One of my favorite mentors once told me the secret to raising happy and healthy children is to know them well and genuinely think they are special for who they are.
This sounded really easy, because luckily my kids are pretty awesome, and I often feel proud of them. However, it became a bit of a slippery slope when I started expecting them to be remarkable most of the time. I found myself holding my kids to unrealistically high standards, and forgetting about the part where I recognize they are special for who they are, not who I want them to be.
Time for a wake up call.
Last month I was excitedly anticipating our son’s first ever parent-teacher conference with his Kindergarten teacher. I already assumed he was one of the best in the class (see slippery slope reference above), but it’s always rewarding to hear that feedback from the teacher herself.
So my husband and I walked in, sat down and…. Boom. We were told pretty much right off the bat that our son was average.
To her credit, the teacher was great. She went through all sorts of standardized measures of how he was doing and clearly knew our son well. At the end of the meeting she smiled reassuringly and said, “He’s exactly where he needs to be.”
I looked at my husband, who knows me well enough to recognize I was waiting for the “special snowflake” comment. Something along the lines of how he was her favorite, head of the class, and of course everyone’s best friend. But that feedback never came. She had nothing negative to say, but she didn’t give us any special sparkly compliments either.
As we left the meeting, my husband grabbed my hand and said, “Well that went about how we expected, right?” Just as I exclaimed, “Average???” Luckily we both laughed, but that meeting has given me a lot to ponder.
First and foremost, I had to come to terms with the fact that my son- while he has many strengths- may not be a total superstar, at least not at everything or to everyone. In fact, right now he would rather do anything in the entire world than learn how to read. Which is a fact I keep ignoring because I literally had a book glued to my hand for the first two decades of my life.
And it’s not like my husband and I put any pressure on our kids to do things they don’t enjoy, or exhaustively practice their letters, numbers, or other crazy parenting madness. They are way too young to be stressed out about stuff like that.
But living in an area with such intense focus on academics, scores, and achievements, it can be pretty easy for parents to get caught up in it all. Easy for us parents to set the metric of what “defines” special, or what “should” make our children happy.
Brutal Newsflash: It’s not always about us.
The problem with that logic is that we overlook a lot of strengths our kids do have, which may not seem important to us but may be what gives them the greatest joy. For instance, my son may not care much about reading, but he spends hours building elaborate skyscrapers out of any materials he can find. He loves to craft and has fantastic fine motor coordination. He’s creative. And perhaps most importantly, he is very kind and loving to his younger sister and friends.
I’m starting to realize what my mentor actually meant: my kid doesn’t need to be a superstar student/athlete/artist in order to thrive or be happy.
What he needs is a parent who accepts him as is and still loves him, not just for his good parts but the rough-around-the-edges parts too.
He needs a parent who supports him even when he messes up or falls short or isn’t exactly who you expected, hoped, or dreamed for him to be.
This genuine love and acceptance will help my child build self-reliance and resilience, so that he can make mistakes, have a bad day, or come in last place and be able to pick his head up and keep going, knowing he has value and is appreciated.
I want him to be confident enough to withstand rejection, disappointment and failure without crumpling or giving up.
Most of all, I want him to know he has someone in his corner, cheering him on as he weathers all the big moments, good and bad, painful and joyous, happy and bittersweet.
Because our job as parents isn’t to dictate to our kids who they need to become or what makes them happy.
Our job is to genuinely support them along their own journey, encourage them as they learn from their own successes and failures, and enjoy the people they become.