January 13, 2015

The Real Path to Success

Without my planning for it, God has seen fit to position me as an educational consultant of sorts.

At this point in my life, I interact every day with dozens of parents who worry about their abilities to homeschool effectively. I field anxious questions and seek to reassure them that their children really can blossom into healthy, happy, productive adults. And in my “previous life” as a classroom teacher, I regularly seemed to fill the same role for fellow educators, who felt inadequate despite “professional training” and years of experience. I also met often with the nervous parents of my immigrant students, seeking to reassure them that their children really were making progress toward fruitful adult lives.

In all the angst that has bubbled up from the hearts of these adults, I’ve seen one common theme: Fear that the kids will “fail” or somehow not “measure up.”

Of course, the anxiety begs the question: Measure up to what? And why?

Why should every child do the same things at the same time in the way at the same rate – which is the root expectation behind a fear of “failure?” Obviously, each one needs to master certain foundational skills – abilities to read well, think critically, and communicate clearly. No one would argue that. But even the path to and expression of those goals need not be cookie-cutter. And once the basics have been covered, why – when we know better simply by observing the variety of fulfilling life choices we see in our adult peers – do we think there’s only one right definition of success for our kids?

Yet that’s what we communicate when we compare them to some “ideal” – or to a neighbor or cousin. We send them the message that the ways in which God has wired them are not good enough…because they’re not the same as some other child – or as some theoretical, manufactured “perfect kid.” As a result, many kids eventually begin to think they’re failures. And that’s our fault. We set them up for trouble and heartache by pushing the lie that there’s only one ideal path for all kids.

The alternative is to choose to see – and accept – each child for who she really is. Do I have a dancer? Then why does she need to take Calculus? Can he fix anything upon which he lays his hands? Then why does he need to read Shakespeare? Is it clear that she’s called to be a physician? Then why would she need piano lessons?

The ideal is not the creation of the “perfect kid” – whatever that’s supposed to be. The ideal is actually on us as adults – to choose to see the individual beauty of each child in our lives and then do whatever we can to maximize his or her individual potential. When our kids know we value who they really are, they’ll know they aren’t failures. In fact, they – and we – will have succeeded, no matter what the paths toward the individual end-goals look like.

Photo Credit: riverdog


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