Celebrating Our Ordinary, Regular Children

I think that I have survived this year’s end of school deluge of social media posts about friends’ kids who have: received the Straight A’s Award, the Best All-Around Student Award, the Art Award, or those kids who lettered in track, placed 2nd in the state for wrestling, set the pole vault record, or accepted their soccer scholarship at the awards ceremony. Not in my house. Here, we are raising ordinary, regular kids.

But here’s the problem with ordinary kids. If we are not careful, we can FEEL like they should be something more than they are. And this is not a teenage kid issue. This feeling starts from the first post that your friend’s daughter said her first sentence and your child still points and grunts. Later your friends’ kids might win the science fair, spelling bee, or quiz bowl while yours complain about doing schoolwork of any kind.

We must realize that we live in a culture where there is often an underlying perception that ALL kids should be excelling in something. Anything. Parents of toddlers observe intently to see if their new walker will naturally kick a ball or do a somersault. They watch their three-year-old for artistic talent or musical ability.

By ages four and five people are asking about when and where you are signing up for this special class or that sport. Once there is any indication of a natural ability, the intensity of travel/select sports begins, and your family steps on board the crazy train of extra coaching, camps, and weekend travel to Akron, Ohio.

I don’t want to diminish the accomplishments of those kids who have excelled in athletics or academics or the arts. God placed a talent in them and they have maximized it. I hope they’ve done it with joy. I hope with balance for family, rest, and self-reflection. I hope in humility.

But today I want to encourage parents with “non-excelling kids” to realize that your kids ARE excelling. They are excelling in being themselves.

I discovered this not on my own, but through the wisdom of my first-born son. As a high school freshman, he was doing well in school but certainly wasn’t getting straight A’s in every single class, and I rarely saw him stress over schoolwork. So one night I asked him, “Hey, do you think if you studied more and spent more time on your assignments that you could get straight A’s?”

He walked over to me. Put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Mom, I’m not that kid. I’m concentrating on balance. My grades are great. Isn’t that good enough?”

I felt like I had had cold water thrown in my face for a wake-up call. At the point when I asked Michael this question, he had over a 4.0 GPA because of taking some weighted classes. Uh, well, uh that’s good enough for me! Michael’s my one kid who always made school look easy and I was sending the message to him that his grades weren’t “good enough” for me?

At the point when our kids are quickly approaching adulthood, it matters less about what is good for us and it should matter more what is good for them.

Certainly, a child with his brainpower could receive higher grades, but at what expense? Michael was content. Perhaps someone else has a child who gets excited by studying more and trying to be the best in the class, but that’s not Michael. Michael has always been strong enough to know exactly what he wants and confident enough to tell me.

I remember when Michael was only three, and he could throw a baseball at a tiny target at Cedar Point and make Charlie Brown’s horn go off. He did this again and again. I couldn’t do it once. Clearly our child would excel at baseball one day. My husband and I plotted about the coach who would see this natural pitcher and start recruiting him out of preschool.

Michael’s ability to do this never waned. He named the skill “projectile placement.” The only problem was that Michael had no interest in baseball. None. So taking his lead, and embracing him for who he was, we never had him step foot on a baseball field… but he has since shot quarters out of tree branches 50 yards away and popped balloons with a BB gun from my kitchen window to the woods at the very back of our property. He is an adult now, who has no regrets about never playing baseball.

Actually as we drove by a baseball field in the pouring rain after his graduation last month he said, “Well, Dad, I feel like it’s time to collect all the money I saved you guys by not playing baseball. And I won’t even charge extra for all the days you didn’t have to sit in the rain and cold!”

Each of our kids has been uniquely designed by the creator of the universe to do good works. Even those parents who have no belief in God can still bare witness to the uniqueness of each child. Why then do we allow our culture to steal our joy from embracing each of our children’s unique design? Why do we look beyond their beautiful design in search of a scholar or athlete or artist who is excelling? Why are we tempted to trade hours of time connecting and enjoying each other for time away perfecting their skills?

I challenge you to look at each of your children intently. What makes them unique? What interests do they have? What are their natural strengths/interests beyond school and athletics?

Because our third son, Christopher, almost died a few years ago, it is much more natural for us to embrace and marvel at everything he has done since then. Like his big brother Michael, he doesn’t get straight A’s nor does he excel in a sport. But he DOES excel in being Christopher. I challenge you to create a list like this for each of your kids. It might not be the stuff that Facebook posts are made of, but it does keep your focus on nurturing your child to be who God created him to be rather than trying to force him into the mold that the world has to offer.

Christopher, age 14:

  • He knows all the words and historical references in Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
  • He can build a fire without using accelerants and roast a marshmallow without catching it on fire.
  • He always wears his cross chain and his bullet chain around his neck.
  • He loves wearing his brother’s hand-me-downs. He thinks it’s cool.
  • He doesn’t care about who’s cool at school and has had the same group of friends since second grade.
  • He likes to sing songs from Les Miserable’s while riding his long board. He has every word of the play memorized.
  • He does accents from Scotland, Ireland, Germany, South Africa, England, Mexico, and China.
  • He is teaching himself Mandarin Chinese.
  • He made an Reo Speedwagon shirt in class because he likes the same band that I liked when I was in eighth grade. 
  • He’s naturally polite and respectful.
  • He is never, ever bored. I’m always amazed at how he spends his time.
  • He recites complete dialogues from movies he has seen once.
  • He has a couple Ronald Reagan speeches memorized.

You get the idea!

When you are tempted to feel like your child is not excelling or that you are not doing ENOUGH as a parent, take time to look closely at those precious traits that make them uniquely who they are.

Celebrate your ordinary children as they excel at being themselves!

(If this topic makes you shake with the need to tell me to always push my kids to do their best, I get that. I certainly try to motivate and nurture that, but I can’t own it. At some point the child needs to find his own way and we have to be by his side pointing him in the right direction.)

What is your child excelling at that is unique to him/her?


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