“What’s average? Happiness first” tweeted Washington Post reporter Brigid Schulte, back to me. I had asked her “Who said average can’t also be awesome” in a previous tweet.
I love the instant gratification from chatting with a reporter about the remarkable, insightful and important piece they have in the paper. In this case, I’m talking about Schulte’s piece “Pushing for a Course Correction” on the front page of today’s WaPo Style section. If you haven’t yet read it, I insist you do.
In case you have no intention of reading it, here’s why it matters. Because she’s talking about pretty much all of us. She features the McLean (VA) High School PTSA president Wilma Bowers who is doing something important, something brave and something I fear is falling on deaf ears – pushing for parents to ease up on the hyper-competitive parenting environment. She is asking us all to look at authentic success instead. And she’s doing this from a place where a quality college like James Madison University is considered a college you “settle” for instead of the Ivy Leagues.
Here’s the thing people, this is a line of thinking that doesn’t happen overnight, it starts from a very early age. You see it in kids who are over-scheduled, who have no time to play, who are expected to perform, achieve and deliver, sometimes from the time they are in preschool.
And if you’re anything like me, a part of you is smugly thinking that this won’t be you or that it isn’t you; you aren’t this kind of parent, you love your child for who they are and what their natural born abilities are.
But the truth is, be honest with yourself, are you lying to yourself just a little bit?
Example – the constant testing of early elementary school aged kids feeds into heart of our our need to tell ourselves our kids are better than average. Right now my oldest is nearing the end of second grade, which in Montgomery County means they are being tested for the gifted and talented program that begins in third grade.
She’ll come home and tell me they were tested that day and I’ll find myself asking her multiple questions about how she think she did, did she find it hard, what sorts of questions were on the test. These questions aren’t just innocent curiosity. I am trying to get a read on her performance. I would be totally lying to you if I didn’t want to hear she excelled and is a brilliant mind.
And then I kick myself.
She is EIGHT YEARS OLD. What the hell was I doing when I was 8 years old? Obviously because I declared 2012 the year of being Awesome, I’m pretty sure I was busy being awesome when I was 8 years old – but beyond that – was I doing anything remarkable? Here’s what I can tell you I was busy doing when I was 8: Counting my tummy rolls next to my sister at the pool in the summer (she was always so much thinner than me), kicking around the soccer ball, maybe a little uncoordinated roller skating and avoiding helping my mom take care of my little sisters at all costs.
Yep – destined for greatness, was I, at 8-years-old.
So really – I need to ease up on the questioning of my daughter and just let her be. How about instead ignoring the questions about the tests and instead ask what she did at recess, the reasonable voice inside my head tells my crazy self.
Which is exactly why Schulte’s feature is important; she’s getting to the heart of the hyper-competitive parenting and pressure cooker it creates for high school aged kids. But it’s too late for them – she mentions kids who are asking their parents for Ritalin. Umm…hello?!?!?!?! Red flags, anyone?!??!
If we parents of younger kids don’t read this and take a long, hard, look at ourselves in the mirror and then start correcting our course to stop the madness, then there is definitely something very very wrong with us. In fact, I’m done writing about and talking about whether women can “have it all” and our quest for balance – forget it – what I want to know is what kind of behavior we are modeling for our kids. Are we letting them have it all? Are we letting them just be kids? And how about that average question.
Are we letting them just be who they are? I have never forgotten an interview I did with Meghan Leahy, local parenting coach, back in 2012 when she noted there’s a bell curve for a reason and most of us have average kids. Most of us are average. To Schulte’s point in her tweet, “what’s average, happiness first.”
I dug up that old interview with Leahy and was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon some irony, the interview was spurred by my negative reaction to a Brigid Schulte piece about American parenting. Am I destined to always praise or attack Schulte? It seems so. Anyhow, the interview is 2 years old but it still applies perfectly here, so I’m pasting it:
relevant here. Do you agree that we are a culture that pushes perfection on kids to the detriment of the kids as they grow up? And if studies are finding achievement does not lead to happiness, how does this concept that pushing kids to work hard and celebrate their diligence – instead of heaping empty praise – fit in here?
if as a person, you feel that you have no impact, no human to human contact, no acknowledgement, you often feel empty. So the question for parents is not if achievement leads to happiness (which I prefer to call contentment), rather WHOSE achievement is it…and how do we balance our dreams with our kids own desires, passions, and talents. We want to inspire INTRINSIC motivation in our kids to achieve, work hard, etc. Threatening, begging, REWARDING, stone-walling can all push our kids down the path of achievement, we see it every day. But there is a cost. There is always a cost when the body does what soul does not want. I don’t know if parents are living out their unfilled dreams, their insecurities, or if they see a talent in their child and, out of pride (dangerous emotion), push and push. But some, not all, parents make their children into achievement products rather than helping them enter into the world understanding the value of hard work and failure.
instead should be prioritizing is teaching and guiding our kids to find the right kid-balance? How does a parent strike the right balance in activities and free time? This seems to be a common critique of American parenting styles lately.
will know when concern and action are needed and when you are just wallowing in negative thinking. REALITY doesn’t lie, so trust what is in front of you, your actual life. Your life doesn’t need balancing, it is simply happening and needs to you to join in. If every parent took more responsibility for themselves (emotionally) and spent LESS attention worrying about their kids (yes, you read that right), then the balance would naturally occur. At least, that’s my humble opinion. Because if worrying, hand-wringing, and controlling others worked, I would have a PhD in it, would have written a book and would be teaching seminars about how to worry better. So far, it hasn’t gone that way…