our kids cannot be measured in numbers
October 13, 2014
As a Mom, I have a daily battle going on in my heart and in my head. It is certainly a battle symptomatic of a privileged life. I can admit that. It is not one of worrying how much my kids will eat today or if they are safe. It is not the worry of Moms who live in war zones or extreme poverty.
But once in a while, I fight the battle of seeing my kids as whole beautiful human creations of God versus seeing them as accomplishments, numbers and achievements. I think this is something very prevalent in today's society and most parents I see personally and professionally struggle with it as well. While I am extremely embarrassed to admit that I agonize with this, I am at least working really hard to overcome it.
I will never forget my parent's reaction to my report card in 1st grade. I was only five years old and had no notion of grades and honor rolls but my Mom and Dad made a huge fuss about me getting straight A's. I remember them taking me out to lunch that day and afterwards, they let me pick out a cute new sailor skort. A few days later, I recall going to McDonald's and the employee stamped an M on my report card and gave me a free kid meal. Most of all, I remember the immense positive feedback and I internalized it deeply. In all honesty, I was not good at much else aside from school. I was always the last skinny kid picked for sports teams. I did not play an instrument and I was not very artistic. The first time I ever remember getting positive feedback from others was for my grades. And on that day, I began to define myself a little bit by those numbers.
Now, as a parent, I have to really watch myself to not transfer that to my own kids. These days it can be a huge struggle for me. Unfortunately, numbers are very present in our lives right now. Our oldest son, Will is looking at colleges. In fact, just last week he and Dave went to visit UVA and William and Mary. He is preparing for and taking the ACT this fall. His GPA is a constant topic of discussion as we look at schools that are a good match for him. Harry, our middle son, is applying to private high schools this fall and is preparing for the HSPT (high school placement test). Therefore, we are also paying a lot of attention to his GPA and first term grades as those are what the high schools will evaluate in addition to standardized test scores.
Kate is in her competition season for gymnastics. She works really hard and has such passion for gymnastics. Every weekend, she earns scores on bars, floor, vault and beam. Those numbers are a snapshot of one moment in the meet and not representative of how hard she works all year or how well she does in the gym week after week. They also do not reflect how she cheers on her teammates and delights in their successes as much as her own. Yet the numbers are how she advances. Sometimes her numbers are great and other times, they are not.
I constantly remind myself to see beyond all of these numbers and just focus on the whole person underneath all of the external measures of success. But it is hard when the world looks so closely at the numbers. I tell myself the boys will get into the schools that are a right fit for them. I remind myself that Kate is only 8 years old and the gymnastics is just an extracurricular activity. I convince myself that in the big picture of life these things are not that important. They are happy, healthy, well-rounded kids and that is what matters. But the truth is GPA's and class ranks and test numbers will determine which schools my boys get into. Numbers will determine if Kate gets to go to the regional or state meet that she desperately hopes to qualify for. The outside world often looks more at the numbers and I understand the purpose they serve. But as a parent, I have to make sure that the numbers don't define how I see my children or how I love them.
My kids are thoughtful, giving, God-loving, funny, creative, responsible, entrepreneurial, go getters. They work hard and they are kind. They are certainly not perfect but they are exactly who I want my children to be. They invite new kids to sit with them at lunch or play at recess. They share a snack with someone who forgot to bring one. They stick up for the kid who is being bullied and open the door for people everyday. They say please and thank you. They treat others with respect.
This week Kate ran for class president. She wrote a speech and got up and delivered it to her class. She did not win but she wasn't even remotely sad about it. She said, "Mama, I even voted for Dylan. He really was the best person for the job." My daughter did not vote for herself. What 8 year old is that wise and selfless? I was so proud of her maturity. That cannot be measured in numbers. Colleges and high schools aren't going to see that stuff in my kids. Kate's humble heart will not earn her a place at the regional meet or in college.
And that is what I keep reminding myself. These numbers, these external accomplishments like honor roll or 1st place do not define our kids. It is the journey. It is the hard work, the determination, the effort and the heart that will make them good citizens of the world. A child who is reading 3 years above grade level will not necessarily become a fabulous and caring adult. Our kids are not the number on the scoreboard, the report card or a college entrance exam. And we need to stop treating them as though they are. We need to spend as much time congratulating our kids and talking to them about good choices, values and character qualities as we do about their accomplishments and successes. Their character is what will get them through life not the trophies they get for just for showing up.
Yesterday, Kate had an amazing floor routine at the meet and she got her highest score ever. I was really proud of her and guilty of sharing it on Facebook. But what I should have shared and what I was most proud of was how when her teammate was called up to the podium, Kate hugged her and tried to hold her hand. In the car, I told her how proud I was of that. And she said, "Oh Mama there is nothing better than being up there with your teammate right next to you. That's the best!"
In this age of social media, we blast our children's accomplishments all over our facebook pages, blogs, instagram and twitter accounts I am guilty of it too. The irony of my last post is not lost on me. But why do we do it? Just because our child scored the most goals does not mean that we are a good parent. Are we measuring our parenting by the ruler of our children's accomplishments? A friend recently confessed that she felt like a failure as a parent because her children did not excel in anything. That really struck me. One has nothing to do with the other. Sure, I think we need to expose our children to various activities and we need to support and encourage them if they love something. But their accomplishments are not a reflection of our success at parenting.
In my opinion, parents have one real job and that is to love our children unconditionally. That means we love them when they win first place and when they come in last. We love them when they are behaving the way we want them to and when they are not. We love them when they are excelling in school and when they are struggling. We love them whether they succeed or fail. It fact, true unconditional love is deciding to love our children when it is especially hard to love them.
As parents we need to make sure our kids know that we are proud of who they are not what they accomplish. We need to focus on what really matters instead of what the world or the media tell us matters. And I am working really hard to try to do that everyday.