When parents get a “do-over”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was in grade school, playing kickball at recess, every so often a player would yell “do-over!” after messing up, and get to try the kick again. You would yell this only in specific instances, such as if you stumbled on your approach and the resulting kick was extremely weak.

Yelling “do-over” for a strong kick that had been caught for an out was quickly dismissed as unworthy. Do-overs were for mistakes and missteps that were uncharacteristic of the kicker’s normal ability.

My husband and I just took a parenting do-over.

Our youngest daughter Jamie turned 8 right before third grade began this past fall; she has always been one of the youngest kids in her class. For the past three years, Jamie has been doing grade-level work, but with lots of help from Bill and me at home. More time reading and practicing math facts on weekends. Summer tutoring and extra academic classes. We’ve been pedaling furiously—not to keep her in front, but simply to make sure she keeps up.

And suddenly this past fall, after a difficult third grade parent-teacher conference, Bill and I came to a conclusion that we arguably should have reached years before: We should have not sent Jamie to kindergarten when we did. Our daughter was in the wrong grade, and we needed a do-over.

The month following our epiphany at the parent-teacher conference eventually resulted in a decision to move Jamie to a neighboring school and drop her down to second grade. It was a heart-wrenching month of visiting schools, praying a novena for good decision-making, and staying up way too late discussing what would be best for Jamie and our other children.

After her first day in the new school and new grade, Jamie bounced into my arms with a joyful exuberance that made the difficult discernment process worth it. “Besides my adoption day and my baptism, this was the best day of my life!” she said.

Decision-making as a parent is complicated by the fact that while we may want a child’s input, we also recognize the final decision must be ours, not theirs. Good decision-making involves three components—prayer, time, and courage.

Prayer in a time of decision-making should be focused on being open to any direction God may want to take you. The human impulse is to take the path of least resistance or risk, yet often the decision that is best for us or our children may require a departure from our own plans. Praying for openness can help.

“When we were deciding between two high schools for our son, I found that I actually needed to pray to accept the signs God was sending me,” says Bob, father of two. “I discovered what I wanted was affirmation from God to send our son to a school I felt had more prestige. When God’s path for us started looking different than what I planned, I felt uncomfortable. Praying to be open helped me to be able to follow what I sensed was God’s will for our son—it helped me to listen to God and not my ego.”  

Time. Not giving a decision enough time can lead to an impulsive act that we eventually will regret. Decisions that drag on too long can loom larger than they deserve to be and can draw our attention away from other equally important issues in our lives. Each decision has its own reasonable timeline. Give yourself a deadline, but as you approach it, take it seriously without allowing it to take you hostage.

Courage. The few days just before you actually execute the decision are the most difficult. The reality of acting on the decision—not just thinking about it—can make us second-guess ourselves. Courage in decision-making requires us to believe that God will be with us, whether we are making the correct decision or not.

When Trinette and Greg, parents of three, had decided to move from Washington, D.C. to Milwaukee, the couple began to feel uneasy right before the move. ”Our pastor understood our worry,” Trinette says. “He told us: ‘Have faith that what you are doing is the right decision. It isn’t because of what you might find once you reach your destination, but that you found the courage to lead the life God set forth for you.’ Until that moment I had doubted and questioned our decision; when he said that, my faith was able to relieve my fears.”

—by Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2012 Best in Class award from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past three years running. Here’s a sample issue.

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