Sometimes I forget how much we have to learn.
My daughter is three, so we’ve been working on sharing for a while now. In fact, we’ve been working on it for long enough that I’ve been starting to get really frustrated. I think I’ve said some version of, “Give that back to your brother,” or “You can both play with that,” about a million times, and it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.
The other day, after another frustrating round of trying to convince her that she wasn’t giving up her toys, just offering them to him for a little while, I sat down with the two of them and the contested objects. I started giving her specific instructions. “Show him what you’re looking at,” I said. “Point to things as you talk about them. Tell him the names of the things he’s holding.”
And she did what I said. As she did it, I saw my kids play together in the way I’d love to see more often. And I started to wonder if all she needed to share was a little bit more instruction. After all, I can see why sharing would be confusing and threatening if you didn’t know what it actually meant.
I always thought she’d learn these things by herself, that they would come by themselves in time, if I just gave her some space. And maybe they would have. But we all have strengths and weaknesses, and so we all need extra instruction in some areas. My daughter knows how to tell great stories without a word of instruction, but she doesn’t really know how to approach people without some help. My son, on the other hand, is 14 months old and can convince small groups of preteen boys to stop what they’re doing and play with him, but thus far shows much less interest in verbal communication.
Whether it’s for myself or my kids, I know that there’s a huge difference between learning in an area where I’m gifted and learning in an area where I struggle. The first is fun, even exhilarating sometimes, while the second, at best, feels like work and, at worst, feels like pain.
There’s value in both, if for no other reason than the fact that life sometimes requires us to perform in areas where we are not gifted. But there’s more to be found here, I think, than survival skills.
If done right, learning things that are difficult for us teaches us compassion. When I struggle in learning how to parent well, I gain compassion for my students who struggle with the English language (and who, in many cases, found parenting to come very naturally).
It teaches us compassion for ourselves, too, if we’ll let it. It’s easy to become frustrated when we keep trying and trying to learn something and it still doesn’t turn out the way we want it to. It’s easy to blame ourselves, to put old messages on repeat and to tell ourselves that we’re too stupid, too distracted, too irresponsible, etc.
What’s hard is remembering that we are human, and aligning out expectations for ourselves with that fact. God, after all, does not expect us to be superhuman, and so why should we expect that of ourselves? Learning takes time, and we all have places where it takes us longer than it takes others.
If we are wise and discerning and can step out of our own experience just a little bit, we can remember these things and, in remembering, we can learn compassion for ourselves. We can learn to be gentle with ourselves in those places where we feel weak, and we we can grin with pride when we see ourselves taking baby steps.
This week, my daughter took baby steps towards sharing and I learned to see her a bit differently. It wasn’t a week that will change the world, but one step in our process of coming to a new place. It feels so small, but enough of these baby steps will produce something amazing.