Redefining Success

The further we come as a society, the more we hurt ourselves. Sure, there are great strides in the medical field, in technology, in everyday things. It's these things that make our lives rich and meaningful. They make our lives easier on a daily basis, and we're incredibly grateful for them. But in the quest to make our lives better, we've somehow lost sight of the single most important thing ever given to us. Our children.

Our children are the next generation. Cliche as this is, if we forget that fact for one second, our future is doomed. But because we're the most advanced civilization ever and we all want the very best for the future, we've taken this responsibility of raising the future seriously.

We've made laws to include everyone, all the time. We've made rules against bullying, and carrying weapons. We've ensured that no child will be left behind. And we've forgotten that kids are individuals with feelings, and thoughts, and dreams.

I am all for safety in schools, and inclusion, and kids actually learning something so that they can go out and be a productive part of society. But in our quest to make everyone successful, we've somehow failed as parents.

We are expecting our children to be small adults, constantly on the move, always busy going and doing and learning, and heaven forbid they have free time to fill with their imagination. We sign them up for soccer, and t-ball, and ballet - all in the same season. And then we complain that they're so tired and cranky all the time, and we wonder why they can't entertain themselves outside of the TV and video games they're plugged into.

We send them to preschool, or private school, or ivy league colleges because that's what's expected of us as parents. We can't deal with the peer pressure of being the nonconformist. What will the other moms think? Will our child ever have friends if we don't jump through the hoops? We're just not willing to take the chance.

But is that right for every child? Just because it's what's best for your neighbor's son doesn't make it the best for your son. Do we stop to look at what our child wants, or needs? If Johnny is playing soccer, do we automatically sign Jimmy up for soccer? Have we ever asked Jimmy what he likes to do? And what if Jimmy prefers ballet? Are we okay with letting him be who he is?

My son is in kindergarten. He's not expected to do what other kindergarten kids are doing because he's different. He's in a special class just for different kids. And even there, he's not learning what he's supposed to be learning. Will he ever learn his alphabet? You bet. Will it be this year? No. Do I care? Absolutely not. I won't even care if he doesn't learn it until he's 13. What I do care about is the fact that my boy is in a class that meets him at his level and gently guides him from there. They don't have preconceived expectations of what he should know to even get into the class. That doesn't matter. What matters is that the teachers care. A lot. That's why I chose the school that I did.

Micah hates writing, and has been known to throw a pencil across a room on a few occasions. His staff won't force the issue, and I love this. Instead they'll give him a box with sand so that he can draw lines in that. They'll recreate his worksheet on the floor with toys, and give him a car to drive between the matchable objects. They get it, and because of that Micah is learning. Not all kids thrive in the same environment. Not all kids can be expected to know and do the same things. And sometimes kids are perfectly capable of doing the job expected of them, if they can only do it in their own way. Does this make it wrong? Of course not.

Does it matter if you make a million dollars through banking instead of through auto mechanics? The end result is the same, right? And why is becoming wealthy the ultimate goal in life? I know people who have nothing and are infinitely happy. I know people who have everything and will never be happy.

Why do we expect our children to be someone they're not when they can be so much more if we allow them to be themselves? Why can't we see that each child is unique, and embrace that? Why must we force our kids to conform into something that we've tricked ourselves into believing is the best there is? Wouldn't it be better in the long run to allow our kids to be happy just being themselves, than unhappy living up to a standard?

My kids are free to choose their own lives. And I'll be right behind them, cheering them on. I think it's the best thing that I can do for my children.

Prentke-Romich shared this this video clip with me, and I was moved to tears. Click on the Animal School play button. I think this should be standard watching for every parent out there. Be a nonconformist. Your kids will thank you.


Brandie said...

Thank-you Karen. I was feeling like "slacker mom" because my kids are very UNscheduled. I'm also not the mom who brings pizza to school for her kids b-day. This first year of public school has left me feeling like the only parent who sees the value in childhood.

AZ Chapman said...

wow Mich gose to a great school

AZ Chapman said...

wow Mich gose to a great school

Anonymous said...

I think parents get confused between what they want and what their children need. I think most of us seek balance -- I know that is what I am seeking. Enough stimulation that they can explore their world, and enough downtime that their minds and bodies get a break.

As far as money and private schools, etc., etc. I think it is perfectly possible to be a good person and a good parent regardless of your income -- and that means people who are well off are just as able to raise their kids well and raise good people. I think that if parents have the means and desire to send their child to a private school, and it is a good fit for the child, then there is no reason NOT to do it. Choosing a private or elite school for the right reasons -- and it is possible to do -- can benefit a child in many ways from educational to networking (yes, I said networking. sometimes it is who you know, as many of us have come to find out).

That being said, I'm so glad Micah goes to a school that gets him. I hope all of our children are so lucky.

Good post. Lots of things to think about.


Karen said...

Red Pen Mama - I agree that there is nothing wrong with having money or sending your kids to private schools. I'm just questioning where our priorities are, and if what we're striving for makes us happy. Are we allowing our children to be who they are, or forcing them to be what we wanted to be?

Anonymous said...

ah, yes, but who is this "we" of whom we speak? ;)

I feel lucky that no one will look at us cross-eyed for sending our kids to Catholic school because we are Catholic. It's not the cheapest choice, obviously, and I hope it stays within our reach financially (or that the girls get scholarships!).

I am worried that I am seeing some criticism online aimed at certain life-style/parenting choices. And it troubles me. Because we're all in this together, and I think we should support each other. As long as the kids are being loved and cared for, there's no need for second-guessing other parents.

Geez, that sounds critical of you, and it's not. I really like all the moms I read, and I really like this community. And I'm worried about it -- the community -- as of late. That's all. These conversations (and I've seen posts along these lines elsewhere) remind me of the whole SAHM vs. work-outside-the-home-mom debates. And there's no winners in these debates. People make the choices they make, the choices that are right for them and their families and their children. And I'm sure a lot of thought goes into those choices. We didn't have kids on a whim, and I'm sure we're not making choices for our kids whimsically either.

I just think as long as the children are not being harmed (and, yes, that can be a subjective judgement), we should support each other.

Sorry, I'm hogging your comments. Maybe I should post about this myself!

I hope I'm not creating hard feelings. If I am, all I can do is apologize.


Flea said...

You know I'm a non conformist. :) I loved the video. Thanks for putting that out here for us!

Karen said...

Red Pen Mama - I'm not looking to start fights, and I'm not pointing fingers in any particular direction. I'm just asking that we each evaluate the choices that we make. Good parents always do. But some parents forget that their children are the ones suffering the consequences of a social status that the parents covet. Is it okay for your child to make a C average in school if that's the best they can do, or is getting into the right college important enough to fill your child's non-school time with tutoring? Things like this is what I'm questioning. I've always been a math geek, but my grades in high school certainly didn't reflect that. Are those poor grades hurting me now? Nope. And I still love numbers because I wasn't forced to do extra studying for a grade's sake. THAT is helping me in bookkeeping for the few small businesses that I run.

Like I said, good parents make good choices most of the time, and those choices are different for everyone. But sometimes we all need to step back and rethink things from a different perspective. We may come to the same conclusions, but at least we'll be confident in our choices.

Lynn C Mama to 3 said...

Love, love, love, love, love the post and Amen to it, too! I was told yesterday that my 6 month old was "behind" developmentally because he doesn't coo back to me when I coo to him. We don't have coo-verstaions. Screw it! He is perfect and coos of his own free will, when he is feeling cootastic. So why is there some invisible bar that we are all measuring our kids with? Amen again!

Karen said...

That was beautiful! I so understand. I have the advantage of having to get to know my children because they are adopted, and not being able to assume they are just like me. Thank you so much for the reminder and for sharing.

CC said...

Karen, did you SEE that animal school is exactly what I posted yesterday??? and I did not get it from a PR email. I found it through a colleague at a meeting yesterday. Too weird!

SunflowerStories said...

Loved that animal school video, thanks for sharing it.

I appreciate your thoughts on school and education for Micah. Luckily, Sean has another yr of preschool due to his Sept birth date so I have time to adjust more to the idea of kindergarten. Frankly when I think about it now I panic. I see such a huge gap in where he is now and where his brother was before kgarten that I am so afraid of Sean "getting lost" in the school system.

Michelle said...

It's funny that you write this now. Our school district just had a vision summit for what we want it to be in 10 years. My mantra was redefining success -- and seconded by many others, thankfully. The points you make are that exactly. The wee ones have swimming once a week, and that's the only scheduled activity outside school (and daycare). I wish we could do more, but ... I want them to be able to play and hang out and do the non-stressful things. There's too much stress later on as it is!

Michelle said...

that video, and your post, are both very powerful. I'm glad Micah has teachers who are teaching the way he needs them to teach and helping him learn the way he needs to learn and not forcing him to fit in some little box of standards. It helps to have teachers who care, and who have an open mind, who can figure out a different way of doing things geared towards the child's individual personality, and let that child shine.