“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.” – Stacia Tauscher
“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”
– John Holt
It’s easy to feel like a failure when you don’t have a clear picture of what your success would be.
In the academic sphere where I work, success is measured as the achievement of either a PhD and a professorship or a competitive job in the biotech industry. And here I am with a bachelors and seven years of experience as nothing more than a technician, without even a good salary to show for it. Does that make me a failure?
When well-meaning adults see talents they admire in children, they often forecast futures of greatness related to those talents – so a musical parent might overpraise her musically inclined children but ignore the athletic achievements of her other child. One of my friend’s moms always said that she thought I could find a cure for breast cancer. But I’m not pursuing that path, and will probably never have a scientific breakthrough to my name – does that make me a failure?
Many of the moms I admire online and in person, advocates of respectful parenting and unschooling, both Christians and not, emphasize the difficulty of raising children with freedom and dignity when both parents are working outside the home. And I’m caught between my desire for their best and the exercise of my own skills and gifts. I’ve worked their whole lives, so far – does that make me a failure?
I still don’t know what success looks like for me, or what it will look like for my children, but I found a poem this week that gives, I think, a good foundational definition to build on.
To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of the 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 that one life has breathed easier
because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have discovered a new favorite webcomic, Lunarbaboon. They seem to exist on the intersection of parenting, mental illness, and nerdiness, so I identify with and heartily enjoy almost all of them. One from January, titled “Enemy”, caught my attention as a particularly apt description of what it is like to be functional despite depression:
The techniques taught in therapy are designed to help us ignore that inner enemy with more and more success – to make it harder for him to tear us apart each day. That’s why I’m so thankful for them, for the pills that give me the energy and positivity to keep fighting, and for the family and faith that give me a reason to fight and a hope for the future.
“It’s not that easy.” Grumwald felt his lungs scratching to become one in his chest. “I can’t just share my secret. It’s hard to explain. It’s hard to understand. It’s complicated.”
“Of course it is. It’s life.”
“So how do I do it then? How do I share my secret? What do I tell?”
“Your story.” The witch didn’t even hesitate. “You tell your story. That is what we all must do.”
“That’s not magic,” said Grumwald.
“Of course it is,” said the witch. “Story is the best magic there is.”
– Laurie Frankel, This Is How It Always Is
There were two things about Mama. One is she always expected the best out of me. And the other is that then no matter what I did, whatever I came home with, she acted like it was the moon I had just hung up in the sky and plugged in all the stars. Like I was that good.
– The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver
This is the kind of parent I want to be.
It is so easy to fixate on the difficulties, the flaws, and the immaturity of one’s children – to be constantly thinking of how they need to grow and improve, or to be irritated by their boundary-testing, neediness, or even their boundless energy and silliness. At least, it is easy for me, sometimes, when I’m in my grumpy grownup or anxious mom modes! But there is so much more joy in parenting (and probably much more joy in my kids’ childhood) when I can see them in this way: as if they had hung up the moon and plugged in the stars.
There is so much good, so much beauty, in each of them, if only I choose to see it.
Learning to love ourselves, to be humble enough to admit our limitations, to truly appreciate the gifts our differences bring while also being willing to accept help and healing for the most painful ones, gives us greater mental, emotional, and spiritual health. […]
We are so often encouraged to fit into the boxes of academic achievement, intellectual prowess, recognizable achievements, personality profiles, status, money, power, external significance—to perform, to fit in the box, to be acceptable. Yet our wonderful God loves us unconditionally, now and forever. We do not have to work to please Him. He values us for what is inside our hearts—our character and integrity, our ability to love, to be faithful, to help others, and to show compassion. Our individual personalities are a gift of His design so that we might add color and variety to the world. And He can use our unique combination of circumstances—even the painful ones like mental illness—for our good and His glory.
Sally Clarkson, Different
One of the most romantic and wonderful things about my husband is that from the very beginning of our relationship he has valued me for my character and heart more than for my intelligence and knowledge. I’ve always been smart and been perceived as smart, and while it wasn’t a difficult appearance to maintain (because, at least when it comes to academics, I am quite smart), it always left me feeling somewhat empty when that was all people would see. Intelligence was a gift, a talent, but not me. So when I found this man who loved me for who I was, who saw all the other aspects of my character and personality and delighted in them, I was profoundly and deeply touched. It helped me understand God’s unconditional love; it helped me begin to love and accept myself as God made me; it is helping me now learn to love my children with that kind of acceptance and delight in all their uniqueness – even when those unique traits are difficult to understand or tame.
Different is a book written by a mother and son together, telling the story of a different and difficult childhood and the love and acceptance that carried their family through their struggles. After reading the first chapter (available here) and listening to an interview with both authors on the Read Aloud Revival podcast (available here), I’ve decided that I need to get my hands on the whole book and read the rest of it! I want to learn how to love my children as they are, while still guiding them towards maturity; I want to learn how to help them flourish best without coddling or overprotecting them. I want to stop listening to the critiques and judgments of the ignorant world and start listening to the needs and dreams of my children’s hearts: it was God who made them with those needs, God who gave them their deepest longings and most beautiful dreams, and I am only His steward, raising these children for a time, so who am I to ignore their truest selves or demand that they be other than He created them to be?