Our kids cannot be measured in numbers

Monday, October 13, 2014
As a Mom, I have a daily battle going on in my heart and in my head. It is certainly a battle symptomatic of a privileged life.  I can admit that.  It is not one of worrying how much my kids will eat today or if they are safe.  It is not the worry of Moms who live in war zones or extreme poverty.

But once in a while, I fight the battle of seeing my kids as whole beautiful human creations of God versus seeing them as accomplishments, numbers and achievements.  I think this is something very prevalent in today's society and most parents I see personally and professionally struggle with it as well. While I am extremely embarrassed to admit that I agonize with this, I am at least working really hard to overcome it.

I will never forget my parent's reaction to my report card in 1st grade.  I was only five years old and had no notion of grades and honor rolls but my Mom and Dad made a huge fuss about me getting straight A's.  I remember them taking me out to lunch that day and afterwards, they let me pick out a cute new sailor skort. A few days later, I recall going to McDonald's and the employee stamped an M on my report card and gave me a free kid meal. Most of all, I remember the immense positive feedback and I internalized it deeply.  In all honesty, I was not good at much else aside from school.  I was always the last skinny kid picked for sports teams.  I did not play an instrument and I was not very artistic.  The first time I ever remember getting positive feedback from others was for my grades. And on that day, I began to define myself a little bit by those numbers.

Now, as a parent, I have to really watch myself to not transfer that to my own kids. These days it can be a huge struggle for me.  Unfortunately, numbers are very present in our lives right now.  Our oldest son, Will is looking at colleges.  In fact, just last week he and Dave went to visit UVA and William and Mary. He is preparing for and taking the ACT this fall.  His GPA is a constant topic of discussion as we look at schools that are a good match for him.  Harry, our middle son, is applying to private high schools this fall and is preparing for the HSPT (high school placement test).  Therefore, we are also paying a lot of attention to his GPA and first term grades as those are what the high schools will evaluate in addition to standardized test scores.

Kate is in her competition season for gymnastics.  She works really hard and has such passion for gymnastics. Every weekend, she earns scores on bars, floor, vault and beam. Those numbers are a snapshot of one moment in the meet and not representative of how hard she works all year or how well she does in the gym week after week. They also do not reflect how she cheers on her teammates and delights in their successes as much as her own. Yet the numbers are how she advances.  Sometimes her numbers are great and other times, they are not.

I constantly remind myself to see beyond all of these numbers and just focus on the whole person underneath all of the external measures of success.  But it is hard when the world looks so closely at the numbers.  I tell myself the boys will get into the schools that are a right fit for them.  I remind myself that Kate is only 8 years old and the gymnastics is just an extracurricular activity.  I convince myself that in the big picture of life these things are not that important.  They are happy, healthy, well-rounded kids and that is what matters. But the truth is GPA's and class ranks and test numbers will determine which schools my boys get into.  Numbers will determine if Kate gets to go to the regional or state meet that she desperately hopes to qualify for.  The outside world often looks more at the numbers and I understand the purpose they serve.  But as a parent, I have to make sure that the numbers don't define how I see my children or how I love them.

My kids are thoughtful, giving, God-loving, funny, creative, responsible, entrepreneurial, go getters.  They work hard and they are kind. They are certainly not perfect but they are exactly who I want my children to be.  They invite new kids to sit with them at lunch or play at recess.  They share a snack with someone who forgot to bring one.  They stick up for the kid who is being bullied and open the door for people everyday.  They say please and thank you. They treat others with respect.

This week Kate ran for class president.  She wrote a speech and got up and delivered it to her class.  She did not win but she wasn't even remotely sad about it.  She said, "Mama, I even voted for Dylan.  He really was the best person for the job."  My daughter did not vote for herself.  What 8 year old is that wise and selfless?  I was so proud of her maturity. That cannot be measured in numbers.  Colleges and high schools aren't going to see that stuff in my kids.  Kate's humble heart will not earn her a place at the regional meet or in college.

And that is what I keep reminding myself.  These numbers, these external accomplishments like honor roll or 1st place do not define our kids.  It is the journey.  It is the hard work, the determination, the effort and the heart that will make them good citizens of the world. A child who is reading 3 years above grade level will not necessarily become a fabulous and caring adult. Our kids are not the number on the scoreboard, the report card or a college entrance exam.  And we need to stop treating them as though they are.  We need to spend as much time congratulating our kids and talking to them about good choices, values and character qualities as we do about their accomplishments and successes.  Their character is what will get them through life not the trophies they get for just for showing up.

Yesterday, Kate had an amazing floor routine at the meet and she got her highest score ever.  I was really proud of her and guilty of sharing it on Facebook.  But what I should have shared and what I was most proud of was how when her teammate was called up to the podium, Kate hugged her and tried to hold her hand.  In the car, I told her how proud I was of that.  And she said, "Oh Mama there is nothing better than being up there with your teammate right next to you. That's the best!"

In this age of social media, we blast our children's accomplishments all over our facebook pages, blogs, instagram and twitter accounts.  I am guilty of it too.  The irony of my last post is not lost on me.  But why do we do it?  Just because our child scored the most goals does not mean that we are a good parent.  Are we measuring our parenting by the ruler of our children's accomplishments?  A friend recently confessed that she felt like a failure as a parent because her children did not excel in anything.  That really struck me.  One has nothing to do with the other.  Sure, I think we need to expose our children to various activities and we need to support and encourage them if they love something.  But their accomplishments are not a reflection of our success at parenting.

In my opinion, parents have one real job and that is to love our children unconditionally.  That means we love them when they win first place and when they come in last.  We love them when they are behaving the way we want them to and when they are not.  We love them when they are excelling in school and when they are struggling.  We love them whether they succeed or fail.  In fact, true unconditional love is deciding to love our children when it is especially hard to love them.

As parents we need to make sure our kids know that we are proud of who they are not what they accomplish.  We need to focus on what really matters instead of what the world or the media tell us matters. And I am working really hard to try to do that everyday.



I know it is not a good photo (I was far away) but I managed to capture part of when Kate put her arm around her teammate yesterday. You can see how happy she is for her friend and teammate. That was a winning moment.

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33 comments:

  1. Great post! I wish more parents thought the way you do. The world is way too competitive for our kids and it's so nice to appreciate the non-numbers moments.

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    1. Thank you. I think it is easy for all of us to get caught up in the competition. I have remind myself not to be lured into it.

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  2. Kim, Thank you...as a young mom it is so wonderful to read posts like yours to help us navigate this journey of parenthood. If Ellie and Jack "take after" your children in small ways I will consider myself blessed. It is a privilege seeing your children grow up through your posts and pictures - thank you for sharing your family. With Blessings, Ashley

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    1. You are very kind to say that. I am sure that your kiddos will grow up to be awesome adults because you are already thinking about that. Have a great day.

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  3. My daughter graduated in May from an all girls private, Catholic school. It is very difficult to not get caught up in the competitiveness of the parents. Nearly all the students applying to the competitive schools fit their published guidelines for ACT and GPA. It's sometimes hard to figure out how students are admitted. A good book to read is Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz. My daughter did get into the school of her choice and I think what helped was that she found activities that she really cared about during her lower and upper school years and immersed herself in them. Good luck!

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    1. I will look into that book Nanc. This whole process can be so stressful I just hope they end up someplace that is a good fit and they are happy there. Hope your daughter is enjoying her freshmen year.

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  4. I think all the bragging about your children shows a very insecure parent. I have often thought that you must have some deep seated psychological issue with regard to this.

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    1. It is a shame you perceive it that way Firefly HIll. I am not good at a lot of things but one thing I am doing well is parenting my kids. I work really hard at it everyday and I am not insecure about it at all. The people that know me would agree with that. In fact, people come to me everyday for parenting advice--both friends and paying clients. I think parenting is the most important thing I will do here on this earth. I don't intend to "brag" about my kids. I am very proud of who they are though (they truly are amazing kids) and I love them very much and this blog is a place for me to communicate. I hope one day when I am gone, they will read the stories and feel and know and remember the love I have for them. Your diagnoses of a psychological issue there is way off. I am not perfect but I am a pretty secure person. My big psychological issue is a fear of flying if you must know:)

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  5. Hi Kim,

    I rarely ever comment on blogs, though I read yours as well as many others on the regular. I just want to thank you for making yourself vulnerable, for being so honest. I feel the love you have for your children in all of your posts about them. Thank you for being real.

    Sending you a big hug from one momma to another.
    Sincerely, Angie

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    1. Thank you so much Angie. It is hard to be vulnerable and admit my struggles and my kids struggles here. There are a lot of posts that I write but never publish. So, I really appreciate the encouraging words.

      Thanks for the hug too.

      Kim

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  6. Kim... I have so admired the way you embrace your children and support their desires. It is clear that they have learned love and humility from you and Dave. In a world full of competition, it is very common to see kids reflect inward instead of outward when they succeed. Seeing Kate reach out to her teammate is so sweet... what blessed children they are to have you for their mother!

    And to the person above who posted negatively... she truly does not know your heart. Stand tall and be proud of your confident, thriving babies. Kudos to you and Dave for nurturing their spirits!

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    1. Thank you so much Sarah. I appreciate the kind words. Just trying to raise good kids but it is always a struggle.

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  7. Kim, thank you for your candor. As usual, your writing is thought provoking and worthy of discussion. Parenting is such a challenge (even when all is going well) and a constant source of second guessing if we are doing right by our children. This type of writing encourages me to step back and look at the big picture of what I want my children to KNOW is important and what defines their worth: not grades nor scores, but their humanity, empathy, awareness and passion. Hugs to you!

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    1. Ani, it is such a challenge each day. Thank you for your kind words. I try to step back and remind myself of the bug picture but sometimes I fail and focus on the little things that don't really matter that much. Hugs to you too.

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  8. This post is just what I needed this morning. It should not matter what basketball team you get on--- as long as you try your best. It shouldn't matter getting all A's as long you try your best. I feel as a parent the most important thing you can teach your child is be a good human being. Stand up for someone who is being picked on at school, bag someone's groceries if they are by them self, offer to help your family with yard work or house work, be kin, compassionate and know that you have a beautiful heart. If i do that's I have succeeded. There are many times I lay in bed at night and wish for a redo... I'm human. Thanks again love evading your blog!

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    1. Sarah, I am so glad it helped. That is why I shared my thoughts. I know sometimes I focus on the wrong things (as much as I try not to) and I know a lot of other parents do too. I love what you wrote. If my kids grow up to be empathic, compassionate, kind adults---I've done my job!

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  9. Great post. I have typed out three comments and they seem to vanish. So I will be brief and hope for the best. I think you are awesome. I see the love you have for your kids in all your posts. It is so easy to get caught in the numbers. I too, am trying to raise polite, kind and respectful children. Thanks for keeping it real!!
    Kathleen

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    1. Sorry your comments vanished, Kathleen. You are very kind. I am sure you are raising polite, kind and respectful kiddos.

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  10. You and Dave are amazing parents. It's evident that your 3 peanuts are really good kids. No one's perfect and everyone slips up, but if we have unconditional love from our parents it shows in our character. I hope one day I have amazing kids like yours.

    There's a huge difference between bragging and showing-off and being proud of your kids. You my friend, come off as proud, as your should be. As every parents should be of their children...

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    1. Awww thanks Molly. You are so kind. I know you have so much respect for your Mom and I always like hearing how she raised you. I agree every parent should be proud of their kids.

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  11. Kim,
    I identify with this so much. My kids are young (preschool), but here in New York, I know many parents who feel that if their child doesn't get into the "right" preschool, they will not get into their college of choice! On the flip side, my mom is a 3rd grade teacher in an inner city school, and she constantly has the opposite problem. When she informs some mothers of their child's bad behavior, or when they don't do their homework, the mothers don't care at all! Some of have even said "You're the teacher, it's your problem." Seems there is little middle ground these days. And regarding the negative poster above, it is incredibly bizarre that a person would continue to read a blog written by someone they perceive as having "psychological issues."

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    1. Danielle,

      You make a good point. I know there is A LOT of pressure in New York!! Harry's school is quite diverse and an inner city Title 1 school with lots of poverty. We see the same things there. There are the parents who focus too much on grades and the ones who don't focus enough. It is so hard to get it right. Thanks for your comment. I know there are people who read here who don't agree or like what I write and that is fine with me. I am just glad that some people can identify with me too. When I first started blogging 7-8 years ago those comments stung. They don't sting too much anymore. They usually have more to do with the person leaving the comment than with me anyway. Have a great week.

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  12. Kim, Thanks again for a great post!

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  13. Thanks for writing this, so much of what you say is true. I teach at a private high school, I see it all around me. There is one thing I'd add to this though, that we mustn't protect our children from failure. In fact, failure is often needed (and should be "celebrated") in order to learn and get better/advance. But contemporary philosophy in raising children (as parents and educators) often try to prevent or mask that part of the learning process. It's a critical step to experience for kids.

    As a mom to a child with special needs, I have been essentially forced off that wagon. It's a struggle as I sometimes find myself unconsciously climbing back on it. It is a reality check to the ego and the heart to know your child has developmental delays and could possibly never do something "at grade level". My child is good at certain things, and she's also not so good at others. But no matter how small or seemingly mundane her progression is, we know it is huge for her. It's all about perspective. So we celebrate her gains, and we celebrate her for who she is. She may read at grade level or just above, but her comprehension will never catch up. As an early and advanced reader when I was young, this was very hard for me to deal with at first. But I've had lots of time and practice to remember what's truly important and what is the genuine goal for my child: her happiness and her health. In that regard, we have won the lottery in spades. I am a very fortunate mother, she sheds so much bright light wherever she goes. The degree is not the end all, she will go far as her own person.

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    1. CGW, Thank you so much for adding to this. I 100% agree that our kids learn so much from failure. I wish I could write about a few failures that my own kiddos have learned from here but they have specifically asked me not to. However, the failures have taught them more than all the successes combined though! And yes, we cannot and should not protect them from failure. I heard an awesome speaker yesterday and he said, "Parents, life isn't supposed to be easy or safe or comfortable. It is supposed to be great!" He talked about how greatness comes from struggle and resistance. It is so true.

      As far as parenting a child with special needs, I really appreciate you sharing your perspective. It was not one I thought of as I wrote this. Your daughter sounds like a wonderful person and I love that she shines her light!

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  14. I'm not a parent myself, but this was really great to read from a student's perspective.

    Especially a few years ago (during high school), I constantly defined myself by my accomplishments and scores because they seemed to be the only thing that mattered. Like so many others at my school, I put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve the best grades to get into the university I wanted.

    I wholeheartedly agree with placing more importance on inward character and what God sees in your heart, rather than external accomplishments. Reminds me of this verse: "What good is it for someone to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul?" - Mark 8:36

    So thanks for sharing this. I really admire your parenting and hope to take after it someday!

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  15. Hi Kim,
    Thank you for this post! I can completely relate and share your struggle. A wise woman once told me that she always told her children, "I don't care if you are the smartest in your class, I don't care if you are the most artistic in your class, and I don't care if you are the fastest in your class. I do want to hear and see that you are one of the kindest and most compassionate in your class." My husband and I have tried to foster this attitude in our own family and it has been a blessing for all of us! It seems like with this kind of encouragement and expectations, our children have been allowed to find their own talents naturally without all the pressure:) Good luck with the college search, it can become a competition, too, between parents, I am sorry to say! It sounds like you and Dave are focused on Will and what is best for him, good work!
    Much love,
    Mary

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  16. I think this is your best blog post ever!!! Because it is So true and one I know I struggle with. Thank you for your words of wisdom. I am taking them to heart. xxxooo

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  17. Great post, Kim! I love this topic- and it is one I think about and read about a lot. I LOVE what 'mposkin' commented and that is how Adam and I have chosen to support/direct/guide Mary Fowler and Davis. I would also add resiliency. Overcoming obstacles seems to bring people to their truer selves... (although as a parent, no one wants to see their child struggle.) Also, knowing that God gives everyone different gifts helps me stop the comparing:)

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