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Keep your eyes on the prize

by Mary Mazzoni on January 1, 2013

There’s a scene in the book “Teacher Man” in which Frank McCourt stands before his high school class and writes a capital “F” on the left side of the board, and a capital “F” on the right side of the board.

He then draws an arrow between the “F” on the left and the “F” on the right.

An arrow, he says, from FEAR to FREEDOM.

“I don’t think anyone achieves complete freedom”, he explains, “but what I am trying to do with you is drive fear into a corner.” (McCourt, “Teacher Man”, Ch. 16, pg. 253)

As the new year begins, where are you – and where is your child – on the fear – freedom continuum?

What are you afraid of?

This question can be liberating. When we look fear in the face – when we name it – it tends to lose its power.

In his first inaugural address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt boldly proclaimed:

“…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes the needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

What are you afraid of?

Name your fears – one by one.

CHOOSE how you’ll respond to them – rather than allowing them to “namelessly, unreasoningly, unjustifiably paralyze” your decisions, your perspective, your life.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Can you feel the freedom in this question?

It urges us to ask:

  • Who am I?
  • What are my gifts?
  • How do I want to use my time?
  • What’s important to me?
  • How do I want to contribute?
  • What brings me joy?

These questions open space for possibility – for choice – for freedom.

If we ask ourselves out loud : “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” – and if we teach our kids to ask themselves the same question – we may find ourselves breathing more deeply of freedom this coming year.

“Normal” is not a goal

A whole lot of time and energy is focused on teaching kids with disabilities to look and sound and act “normal”.

What is “normal”?

It’s an illusion, of course. There is no such thing as “normal”.

So – what are you afraid of?

That your child will be bullied? That she’ll be lonely? That he won’t get a job someday?

Now – what are your hopes?

That your child will learn and develop her talents? That he will have genuine mutual relationships? That she’ll contribute in ways she finds meaningful? That he’ll get a job? That she will be happy?

Here’s the thing.

No one is drawn into a relationship because of the “normality” of a potential friend. No employer hired an applicant because she was “normal” enough.

We grow friendships with peers who share our interests. Employers hire candidates who are enthusiastic about the work and bring skills that are needed for the job.

Sure – our kids need to learn the basics of etiquette and functional communication and self regulation skills. But the way they communicate, interact, and self regulate doesn’t need to “look” like “everybody else”.

What’s more, like all humans, our kids will be more willing to practice skills they find difficult when these skills are connected to what matters to them.

What is your child passionate about? What matters to her? How does she want to contribute? What makes him who he is?

Nurture your child’s skills in relation to her interests and goals – not in relation to some illusory concept of “normal”.

Normal isn’t a goal. For anybody.

Keep your eyes on the prize

People marched courageously toward danger in the 1950′s and 1960′s – because they had a dream. For themselves and for their children.

They sang freedom songs as they pressed on:

“Freedom’s name is mighty sweet, and one day soon we are gonna meet. 

Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on.”

What is your goal – your prize?

What are your child’s goals?

If we truly want to empower our kids – let’s model for them – and teach them how to plan and take action toward their own goals.

Sure – they may need support to do this. But being self determined – setting goals and working toward them – brings freedom and empowerment that makes all the difference in our kids’ quality of life.


Now there’s a jarring “f” word.

Do we worry that, if our kids don’t reach a goal, they’ll be permanently discouraged? Are we afraid to let them fail?

Does this fear cause us to clear every obstacle from their path and prevent them from attempting endeavors that are “too challenging” for them?

What if we let our hopes lead the way instead of our fears?

What if we teach our kids practical problem solving skills so they can practice meeting obstacles head-on? How might this enhance their lives now – and in the future?

From fear to freedom

As this new year begins, may you and your child focus your time and energies on what matters most to you. May your child learn to set his or her own goals and work to achieve them. May you and your child look your fears in the face and find ways around obstacles.

And – as you keep your eyes on the prize – may you find yourselves moving from fear ever closer to freedom.

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

If you found this post helpful – please share it. Thanks!

Photo credit: Are you surviving or are you thriving? website and modenadude at Flickr

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