Practicing with Children

The Hard Year

grace-locker–By Joanna Harader

Does every kid have “the hard year”? For me, it was 9th grade—the year I moved and shuttled between middle and high school and was bullied on the bus. For our son, it was 6th grade—the year of the thrown desk. (To be honest, none of his years were easy.) For our middle daughter it was . . . honestly, I don’t know because in typical middle child fashion she was always just fine. For our youngest, it is now. Seventh grade.

I’m still trying to figure out why this is such a hard year for her. I know it is hard, because she frequently says she wants to be home-schooled. And because every Sunday night she gets gloomy and says, “I don’t want to go back to school tomorrow.”

When my formerly school-loving child first said she didn’t like going to school, all kinds of horrors drifted through my head. Was she being bullied or picked on? Was someone sexually harassing her or abusing her? What was going on!?

Thankfully, I have no indication of any abuse or even unkindness at school. It’s just that she isn’t in classes with her friends. And math—her best subject—is hard. (I explained that when you do really well in the easy math, they put you in a harder class the next year . . . ) And her teachers don’t understand her questions.

Yesterday she asked to stay after school for board game club—which she enjoyed. So it’s not like she is traumatized by being in the building or anything.

This is just her hard year. Which makes it a hard year for me, too. I’m struggling to validate her feelings when I don’t understand them. To say, “I’m sorry you’re not enjoying school right now,” instead of, “This homework took you literally three minutes; quit complaining that math is hard!”

I hate sending her to school sad every day. There’s a part of me that wants to say, “Fine. We’ll do home school. Anything to make you happy.”

And there’s another part of me that knows homeschooling is not the answer (for us right now) because there are things she has to gain from going to public school: to realize that she can handle the hard math; to learn how to communicate with grown-ups who aren’t her parents; to make new friends with the people who are in her classes.

And I know homeschooling is not the answer because I could not handle it. Neither my schedule nor my temperament nor my skill set is conducive to me being the primary academic teacher for my 12-year-old daughter. And my husband, who could handle it, is teaching in his own classroom every day.

So what are the spiritual practices to get us through the hard year? Right now I’m giving a lot of hugs and “I love you”s. I’m trying to be a better listener. I’m praying for her a lot—and sometimes praying with her before school.

What about you? Have your kids hit their hard year yet? What spiritual practices got you through?

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