Children have developed a very narrow view of success and we, as parents, are responsible for it. Most of the time our children think if they are the star athlete, the top of the class, and the first chair in the orchestra then they have achieved success……but what if we have sold them short in how we have defined it? What if it is bigger than that? What if our definition is producing kids who don’t know how to celebrate accomplishment when it looks different than theirs? I think this is an epidemic in our society.
As parents, we want to make sure that our kids are at the top, while we neglect to acknowledge the miracles happening all around us. Our kids know it too. They know we expect close to perfection and often pressure them as much for our own sense of accomplishment as theirs. They are blind to the world around them because pulling off the high standards of achievement takes all the energy they have. This idea has troubled me for a long time.
So….years ago I decided to take action. I was determined to expose my kids to others whose definition of “success” was different than theirs.
When I was open to the idea, opportunities just started to come. Cooper joined reading buddies at his school and every time his buddy reached an AR goal, we celebrated- Easter egg hunts, lots of cheeseburgers, and the finale- safety patrol for the day with the bonus of donuts. He learned that his buddy’s accomplishments of going from a pink dot AR book to a light blue dot was worthy of a party.
We also started throwing parties for AR goals met in the classes where they did not have an overflow of eager, available homeroom moms. We CELEBRATED! We partied Ellis style with food, games, and balloons (thank you, bestie Shelly Gerber).
See, we get stuck in our little worlds, our little classrooms, our little neighborhoods, and our little families. We see our children and maybe their classmates, carpooling, soccer, and baseball friends. But do we really SEE the rest of the population? How can our children see them if we don’t? Have we taught our children to celebrate others’ successes or just their own?
These ideas came to a pinnacle the week before school was out this year. The week was crammed with so many events- fifth grade banquet, awards, parties, etc. and honestly, I was growing weary the first day of the week because of all the planning that had already happened. So the second to the last day, I was dragging myself through the parking lot- camera and snacks in tow. I was dealing with the sadness of my youngest leaving elementary school and going to middle school and I was in the midst of a little pity party as I said good-bye to this sweet school I loved so much.
As I pulled myself together, I ran into a precious friend. She was beaming. Glowing. My mind was reeling. What had happened? What could possibly bring that much excitement?? Then she starts talking, a million miles an hour. She said, “I just left the awards ceremony for Audrey! She got the 50 point club for AR! She got perfect attendance! SHE GOT ALL E’s FOR CITIZENSHIP!!!!” In that moment, my heart celebrated right along with my friend because I knew that her daughter’s successes were HUGE! As I walked away, my spirit was full. My joy was complete. Audrey had succeeded.
The next day was 5th grade awards and my son and all his STEM friends would inevitably rack up the certificates and trophies. I knew going into it that there would be the 500 AR point club, PE student of the year, and even 2 community college scholarships for deserving students. Amazing awards and proud moments. My son was even to win the principal’s award and give a speech to the class and parents. This was one glowing mama!
I was taking pictures of all the students and about ten minutes into the ceremony, the guidance counselor said to me, “You might want to get ready for the next one.” Not knowing what she was alluding to, I moved in close for the picture. Little did I know that his moment would make me completely undone.
One of the precious students whose successes we had celebrated for all those years was getting Most Improved Student of the 5th grade. I could barely hold my camera. I was not just crying, I was weeping. I saw his teachers beaming with pride, jumping to their feet with applause. I could imagine in this moment my son thinking that this could get embarrassing, as I hooped and hollered like a crazy woman. He was a HERO. MY HERO. HIS TEACHERS’ HERO. The WORLD’S HERO. Why? Because he had overcome the obstacles and won. Simple as that.
What are our children missing when they do not get the opportunity to celebrate with the overcomers of this world? They are not afforded the privilege to see someone whose success is different than theirs and just as significant. This is how children learn to be givers. This is how they learn to have compassion. They don’t learn it in their gifted classrooms and their all-star sports teams. They learn it in the classrooms where 10 AR points, not 100, are worth a cheeseburger party and where perfect attendance is worthy of celebrating.