More Important Victories
Today is a good day on Wonder, Friend. I get to share one of my favorite writers, Julie C. Gardner, with you. Chances are, if you hang around the blogosphere, you already know Julie and her funny, thoughtful blog, By Any Other Name.
But I know some of you have a life outside the internet (what a concept), so for you this is a big deal. Trust me. Every week, Julie manages to wow me with her writing. We share a borderline creepy love for grammar, and that alone would endear her to me; but as you’ll see, even if Julie didn’t love grammar she would still be amazing.
I just want my children to do their best.
I’ve heard these words countless times throughout my tenure as a mother, an English teacher, a human being. It’s the gold-standard of parenting statements issued without question or challenge in our typically competitive society.
The implication (whether true or not) is that we adults aren’t focused on the outcome of a situation: a grade, a trophy, an award, an accolade; we care only that our kids are trying their hardest, giving it their all.
As long as he does his best, we say.
And everyone nods. There is universal assent. Yes, we’d like our sons and daughters to succeed. Yes, we hope they’ll achieve. But surely winning is secondary to the constant putting forth of best effort, is it not?
Well, I wonder.
Perhaps we’re not being completely honest. With others, our children, ourselves.
What exactly do we mean by best? And are we, in fact, satisfied with it? I’m betting the truth is more complicated than the words just do your best would indicate.
Indeed, I believe some parents are not at all content with their kids simply trying; that instead, these moms and dads demand excellence; are either outwardly or implicitly disappointed by anything but.
And although I’ve blurted the always do your best line at my own son and daughter prior to academic, athletic or social challenges, I’m admitting now – upon reflection – I’m okay with sometimes less.
My name is Julie Gardner and I’m an imperfect mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend who doesn’t constantly Do Her Best.
Of course I try to keep up with housework, parenting, writing; with my obligations as a denizen of this earth. But sometimes my brain grows fuzzy, my heart feels heavy, my feet move sluggishly and I’ve simply had enough.
The list of my deficiencies is lengthy. I could always do better, be more, try harder. But occasionally, I allow myself to stop.
I enjoy a book or a glass of wine. I shut down my computer and engage in conversation. I let laundry and email pile up. I make soup and sandwiches for dinner because grocery shopping didn’t make my list of Tasks That Must Be Accomplished Today or Else.
Have I always done my best?
Decidedly not. And I don’t expect my kids to, either.
Now, I’m not suggesting we glorify mediocrity or promote outright laziness. I recognize the importance of striving, the demands of the global economy, the need to produce kids who might keep pace with the progeny of other nations.
But I refuse to wring my hands over every lost scholarship or missed boat, about potential opportunities that didn’t knock.
I simply can’t help thinking that in the grand scheme of things, more important victories abide.
Last week I registered my son for high school. In the fall, he’ll be a freshman at a highly-ranked campus known for its superior sports teams, its academic rigors. This year’s graduating class boasts something in the neighborhood of 42 valedictorians.
Am I doing Jack a disservice by not pushing him to be one among these dozens in 2016? Will Karly wish I’d bribed, threatened or cajoled her into studying harder? Is it possible my children might someday regret they didn’t cram in even more extracurricular activities or pursue aggressive resume-building from their earliest teen years?
I suppose so. After all, they’re bright and capable; almost certainly college-bound. But regardless of the paths they choose, I believe they can and will do wonderful things. To that end, we’ve presented them with opportunities to attempt new challenges, to request more support, to explore and experiment and succeed.
When they don’t? I let it go.
Jack and Karly do not always do their best. And I’m okay with that.
Here’s what I require:
That they’re respectful. And kind. Generous and thoughtful. Tolerant and grateful. These achievements are non-negotiable.
And when my babies are fully grown (looking back on their childhood, recalling the way their father and I stumbled through parenthood), I hope they’ll think we were respectful, too. And kind. Generous and thoughtful. Tolerant and grateful.
I hope my kids will think that they have won.
:: Do you worry about pushing your children too hard or not encouraging them enough?
:: How do you find balance in this culture where parents can hire private coaches and tutors to promote “excellence” but every player earns a participant trophy and most students receive certificates of achievement?
About The Writer
When she’s not busy writing guest posts, Julie C. Gardner spends her time taking terrible self-portraits with her iPhone and wondering when her kids and husband got to be so old. You can follow this lapsed English teacher and aspiring author on Twitter and check out her blog, By Any Other Name where she writes about family, shares her writing journey and thoroughly embarrasses herself on a weekly basis.