I was at a youth camp last week, helping young women "learn and grow" (and yes, I intended those quotation marks every little bit). There was one day that the girls got in groups of 10-15 and walked around different ropes courses with themes and team building exercises. I was put in charge of one where eight girls had to stand inside a small roped-off area that was a "sinking ship." Somehow they had to figure out how to grab a rope suspended from two trees six feet away to get them off the ship and over shark-infested waters to a tiny marked-off "island."
If they fell off the rope or dragged in any way, the sharks won and they would "die"... but then go back to the end of the line. In other words, just like real life. I would have four groups of girls come to my little ropes course where I would give them the rules, watch them work through it, and then guide them through discussions about what it all meant and represented.
My first group came through and it consisted mostly of the girls I knew (including my own daughter). Since it was my first group, I STUCK to the rules, I strictly left them to figure it all out, I might have even had my arms crossed while watching them struggle. I thought that was my role, I thought it was how they would learn. Then an old leader who has watched this activity hundreds of times came over and gave them big helps.
I felt like a moron for not doing it sooner. Three out of fifteen girls got across and the discussion was lame.
They left to their next course activity and I got my new group, where I felt much more prepared. Everyone got a shot at crossing the shark-infested waters, but some girls were unsuccessful and I let them give up super easily. I figured they at least got to try. They slunk over to the logs and sat while everyone else finished and the discussion was moderately better.
The third group of girls came and I had great passive suggestions that helped them all get across, save for a couple who tried a few times but didn't want to keep going. I get it, I thought to myself. I have strong legs, but my upper body struggles in carrying all of my weight. I didn't want them to feel self conscious, because I know that I would. The discussion was more spirited than the previous two, but still a bit stifled.
Do you see where this is going yet?
The last group came and I was ready for it. I had all of the wonderful suggestions that I had learned from the previous groups. I had much better insight and was more aware of the girls' moods and skills. They fed off my energy and killed the whole activity that they ALL got to the island (even those with less upper-arm strength than THIS GAL), had a really inspiring conversation, and they all tried crossing again.
It was a completely different experience than the first group. I kept thinking about the differences and what I could have done better. But, in the end I realized that I had to learn how to lead the group just as much as the groups of girls had to learn how to successfully complete the course.
Is it any surprise that with FOUR kids of my own that I kept thinking about how my four groups are like my parenting? With my first, I had it all figured out. She wouldn't ever be messy, she would always be super polite, eat all her dinner, have a bedtime, get straight As, and overall prove that I am a great leader/parent. Arms folded and everything, I would make sure she learned.
Second child, I am a little more relaxed, but still probably too hard and assuming. Third child gets a lot of love and leeway (probably too much leeway). I've learned how to accept who he is and his strengths. My last child is spirited, understood, and so far successful in all he does. He even gets chances to do more than the others ever did, because we have both learned a lot more quickly how to get through the challenges.
It's the same song and dance I hear my parents and older siblings talk about. No matter how hard you try, the first child gets the arms-folded parent determined to prove that THEY are good parents. The baby of the family is confident because maybe his nose wasn't on the wall as often. I don't know. Sometimes I think my youngest needs his nose on the wall more often. And perhaps our generation of parenting (and the one just beginning) is so afraid of being "mean" parents that we are raising over-indulgent, over-privileged humans. How do we have fourth-group ropes-course experiences with our first kids without the brattiness?
It's so tricky, trying to learn how to raise good humans. Who knew that our PARENTS were also LEARNING to lead while being all parent-y on us? What do you do? Any tricks for the rest of us needing a seasoned older leader who has seen this course hundred of times before?