I try not to do too much serious stuff on this blog- if you’ve read it even once you can attest to that fact. I believe the world is full of serious, especially when you’re a parent. So I try to just share funny tidbits that I encounter in my every day life as a mom, wife and woman so you can have a break from the serious. Decorating, dentistry, personal grooming… those types of hot topics. But I feel like tonight I need to get on my soapbox for a moment or two.
You see, recently I feel like I have bombarded by wackos. Now I’m sure if you’ve spent any amount of time with me over the last 7-10 days your wracking your brain to recall anything “out of the ordinary” that you might have said or done. Let me just say, this post is not based on any one person in particular. So before you send me hate mail and accuse me of using you as material for this post, rest assured… it’s not you.
It was more a series of events, articles and interactions that prompted these thoughts in my head. It began a few weeks ago when I was cleaning up DS2’s room. As I sorted through the piles and piles of “dirty” clothes (and I put the word dirty in quotes because this child likes to change into costumes and different outfits at least twice a day and any previous clothing is deemed “dirty” as soon as it loses contact with his epidermis) when I came across a Tae Kwon Do trophy and 2 soccer medals in the bottom of the laundry basket. I can say with complete sincerity that there is a “logical” explanations as to why they were in the laundry basket. Again, laundry needs quotes because this is DS2 we’re talking about here. So as I retrieved these things from the basket and put them back in their rightful place (on top of the much more logical dresser) I couldn’t help but laugh when I remembered how thrilled this little guy was each time he received his precious medal of honor.
I know many people complain about this generation of “we don’t keep score” “everyone gets a medal” because they feel we are setting these kids up for future failure when they are appropriately categorized by talent or skill or are expected to perform without assumed reward. This is the generation of sticker charts and gold stars, is it not? Personally, I’ve struggled with this very issue in my own home. Why should I reward my kid for doing what’s expected? What behaviors earn a quarter or a sticker and what earn simply a “thanks” or nothing at all because these are the things we do as members of a family. Finding that line between basic expectation and going above and beyond is difficult. And if you know me at all, I tend to be a bit of a hard ass with these types of things. I have high expectations of my kids basic behaviors. A little too high, I know. But at the same time, have you ever watched 3-5 year olds play soccer for the YMCA? Uh, if trophies have to be awarded based on talent and skill, there’s gonna be 99.9% of these kids sadly sitting on the sidelines as 1 or 2 kids get all the accolades. There’s a whole lot of running and swarming and very little scoring or even ball connecting at this age. The awards ceremony would be terribly depressing for everyone. So, in my opinion, giving these little dudes a trophy along with their YMCA soccer shirt is OK. It’s a lot of work to run the wrong direction consistently for 6 weeks and NEVER touch the ball. That in and of itself should be its own sport.
I mean really? Could you deny this kid a medal and a certificate?
I think he should get one for just being pretty darn cute!
But what about stickers and allowance when Johnny makes his bed? How about earning TV or computer time when Jennifer cleans her bathroom? Should I pay my kids to put away their laundry or empty the dishwasher? Some would say yes. They would argue that this is teaching them the value of money and how to work to earn something they want. Others would argue this is teaching our kids to only help out when they are going to get something out of it. “Those darn extrinsic rewards are ruining our kids!” I once had a parent say that to me in a parent teacher conference. I could understand his point; yet I reminded him that I too have a sticker chart- it’s called a pay scale.
I’m blessed beyond belief to work several hours each day at a job I love, for a boss I respect and admire and a company I’m proud to be a part of. But not every one feels that way. I’m also blessed because my income, though important, is supplemental- it pays for tuition and summer camps and Tae Kwon Do. It doesn’t keep a roof over our heads or clothes on our backs. But for many people, their jobs are not pleasant experiences. They go to work because they have to and because they “get” something at the end of the day or week or month… a paycheck. Isn’t that just a grown up sticker chart? When we complete the tasks we are asked to do, we get a reward- money. That money allows us to pay for the things we need, and if we’re lucky, some of the stuff we want. Like it or not, it’s an extrinsic reward. Very few of us go to work just for fun. And even fewer of us have jobs built upon merit pay. So just like my little soccer player who spent more time running near the ball than every touching or kicking it yet got a medal anyway; we, too, get paid even when we occasionally do a crap job at work.
So if it’s not the excessive amount of trophies or stickers that is “ruining” our kids, what is it? In my opinion, and you may not like or agree with it, I think the most detrimental thing we are doing to our kids is spending an extraordinary amount of time telling them how extraordinary they are. Parenting books, lectures, talk shows, all those things that Moms and sometimes Dads use to learn “how to parent” encourage us to emphasize to our children how special and unique they are. Well guess what? They ARE special and unique. That’s how they were designed to be- a unique, one of a kind individual. But you know what? The kid next to you was designed that way too. And the kid next to him. And the kid next to him. And that kid over there too.
We are ALL unique and special and extraordinary. But that also makes us just like those around us. It’s part of what makes up our communities. Look up the word “community” and you’ll find words such as common and shared. Communities are made up of unique people who live and function together as a group. Unfortunately, it’s the latter portion of that sentence that I see parents skipping. “Living and functioning TOGETHER.” When we spend so much time telling our kids how different they are (and often times implying “better”) we are de-emphasizing the importance of being part of the larger group. I’m not saying all kids should be Stepford Kids or Drones who are passed through the system and spit out the other side exactly the same. I love the uniqueness of my kids. I love how God blessed them each with their own strengths and growth areas. But I don’t think they are any more unique than any other kid I’ve met. They may be blessed with a specific talent or gift, but that doesn’t make them any more unique than the kid next to them. We’ve all got strengths and weaknesses.
I truly believe in the individualized needs of kids. I feel that our kids should be given the chance to explore their unique gifts. As a teacher I tried to live that philosophy in my classroom, addressing different needs and gifts. But when we continually insist that Sally needs a special class or Johnny needs a special coach or Tommy needs a different program we better be darn sure we are also teaching them that other kids have other gifts as well and we better be ready to deal with some of the consequences that come from focusing on how they’re “different.” The danger in emphasizing to our kids that they are different, is that it sets them up to think they’re, well, different. And that’s not always good.
I’m sure this all sounds a little soapbox-y, especially for me. But I feel as though recently I’ve had experiences with adults (yes adults!) who have not quite figured out that just because they are special or unique in some way they are not held to a different set of standards or expectations than the rest of the world. Just because you’re smart and a successful businessman doesn’t mean you are exempt from basic social graces by which the rest of us abide. You don’t get to treat people like dirt and continually disregard their feelings. Just because you’re a more “creative soul” does not mean you don’t have to figure out how to pay your bills and expect others to do it for you. There are certain rules and expectations of society that we are all held to. Again, I’m not talking about creating drones. But we all know grown ups who can’t hold a job and it’s often some one else’s fault. “My boss just didn’t get me.” “My supervisor didn’t recognize my talents enough.” Or they go from thing to thing to thing “trying to find their perfect place” while someone else is footing the bill. It doesn’t work that way. The real world doesn’t work that way. Just because your parents told you you were different, doesn’t mean you get different rules.
It takes a lot more work to teach our kids humility than it does to teach them self confidence. Quietly feeling proud that your son scored in the 98th percentile on his standardized test scores or that your daughter won the spelling bee or got a 100% on a math test every week this month is no small task. I find it takes more effort to keep my mouth shut than to share one of my kids’ successes. Humility is not an easy lesson to teach or learn. Just watch any 6-18 year old….(or even a few parents in the bleachers or in the school parking lot). They have no problem thinking they’re great at everything and the center of the world. It’s a lot harder to teach them to see the special talents in others rather than themselves. And they still need to scrub a toilet once in a while- tell them to consider it payment for the meals on their table and the clothes on their back!
Celebrate your kids. Praise them for a job well done. Let them know how proud you are of their hard work and accomplishments. But we should be conscious of balancing it with the accomplishments of others around us. We are a society, a group at large, filled with unique and gifted people. Collectively, we will do amazing things.
I will be a successful parent if my kids grow up knowing that they are unique and special, but won’t feel the need to tell everyone about it. If I’ve done my job correctly, the lives they lead and the choices they make will say it for them.
That’s just my normal.