I struggle with self-doubt, as many others do too. It’s not a crippling sense of inadequacy that’s constantly there, but, if I had to make a wager, I’d say the little voice in my head that cheers me on shows up far less than the big voice that tells me I’m going to fall on my face.
I’ve tried to avoid listening to that voice of doubt. It’s harder to tune out than it seems, though. To block out a nagging narrative in your own brain can feel like you’re blocking out the unspoken truth. While I’ve managed to overcome it most times, there has still been plenty of moments when it has gotten the best of me. I can admit that.
When you have kids to guide through the world, however, that negative voice inside is still there, but it can no longer be the dominant force in times of challenge. As a parent, I can’t let it.
I’m sure many other parents would nod along to the sentiment of tuning out the bad thoughts for the good of your children. It sounds like some obvious inspirational line like, “you work hard for your babies” or “life isn’t about just you anymore” and all those sweet things that they put on bookmarks,. In practice, however, it’s a pretty amazing feat to witness.
I’ve seen it firsthand a few times these past few weeks. In an effort to stress healthy choices, I signed my daughter Olivia and I up for a 5K run at the end of July. It was on a whim and one of those decisions that I half-regret right away and then talk myself back into over time. I knew it was beneficial for us both and it would allow me to introduce some positive habits to her life. Sure, it would be a lot of work for me, but when you have kids, life isn’t about just you anymore. I read that on a bookmark.
Last week during our “training”, we took a jog around the neighborhood before wandering into the local school playground. As we approached, Olivia spotted her metallic blue fourth-grade gym class nemesis.
Ugh. Monkey bars. I hate the monkey bars. I can’t even do one.
What do you mean? Like climbing overhead one, two, three – like that?
I mimed hand-over-hand-over-head movement. She nodded.
Yeah. My friends can do it. I’ll never learn.
This was when I just started speaking. I didn’t think about anything that was about to come out of my mouth and, like the 5K entry form, I almost immediately regretted it.
Olivia. Listen. It’s easy. I’ll teach you how to do it. You’re going to do one right now. OK? Right now. Get up there. Let’s do this.
She scowled in disbelief and, as soon as she started scaling that ladder, my head realized what was happening and sent the voice inside of it to chastise me.
Uh, dude? You can’t teach her this. You don’t know how to do it. When was the last time you touched a monkey bar?!
It’s true. I’m 40 and haven’t really dealt with monkey bars in a few decades. In fact, the thought of “monkey bars” conjures up images of tiny chimpanzees trying to pick up other chimpanzees over a round of banana beers. It makes me smile but also reminds me that I had no idea what the hell I just agreed to become a teacher of.
I carefully watched as she demonstrated her jungle gym proficiency and it wasn’t good. She could start off by hanging there but when it came time to reach, her body would twist in the wind and spin around backwards. I stared as she would hang, leap, spin, and fall. That was the order of events and, with the exception of a frustrated groan at the end, it went on that way for a bit.
The situation seemed dire and I started to craft ways to back out of it. After all, as she explained, she had been trying for a year and “never even did one monkey bar”. So what type of arrogance inside of me thought I could show her in ten minutes? I started crafting dad-like pieces of advice about how “we can’t learn things immediately” or how “practice makes perfect.” I didn’t want to go that route, but it started to feel inevitable.
I genuinely feared how I would look to her by abandoning the monkey training without a successful go. Sensing that her arms would soon be worn out, I watched closely and tried to study her form for any sign of weakness. Then, just as I was about to give up, I tried one last change.
Hey. You’re a leftie, right? Maybe the reason you’re turning your body around is because you’re leading with your right. If you reach first with your left hand, the momentum could carry you forward.
I could tell she wasn’t sold on the idea, but reluctantly agreed to try. She climbed up again and reached with her left hand first.
And that’s the story of how she did her “first monkey bar”.
Her eyes bugged out of head with excitement the moment she sailed to the next rung. It was an unexpected joy that was comparable to a large lotto ticket win. My daughter was beaming.
I did it! Daddy, I did it!
I gave a dad grin.
See? I knew we could do it.
Between us, though, I totally didn’t know we could do it. In fact, I was pretty sure we couldn’t, but she doesn’t know that. She doesn’t know that I have the same voice in my head that she does. It’s the same one that tells me a task is impossible and it’s best not to try. When it comes to making her better, though, I work against that voice for both us. It’s what a Dad does.
Believing your kids can do anything is easy. Believing in your own ability to show them how to do those things is hard. If I can manage to do that, though, then there’s no limit to what they – and we – can accomplish.