This afternoon I read a great blog from Glennon Melton at Momastery about pointers for cheering on your kids at their sporting events. It was particularly timely because I had been extremely frustrated with myself the day before after watching my 7 year old son playing soccer. I was so aggravated with how competitive I was, as a parent on the sideline, watching these little kids playing soccer. I constantly try, at all my kids events, to keep my shouting of advice/instructions to a minimum or even non-existent but I have a terrible time biting my tongue and sometimes keep an annoying running commentary with whomever I happen to be sitting next to (that I know.) You can read the Momastery post here. A discussion on my over-developed competitive spirit is a topic for another post.
And yet…there was one thing about the blog that nagged at me, and continued to bother me for the rest of the day, and it’s something I’ve mused over before. Here’s a quote from her post:
“Let’s teach them that the victory is in SHOWING UP AND TAKING A RISK, not in the outcome.”
And while I certainly believe that to be true, especially when you’re talking kids 5, 6 years old and younger, I worry about the possible ramifications of taking the “If you had fun you won!” attitude to the extreme, the idea that you should get a gold star just for showing up, regardless of the outcome.
Now, Glennon is all about love. And it is beautiful, and I love her. I read her blog regularly and am so encouraged by her words. By her outlook on life, by her radical way of looking at the world. I often read stuff she writes to my kids in order to be yet another example to them of the kind of people I want them to grow up to be.
And then…there’s Amy Chua. The “Tiger Mom.” A kind of antithesis to Glennon’s love revolution. The one who admitted to giving her daughter a birthday card back that she had made her because she’d done a lousy job on it. It’s been a few years since her book came out, raising a real ruckus, but suffice it to say that the Melton and Chua households likely do not resemble one another in the slightest. (Beyond the obvious reasons of course.)
I read “Tiger Mom”. I actually liked it a lot. And while I thought some of her parenting strategies were over the top, as a whole I thought she made some excellent points. And I agreed with her that there is a culture in America where we are so worried about our kids’ self-esteem that we lavish them with praise for the smallest things, making that praise and any sort of hard work necessary to accomplish great things almost meaningless.
I taught in Baltimore City for 3 years. It was hard as hell. One of the hardest things I had to overcome was the mentality of some of my students that they deserved some sort of prize simply for showing up at school. Never mind actually doing any work or being respectful. When report cards came out and kids were unhappy with their grades the outcry was ridiculous. They could not see the correlation between the fact that they hadn’t done one damn iota of classwork or homework with the failing grade on their report cards. Or I’d assign a project, have a handful of kids complete it…the quality of the finished product may have varied, but you could tell that they’d at least made an effort, yet there was always one kid, who would scribble something on a piece of paper just before the bell rang, tear it out of their notebook and hand it to me and still expect a good grade for it simply because they had turned it in. When it came time for the state tests, we had to provide all kinds of incentives to simply get kids to show up to take the tests, because many saw testing time as a free vacation. We’d have pizza parties and the class with the highest attendance would get a dance party or you name it. Just to get the kids to come. to. school. Something they should’ve been doing anyway. Never mind actually trying hard or doing a good job on the test. Just show up and put your butt in the chair and get a prize! (And yet we were told “have high expectations of your students!” Can you say “mixed messages”???)
Earlier in this soccer season I was watching my son’s team get creamed like 15-1. They could not have cared less. They were laughing and skipping and having a right good time out there. Meanwhile, mom here was fuming. I got up and went and called my sister because it was so frustrating to watch for me. (No, I am not proud of my attitude. I’m just being honest here.) Afterward I was thinking out loud to my husband, wondering when kids start to care about losing (clearly its not the 4, 5, and 6 year old range!), when they actually notice the score and that they’re not doing so hot. I wondered why we say “You did a great job!” when they really did not do anything right at all. Are we lying to them? Trying to not be mean? Do we baby them too much? (Amy Chua would certainly say yes to that one, I believe.)
Because here’s the thing…I kind of want my kids to not like to lose. I want them to want to win. NOT at the expense of their wonderful little selves…I don’t want them thinking “We lost because I suck. I suck I suck I suck. I am worthless and I suck.” I don’t want them to desire success at the expense of others either. But I want them to think “Shoot. Losing sucks. What can I do better? HOW can I improve? How can WE work together better next time?” I feel the same way about grades. I want them to know that a D or F, or shoot, even a C, is NOT acceptable. (I realize, for some kids, their hardest work gets a C and that’s great for them but for my kids, that’s just not the case.) I want them to learn from their mistakes and do better the next time.
Because honestly…I don’t want my OB/GYN to have been passed along through school just because he showed up. I don’t want my kids’ teachers to have just gotten accolades and attaboys without the effort and excellent results it took along the way. I don’t want the accountant handling my money (ha, this is totally hypothetical!) to just feel so darn GOOD about himself but not be a professional, competent, hard-working person. I don’t want the guy in charge of the nukes to be someone who won just because he had fun. My kids (and myself, and I’d guess a lot of us) don’t naturally want to work hard. They want to take Easy Street. And if they’re getting all kinds of rewards for mediocrity or even total garbage, what is there to motivate them to do better??
So here’s my two cents and my conclusion: It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It doesn’t have to be a harsh “Tiger Mom”-ish push for excellence that (may) sucks all the joy out of something. It doesn’t have to be all rainbow stickers and happy faces and “everything is awesome!” either. I think we need (HELLO…like everything in life) a balance. A little Tiger and a little…um, what? Panda? Something cute and cuddly and lovey-dovey?? We need to push our kids to do their best, to strive for excellence (in ANYthing, not just sports or school. In their friendships, in their relationships, in how they treat others, in how they care for themselves and their bodies, to be the best people they can possibly be.
BUT…we also need them to have grace for when they (and others) screw it all up. To not let how they perform become their identity. To see the things they are good at and celebrate them but to also not get caught up in the things they are not good at and beat themselves up for those things.
To see opportunity for growth in failure. But maybe not a trophy.