Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Everybody, Just RELAX

(Part of The Amy Cates Lecture Series;
click here and here and here for other installments)

For many of you, school bells have been ringing for days now. If you have children, I hope that you will find this post informative and inspiring as you continue to get into your fall routine. If you don't have children or if your children have already flown the nest, you're certainly free to sit in. We've brought in extra chairs, and donuts are in the back of the room. Make yourself comfortable.

I would like to take this opportunity to share a story -- a story that will, on one hand, make you say, "oh, how sweet," but on the other hand, will make some of you say, "Ouch." I hope it makes you say "ouch," and I hope a big baseball bat comes out of nowhere and klunks you on the head.

Please bear with me, and don't let the first-person format scare you away as a potential "Lookie what I did" story because that is not the case. This is a very important message to parents, who sometimes need to be klunked on the head. Follow along, please ...

My very good friend Catherine and I met our new crop of fourth-grade Sunday school students last week. This is a very fun day because we can spend the first 10 minutes talking to their parents (our friends) in the hallway, and it looks like we're working the crowd, when all we're really doing is Talking To Our Friends. Then we welcome in their children and get down to business.

The first day's lesson was about worry and how worry is a sin and that you shouldn't worry and that you need to hand that stuff over to God because, really, He needs you to focus on other things and let Him just do His job. You really get on His nerves when you don't do it His way.

And lest you think, "What does a fourth-grader have to worry about?," I will tell you, "PLENTY." These children did not sign any privacy agreements or consent forms of any sort, so I will not divulge any prayer requests or praises here. But I will tell you about our little activity: A Bag of Worries -- a white lunch bag that held several slips of paper with various sources of "worry." War. Hunger. Illness. Etc. Etc. And then the mother lode: School.

Volunteers (because, really, who doesn't love to volunteer to pull something out of a bag?) would march to the front of the room and proudly pull out one of the worry cards and (this is the really cool part) read it aloud. Because nothing is better than having the opportunity to read aloud, even if it is just one word.

After a child would read a worry card, I would ask the class, "Why is this a worry?" War, for example, breeds worry because it's scary; sometimes soldiers die; we don't want the war to happen here. Illness is certainly worrisome because it might strike a friend or relative or you, and nobody likes to throw up.

And then, school. "Why in the world would school worry you?" Oh. My. These sweet 9-year-old children, many of whom have already started the new school year, are STRESSED OUT. And don't fool yourself: This is not self-inflicted stress. Here are a couple of their answers (loosely translated):
* "My parents say I have to make all A's."
* "I get punished if I don't make all A's."
One of them looked like he might have to excuse himself and go to the bathroom with nervous diarrhea just thinking about it. (A disclaimer: Not all children shared these same worries. So don't think that an entire generation of tiny Baptists is popping Tums and seeking counseling for fear of bringing home a B. Just a few. And just enough.)

I would have preferred they had said they worried about bullies taking their lunch money. Or not sitting by their friend on the bus.

I'm no guidance counselor, but I'm pretty sure that making a B or C in fourth grade won't cost them a scholarship or get them kicked off the team.

According to experts at The Amy Cates School of Parenting, if a child brings home a C, D or, heaven forbid, an F, he/she may (or should) suffer a few consequences. Earning all A's just to escape punishment and bring your parents a little pride won't earn you anything but an ulcer. The motivation seems a little ... screwy. Instead, go for straight B's and a happy childhood. If you pull out a few A's along the way, then kudos to you.

If I were not a Sunday school teacher, but just a run-of-the-mill jerk, I would have said to these few kids, "Well, that's stupid. Just do the best you can, and try not to get an eating disorder over it." But at that particular moment, I was a jerk disguised as a Sunday school teacher, so I carried out my role. Although, I don't remember what I said. But I know I didn't run down the hallways telling parents to get their overachieving selves down to my classroom and apologize to their kids, like I wanted to.

All of this to say, as the school year gets cranking, lay off a little. See what they can do without so much ... interference. Buy school supplies, support them along the way, show occasional interest in what they're studying. Go make some A's of your own.

But for heaven's sake, just relax, and don't worry about it so much.