"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Monday, February 07, 2011

What are we proud of?

Little Johnny made the honor roll again.  Suzy gets 100% on all her spelling tests, and is reading above her grade level.  Bob aced his SATs.  Karen got accepted into Dartmouth.  Steve made the Dean's list.  Henry landed a high-paying job with a big signing bonus.  Ken and Tina bought a new house with the white picket fence when they were still fresh from their honeymoon.

Those are all nice and lovely - if you care about those kinds of things - but...

What does it even mean?  Is this what we're on the earth for?  To participate in some great race to... somewhere... where the prizes are good grades and gold stars, bonuses and promotions?  I see so many people measuring success (both their children's and their own) on the above sort of criteria.  They're so proud of those report cards, so proud of those awards.

I don't know about you, but I want more than that.  I want something that means something.  And to be totally honest, when people gush with pride about their child's grades, while I will smile and nod and make appropriate congratulatory remarks... inside, my true knee-jerk response is something akin to "So what?"  To say that I'm remarkably unimpressed with things like grades is a gross understatement.  They just don't matter to me, and my list of objections to their very presence is lengthy.

But I'll pretend, for the sake of argument, that I do care, that I do think that things like grades are a good measure of success.  And I'll take it a step further, and say that the fancy college is a good measure of success too, as well as the high-paying job and the big sprawling house.  This is how society measures success, and for one (highly uncomfortable) moment, I'll go along with society.  Good grades, fancy colleges, high paying jobs = success.  Fine.  

But there's still a problem.  Even if all those things do truly measure success (and I'm still saying that they do) ...

They still don't measure character
They still don't measure joy
They still don't measure love
They still don't measure peace
They still don't measure kindness
They still don't measure compassion
They still don't measure gentleness

These are the things that make me proud of my kids. 

The rest of it... the grades, the schools, the jobs, the achievements... it's all just extra "stuff."  Strip all of that away, and underneath we are all people.  I'm not nearly as interested in hearing about your pride for your kids in terms of their labels - your son the scholar, your daughter the athlete - as I am in hearing about your child the PERSON.  

What happens when a parent decides ahead of time what it is that's going to make them proud... whether it's scholastic achievement, sports, the arts, a future career... and the child takes an entirely different path?  What happens when that parent has two or more children, and one meets their expectations and the others don't?  I have seen firsthand what it does to a child to grow up with his or her parents subtly and not-so-subtly disappointed in them, not as satisfied with them, not as proud of them as their siblings.   I told myself a long time ago that if I were ever blessed with children that I would not be that parent... that I would let MY KIDS show me who they are, and let MY KIDS teach me what they can be, and do;  and let MY KIDS be the ones to unfold all the different aspects of themselves that make me proud. 

And I am proud, of all four of them... in many different ways, but also in some fundamentally similar ways.  I'm proud of who they are as people, and you just can't measure that with a grade or a test or a job offer.

The older I get the more that I ask myself, "Will this matter at the end of my life?"  Is your grave stone going to be engraved with your SAT scores, or your stock portfolio, or the fact that you made six figures at a thankless job? 

No, it's not.  It's going to say that you were very loved.  The rest of that stuff?  It just doesn't matter.

This quote (often attributed to Emerson) sums it up best:
To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of intelligent people
    and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
    and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better,
    whether by a healthy child,
    a garden patch
    or a redeemed social condition;
to know even one life has breathed easier
    because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
My kids are succeeding.  And for that, I am proud.


Stephanie said...

Great post Jen! None of that stuff matters to me either. I'm like big deal you survived indoctrination and joined the rat race...

jen said...

Thanks. :-) And I agree about the rat race! I really don't understand why people get so worked up about that stuff. But, there's a lot of stuff I don't understand about the way the general population thinks. :-)

Jessica said...

I remember when I first told my cousins last year my decision to homeschool this year, the first thing she pointed out was that my oldest wouldn't be able to win all the reading awards she had in school. (She had very nearly read more books than anyone in the whole school, in 3rd grade) And I told her, it doesn't bother me. Of course, I want my children to love to read, but I don't necessarily even want their motivation (or reward) to be a title or thinking they're better than everyone else because they do read more.

BigPlattes said...

Reading your blog is like reading my thoughts. You have no idea how refreshing it is to finally find I am not alone.

I write a Christmas letter that people have raved about for years. I finally sat down to analyze it a few years ago - what was so different that people who read it at friend's asked to be put on our mailing list? The only thing I could come up with was that I was telling them about who my children ARE, not what they have "accomplished." We don't do grades in our house, we can't report on how our children are doing in school. But we can tell you about the wonderful things they have been up to during the year, none of which include lists of academic achievement or athletic prowess. I LOVE your blog. Never had any interest in following one before.

jen said...

@Jessica, my parents were worried about the kids missing out on that kind of stuff too. I think they got over it. :-)

@BigPlattes, thank you so much!!

redrockmama said...

One of your best, Jen. Loved this.

mamapoekie said...

congratulations on a great post! right there with you! Putting this in Sunday Surf


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