I can do it!

I can do it!

There are so many ways we hear this from our kids.  Hopefully, it’s because they’ve triumphed in some task they’ve undertaken.  

Riding their bike with no training wheels.  

Baking their first loaf of bread.

A gold star on a spelling test.

This is like wind in their sails, and makes a huge difference to their willingness to tackle the next new challenge.

Sometimes, though, it has a different meaning altogether.  

When I was a little girl, it was one of my most-used phrases… as in, I can do it - by myself.

Many parents of children with physical disabilities or learning challenges might relate?

It’s such a fine balance between wanting our children to learn to be as independent as possible, and then recognising when to step in to offer support and assistance if a task is beyond their immediate capacity.

It took me many, many years to learn to tie a bow with one hand.  Maths problems still make me feel as though my heart’s going to stop - momentarily.  And my organisational skills?  Modest, to say the least.

So what’s the best course of action when your child is taking longer than peers to master a new skill?  Or might never achieve the same standard as others in a particular area? 

From my perspective, as a child I longed to feel that I was fine just the way I am.  I was born with one hand, so I could never look like other children, and I always felt like a stranger in a foreign land with my obscure interests and tendency to hum Baroque favourites in year 7 (some things don’t change).  

Many of us long for our children to be accepted.  To be invited to birthday parties and sleepovers, to have a playmate at lunch time.  Sometimes, though, despite any amount of engineering, other children with their finely tuned radar for detecting anything that’s “not pre-approved” will decide that our child is the one who won’t be included.

But there’s great hope.  The ability to conform comes at a price, and it’s too high.  Constant reference to what other people consider to be “acceptable” kills our capacity for innovative thinking, and encourages us to hide our difference away.

Instead, how about we view our differences and “disabilities” as an opportunity to encourage new, more diverse thinking?  Our children’s challenges as fuel to the fire of making things better?

As parents, we are the people most likely to notice when things aren’t working.  When our systems are failing.  When relationships are not built on the requirements of respect, empathy and care.  When our society’s focus is too narrow.  

This offers us an opportunity to innovate and to advocate.  To build new systems and processes.  To consider radical new ways of thinking about the way we are structuring our society, the education system and our economy.  To think again about the nature of our relationships to each other and our planet.  

We can start with a desire to make things better for our kids.  But it can encourage us as adults too, in the way we courageously volunteer to share our perspective on what’s really important.  To generously support others when they are dealing with their own limitations.  To carefully consider our use of our planet’s precious resources.  

This means taking individual gifts and challenges into account to build an ecosystem around us that encourages our unique strengths and what unites us, rather than focusing on our weaknesses and differences.

What if we turn “I can do it!” or “I can do it - myself!” into “We can do it - together!”?