Accomplished or Saintly?
As the children get older (school age and growing) it is hard to balance our aspirations for them with their natural interests for themselves.
We would like for each of our children to do well in school. We would like for each of our children to be involved in athletics. We would like for each of our children to play an instrument.
These are aspirations we have. But they are also part of our identity and a reflection of our values.
We place a high value on the intellectual life; on the physical engagement and personal integration available through athletic competition; and on the access we have to beauty through music of many varieties.
Are we asking too much of our children? When we are being the best version of ourselves, I think we seek to develop these skills and proclivities in them out of a place of being good stewards of our gifts and talents. When we are not being the best version of ourselves, we quickly can lose sight of the “why.”
Frankly that is a pretty easy thing to do in a town like ours. It is filled with highly intelligent, highly talented, and highly motivated individuals. We have only to look up during communion at Mass to see lines of young professional families and their beautiful, accomplished children.
Am I comparing my children to others? No. I genuinely am not.
But I do recognize that I am susceptible to setting arbitrary standards in my own mind. I do have it in me to think, “Hmmm, by this age our son should be this involved in this sport so that he can make his high school team.” and “Let’s see, for our youngest to be reading on her own by first grade she needs to…” Or, to panic when our son has challenges skip-counting by twos, even though he is great at tens and fives.
In the last month, two mothers – one just turned eighty and one four years younger than I — made comments that have really helped me counteract my arbitrary goal setting.
One, the elder, has four children all grown with their own families (one worked in corporate Nike, one for NASA and one was a Rhodes scholar). Speaking of children one day she said, “you just have to give their personalities room to reveal themselves to you.”
I imagine that resonates with any parents of more than one child; our children are simply not alike.
Additionally, they are not like ME.
They will not be the second coming of MY childhood, or MY personality. They will resemble me, certainly. And resemble Joshua too, of course. We are their genes and their environment. But they are not us. We would be doing them a disservice to try to make them like what we like, want what we want, or excel at what we excel at. Especially if it comes at the expense of the opportunity to assist them in learning what they like, what they want and what they were created to excel at.
We have to let their personalities, interests and desires reveal themselves to us.
The second mother had challenges getting her young daughter onto a community soccer team. When they got off the wait list, she posted on Facebook and another friend commented that it is only a short time until travel teams. In response, the mother wrote the following:
“Yeah, no traveling teams for this family. I intend for my children to be incredibly average in sports, academics, and music and in the very top tier for love, justice and mercy.”
That is the parent I want to be.
One who lets go of worldly definitions of accomplishment and sets her sights on the Kingdom.
It is more important that my children know they are loved and valued regardless of what they do or how they perform. AND it is equally important that I raise them to love and value others not because of what they can do or even how they act but simply because they are cherished children of God.