If you’ve been reading blogs, listening to podcasts, basically being alive and even remotely connected to the world – – then you have probably heard of ‘growth mindset‘. But just in case you might not know what that term is all about, it’s basically this: with a growth mindset, you believe that with hard work, determination, and perseverance you can learn/be whatever you want. We are not wired to be only strong in one area, or in one style of learning. A growth mindset means that we can adapt and alter our learning abilities.
As a homeschooler, this idea has been a large part of my underpinning philosophy. I think it’s incredibly important to allow our kids to work and dream and reach for anything that they want. It’s important not to peg our child as “mathy” or “not mathy” or “sciencey” or any other ‘box’.
As the parent of an anxious child, however, and as an anxious mom myself – – I think not only is there a time and place to accept when you ‘just can’t’ do something but there is also immense value and power in knowing when to say “I just can’t right now”. I also think that we can do real damage by insisting that our child “just keep working” or “just keep pushing”.
That Time I Made The Best Decision – and Quit
Here’s a little story – basically, this event is what inspired this post and reminded me that we need to make sure we talk about the times when we might have genuine limitations.
I recently had been working on a project with a good friend and colleague. This was something that I was SO inspired to do, something that was deeply meaningful to me, and not something we entered into lightly. We put in a lot of time and a lot of hours of hard work – this was something that was stretching me, but as we all keep hearing: you can do anything you put your mind to, a little stretching is good for a person. Growth Mindset! Get out of your comfort zone! You can do anything with a little perseverance!
Until I ended up hitting a point where I realized I had been having anxiety symptoms, basically 24/7 for almost 2 weeks. I was feeling physically worn down and getting worse by the day. I was finding it difficult to be present for my family, in my homeschool, and even here at my own blog. I made the very difficult realization that I had to face the idea that I might not be able to do this. I was absolutely terrified to have this conversation with the person I was on the project with. I was terrified to tell my spouse, or even my kids, how I was feeling. I just kept trying to put on a smile, and fake it til I make it, and just keep pushing through it.
I couldn’t push through anymore. I couldn’t do it – the anxiety being triggered was affecting my health and my ability to be a good parent and homeschooler. So, I swallowed my pride and I faced the immense fear that not only would my partner be angry but that it would change our friendship. I felt like I was failing her, I felt like I was quitting, and I felt like I was disappointing everyone. On top of the almost suffocating embarrassment I was feeling at having to acccept a limitation on myself.
I made the call. I told her, tearfully but honestly, that I just really needed to consider the reality that this was not a good move for me after all. Thank the goddess for Voxer, I tell you, because I could leave the message and wait. And I waited, with my breath held and a face full of tears, for her to respond. I wouldn’t even have blamed her for firing back at me with anger and disappointment and sadness.
The Response to an Anxious Mom
But you know what she did?
She responded with kindness, and warmth, and compassion and a heart that just wanted me to be happy and healthy. She said that while she was disappointed and that she had been really looking forward to this project – that she thought it was brave and wise for me to do what was best for me.
It would have been so easy (and understandable!) for her to say “Oh you can do this, just take a big breath, we worked so hard, don’t quit, etc etc”. She didn’t do that. She didn’t push me or ask more of me than I had to give.
Truthfully, I don’t think she’ll ever know how profoundly moving her response was. How positively it affected me. How reassuring it was to know that I had been heard, that I was supported. And in that moment, I had a flash of sudden realization that ‘this is what my anxious child feels like when he has to tell me he can’t do something‘.
Growth Mindset, Anxiety, And Knowing When You Can’t
I remember actually taking in a big quick breath as I made that connection. That my sweet boy, in those times when he looks at me with a face full of tears – or a face full of anger – and says “I can’t!! I can’t do this!!” That he’s probably more afraid of me being disappointed than anything. That he’s terrified to let me down. And that he’s probably feeling sad, and embarrassed, and like a failure. [I’ve talked a lot on this blog about my anxious kiddo – Homeschooling Your Anxious Child is my most recent post about our journey through his anxiety issues.]
How easy it would be to respond to that anxious boy with platitudes of “You can do this. I believe that you can do anything. Just keep working. You got this!”? That is almost always what I *do* respond when he says he “can’t” do something. It’s what everyone says to him when he’s feeling anxious – and we respond in that way out of a place of good intentions, and with nothing but love for him.
But how much more powerful would it be, if in that moment instead of pushing and cajoling him through whatever it is he is struggling with – if I said “I hear you. Let’s put this away – maybe just for a while, maybe permanently. But I hear you and I support you.” It is so tempting, and so easy, to just want to keep working to make them understand that they really can do this hard thing. It is a good thing, to help our children learn to stretch and push and grow and be more than they ever thought they could be.
But it’s also a tremendous tool to have in your ‘anxiety coping toolbox’ to be able to look honestly at yourself, and say “No. I can’t right now.” It’s probably one of the most important things that I can do for myself, for my anxiety, when I recognize that something is just not possible.
Having a growth mindset is a good thing, it’s a great thing – for most people. But for some of us, who struggle with mental health issues, or maybe physical disabilities or learning challenges? There’s no shame in not being able to. There’s no shame in, occasionally, crying uncle to your anxiety or disability. There’s no shame in saying “I just….can’t.” In fact, self-awareness and a mindful knowing of your own limitations and boundaries – can only be the best sort of self-care you can practice.
Have you ever had to quit something, or wave the white flag? Did you have support in your doing that, or was it a difficult experience? I would love to hear how YOU have experienced creating your own boundaries and limits – comment below, or you can contact me privately via my contact button down below!