"The plain fact is that the world does not need more successful people, but it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as our culture has defined it." - David Orr
Do you think this is true? I definitely believe it. I think that much of our work at Momastery has to do with redefining success. What does a successful person look like to you? Picture her, please.
And since many of us are parents, it's also helpful to consider what it means for our kids to be successful. What does a successful child look like to you? Picture him, please.
One of my best friends and I had a long talk recently regarding kid bragging. She asked me why I never spoke about my kids' accomplishments, on the blog or on Facebook or even with her. She knows that Craig and I have a steadfast rule -- no bragging to anyone except each other or the grandparents. Basically, our rule means that we keep our mouths shut in public and then we talk in bed about how our kids are better than anyone else's kids in the whole entire world.
My friend said that she thought this rule was a mistake. She explained that some of her happiest moments as a child were hearing her mother brag about her to her friends. She was afraid my kids were missing out on that childhood delight. She really made me think, because she's one of my best friends and an incredible mom.
I think my friend brought up a really interesting point, and I don't know what the right answer is. I do know that the decision Craig and I made was based upon two factors.
1. Our children's confidence in our unconditional love for them.
My parents were teachers, and they placed a lot of importance on good grades. I never got perfect grades. I wasn't a genius, and I was very disorganized and not all that great at following directions. So I always felt like a bit of a failure at report card time, because I knew that to my parents, good grades meant success. So I felt unsuccessful. My parents weren't proud of average grades -- but lack of pride didn't mean lack of love. I think that's hard for a kid to understand, though. I think kids get pride and love mixed up all the time.
Craig and I don't place a lot of emphasis on grades. Our kids do fine. We know they're trying, so when we get their report cards we scan over the left side -- the math, science, etc. -- and then we look harder the right side. The citizenship grades. While these grades certainly don't equal success, we care about them more. We never do perfectly on that side, because no Melton really knows how to exhibit self control ... but then again, perfection's not what we're going for. Things usually look pretty decent overall, so we give out some high fives, ask the kids if they're proud of themselves, and get on to dinner. Sometimes we ask if there's anything they'd like to work harder on next quarter. If they say yes, we ask them to write a note to their teacher explaining what grade they're trying to raise, so the teacher can offer pointers and look out for improvement. Mostly, we feel grateful. Even when things could look better on that report, we feel grateful.
Moving from pride to gratitude is a small shift, but an important one to us. We're grateful that so far, school is a safe place for them, that they can do the lion's share of what they're asked to do, that they are learning how to be good citizens. Grateful we got lucky enough to raise them in this country, during this time.
It's like when I write an essay that I know is GOOD and I hit publish. Proud is not the right word to describe how I feel at that moment. Grateful is a better word. I feel grateful that I was blessed with another thing to say, and another nice way to say it. I feel grateful for the gifts of inspiration and time and health and energy that were necessary to get that essay done.
When I got the "Carry On, Warrior" book deal, everyone said, "Aren't you proud?" And my answer was no, not really. Because the book deal was something that was given to me, like grades are given. Sure, it can be argued that grades and book deals are earned, too -- but all of that can be a bit arbitrary. For example, I know some fantastic writers who've never gotten a book deal and let us be clear that Snooki did get a book deal. She's a New York Times Best Seller. SO.
And there are plenty of kids who coast and bring home straight As and plenty more who work their tails off and bring home Cs. So.
I'll tell you what I AM proud of. I'm proud that I showed up at my computer everyday so God could do his work. I'm proud that I kept showing up, even when I was sick or tired or BLAH. I'm proud of that. That's a choice I made and a discipline I kept. And I'm proud of my kids for showing up. Whatever happens after that, whether they win a trophy or not, get an A or not, score ten goals or not -- I probably won't praise them much. High fives and hugs all around, but not too much praise, and not too much criticism. Because praise is really just the flip side of criticism. They're both judgments. As soon as someone tells you how AWESOME you are at something, you immediately start worrying about what will happen if you stop being awesome at that thing. We all get pride mixed up with love.
So we tell our kids -- there's nothing you can do to make us love you anymore or any less. That was done and decided the second you born. So if my kids are still living in my basement in their late thirties, we'll all know that my "redefinition" of success and lack of praise and criticism backfired. I'll keep you updated.
The second reason we don't brag about our kids:
2. Our love and respect for other parents.
Every time I see a friend's Facebook post about their child's straight As, it pings my heart a bit. Because I've been a teacher, and I know that for the vast majority of parents, report card night is a difficult and confusing one. Some kids try hard and still miss the mark. Parents wonder why. Parents worry that there's something wrong with their kid, that they're doing something wrong as a parent. It's tough. And I fear that logging on to Facebook and seeing all the public celebration might make that evening even tougher.
And every time I hear a friend talking about their child's reading level or prowess in math or science fair state win, I feel a pang in my heart. Because I know that SOME mother in that group has a child who is dyslexic, or struggling hard with math, or is too painfully shy about her stuttering to present at the science fair.
And every time I see someone post about their child's seven goals, I think about my mama friends at home, struggling with their children who have Lyme, or PANDAS, or cerebral palsy, whose kids have a hard time making it up the stairs much less up and down a soccer field.
So our decision not to publicly brag is related to our belief that we are parents within a community of parents. And that parenting is hard, in different ways for every parent, and we don't want to make it any harder. For us, it has to do with trying to live well in our places. To first, do no harm, because we don't parent in a vacuum.