Thursday, October 17, 2013

Stage Fright

I had a couple more tutorials scheduled for the blog this week, but life happens and I have something else I want to talk about today.

Both of my boys participate in a church scouting program called Caravans on Wednesday nights.  Last night was the Caravans Induction Ceremony, in which each age group went on stage in the sanctuary and sang songs, recited their pledge, and talked about what badges they've earned so far this year. 

We've been prepping Griffin for this ceremony for about two weeks.  He has a history of being a bit of a trainwreck on stage (I mean that lovingly, of course).  Over the years of Christmas programs for school and church, VBS performances, and various kid programs at church, Griffin has most frequently stood on stage and cried.  Many times he clings to a teacher for dear life and puts on his grumpiest face.  We have had two (I think) times when he actually cooperated with what the kids were supposed to do for the performance.

All of these kid performances make me sweat in my ugly places.

These are times of great anxiety for our family.

Then we get judgment from other parents, grandparents, and leaders because our child was the only one not participating and performing.

Griffin has finally reached the age of being able to articulate to us what the problem is.  He is nervous to go on stage and have everyone in church staring at him.

Bingo!  This makes sense.

Guess what...I don't like going on stage and having everyone stare at me!

Now this whole crazy stressful process looks so different to me.  In fact, it seems a bit ridiculous.  We expect our kids to go on stage and talk, sing, dance, and entertain the masses without a single qualm.  And yet, many adults would never do any of those things.

Why am I expecting my child to do something that I am extremely reluctant to do?

I'll tell you why:  because other people expect him to.

I've been wrestling with this.  I couldn't sleep last night.  I really don't want to seem like I'm lecturing other families or excusing my child's misbehavior.  I'm just questioning if it's actually misbehavior.

After the ceremony last night, another mother told me the entire conversation she had with her kids before church.  She reminded them to stand still on stage, smile, recite their pledges, sing their songs, don't laugh if other children say ornery things, don't participate if other children get rambunctious, etc. 

She said, "I don't want my kid to be that kid.  You know, the one kid who isn't participating correctly.  My kids are church kids."

Pause.  This was a decision point for me.  My friend Jessica taught me to "hear people's hearts, not their words."  Thank you for that wise advice.

This mom apparently didn't realize she was talking to the mom of that kid, the one she didn't want her kid to be.  This mom is someone I would consider a friend, and I have to assume that she didn't intend to sound so harsh.

I also realized that her heart was in the exact same place mine was:  we both want the general church people to think our children are well-behaved (and therefore, we are doing a good job parenting them).

I think I need a different standard for "well-behaved" when it comes to Griffin sometimes.  Nolan was only slightly nervous to be on stage, and he had no problem performing with his group.  Griffin has a case of stage fright, so why would I hold him to the same standard as someone who doesn't have the same fears?

In case you're wondering how Griffin did last night, I'm going to label it as "fine."

He went up on stage with his group, without holding a teacher's hand.  He stood in his spot and didn't cry one tear.  He didn't recite the pledge and he didn't sing the song.  He didn't say the Bible verse that I know he has memorized.  But he didn't disrupt the children who did want to perform.

This was another decision point for me.  My natural tendency was to feel angry and frustrated with him.  Why can't he ever just do what the other kids are doing?  Why does everything have to be so hard with him?

But then I remembered a line from my current Bible study book ("Let. It. Go." by Karen Ehman).  She said (in relationship to parenting our kids), "It's more important to recognize and praise effort and diligence than outcome and performance."  Pretty relevant, right?

I had underlined and rewritten this statement over a week ago.  And God brought it to my mind as I sat in my pew, staring at my child, and starting to sweat.

I chose to praise his effort rather than his performance.  Walking up on the big stage and standing with his class while a bunch of people stared at him was progress.  If I don't praise his progress, how will he ever get to the desired results?

Other people's expectations are that kids don't have stage fright.  They should enjoy performing for adults.  If they are "good" kids with "good" parents, then they will participate and perform.

I can't live by those expectations.  I've been trying, and it results in a lot of hurt feelings and frustration.

God confirmed what he was trying to teach me last night by sending me two other women to encourage me.  One was another mom.  When I told her that her daughter was so cute on stage, she revealed that her daughter was nervous and really didn't want to be up on stage.  The mom said, "As I was lecturing her about going up there and performing, I realized that I don't ever want to go up on stage either.  I don't want all those people staring at me!"  Sounds like the same message God had already whispered to me.

The other encouraging woman was one of Griffin's teachers.  She is a friend of mine, and she has shown Griffin extraordinary compassion his whole life.  She let me know exactly what they would be doing so I could give Griffin clear expectations ahead of time.  She also brought candy (Griffin's favorite currency) to reward the children for going up on stage.  She said ahead of time that her only goal for Griffin was that he would go up on stage.  She didn't expect him to perform or outshine the other children.  She was pushing him only so far out of his comfort zone, and she affirmed him for his efforts.

Thank you, Lord, for encouraging people who are loving and gracious to me in my difficult mama moments.

We have a lot of kid performances left before these kiddos grow up and leave my nest.  I could get quite tangled up if I don't learn how to adjust my expectations to account for my kids' fears and praise them for their efforts even when their performance looks different than that of other children.  I'm not letting Griffin completely off the hook, even though that would be easier for everyone involved.  I have to teach him about pushing through fears and being brave when we have to do scary things.  I just have to practice being happy with baby steps of progress, and I need to learn to let other people's expectations remain their expectations and not mine.

And maybe you other parents and grandparents could help a little too.  Please be kind to the sweating mom whose kid doesn't want to do the motions to "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."  You just may be witnessing a family making slow progress overcoming a difficult fear.   


1 comment:

  1. You're amazing! Thank you so much for that post. It is exactly what I needed to hear! I love, love, love you!!!