I am a wife. I am called and commanded to honor my husband. Nothing going on has changed that. I am a mother. I am called and commanded to teach, train, instruct, discipline, love, and encourage my children. Nothing going on has changed that. The fact that I am a mother, has also not negated the fact that I am a wife, and that the calling and command to honor my husband came before and trumps that of the calling and commands in regards to my children.
My relationship with my husband is crucial in raising our children, and my relationship with my husband takes precedence over the relationships with my children.
So, I need to take the time to keep investing in my relationship with my husband. I need to keep dating him.
Every couple is different. So finding what works for each couple will look different. Some couples like to go out, do something different, explore the outdoors, do something service oriented, cuddle with a movie, buy each other sentimentally significant gifts, and so many other things. For us, its talking. Yes, this pair of introverts loves spending hours together just talking. Talking together it how we date. It’s how we dated (literally, so many hours of college were spent just sitting in the Chick-fil-a parking lot talking, letting our food get cold, and our sodas watery).
So, maybe in a pandemic, or under certain shut-down/stay-at-home orders, formal dates are challenging. We love good food, so that’s been a change for us, not looking forward to that one time every few months to try some yummy food at a restaurant. But, we have tried making new things at home, and ordered out (thank you Door Dash!) a good bit. We like to give each other “just because” gifts. We can’t do anything real fancy, but my husband came back from the store last night with cranberry juice, my absolute favorite! So, you know, it doesn’t have to be fancy to be special. 🙂
I will say that although talking is a favorite for us, communication is not key to every relationship. Communication is essential to any relationship.There are no exceptions here. The more significant and central the relationship, the more important communication is.
No matter what relationship you are in: married, dating, single, child, parent, co-worker, grandparent, grandchild, teacher, student, friend, boss, employee. Keep investing in it, keep pursuing it, keep talking, keep doing that thing that connects you, keep working through those hard things that you butt heads over, keep forgiving, keep saying sorry, keep learning, keep teaching, keep being kind, keep relationship-ing.