I don’t have genius, prodigal children. Maybe I’m being a bad mum for saying that. But it’s true.
My kids are in the middle of the road. I am very thankful that we don’t need extra support. I know some families who would give anything to have their child tred a well-worn path.
But at the same time, we aren’t offered extension learning. Neither of my boys show extreme promise in sport, art, languages or music. There is no lack of passion for soccer or drawing, but I’m realistic about abilities.
So, you can rest assured, I’ll never be that mum who chews your ear off about my gifted children. And I actually think that’s a very good thing.
When I was in primary school I was squarely in the average category. I wasn’t a shining star and I wasn’t in need of extra help. It wasn’t until high school that I found my thing. The thing that I was better at then most of my peers. The thing that lit my fire.
For me it was debating. I still remember trying out in grade eight. It was just after learning that there was no part for me in the school musical. We had to talk for a couple of minutes on a set topic. Mine was, ironically, music. I comfortably presented for the requisite amount of time and when finished asked whether I’d given the talk before. I beamed. It was all completely off the cuff, but I’d been polished enough for the seniors in charge of selecting the team to think I’d rehearsed.
I made the debating team that year and every year thereafter. I often held the coveted third speaker position — where you had to think on your feet and talk without preparation. I loved it. I particularly loved it when our all girls team annihilated the arguments of certain stuck-up private school boys. Oh yes, the memory remains particularly sweet.
I still love public speaking, although I don’t get to do it so often.Thinking on my feet, challenging and probing are still enjoyable. I still rely on the confidence that I honed during my debating years.
But I didn’t discover it at eight years old. And there was no need to. Sometimes it feels like there is pressure for kids to succeed at such a young age. And why? We have all our lives to strive, I see no need for the golden years of achievement to start in primary school.
What I worry about is self-worth being wrapped in excelling in a particular area. Childhood is a world of development and development at different speeds. There are plenty of gifted children — those who have reached milestones, physical and mental achievements, before their peers. But where are all the gifted adults? There comes a time when it levels out. Very, very few adults work exclusively in their area of excellence and are exalted for it. And even then our sports and music stars can have short careers that ill prepare them for a more normal life.
Adutling is hard. It relies on a range of skills. Many of them more subtle that the ones we hold up and publicly praise in our children. Resilience, being kind in the face of unkindness, bravery, being articulate, integrity, emotional intelligence, the ability to inspire, ingenuity, the ability to quickly assess a situation, time management, empathy, and the list goes on. These are things we rely on daily to succeed in adult life and yet we dismiss as “soft skills”. In reality, how well these skills are learned will determine whether our children lead happy and fulfilling lives. So I will always spend more time with these skills than others.
I will always put kindness above sporting prowess. I will always hold being a sportsperson-like member of a team more important than being the best on the team. Loving learning more important than getting everything right. Joy in music more important than striving for perfection. The right-mind set can of course lead to excellence. In no way do I suggest these things are mutually exclusive, but in my mind the more important thing is always attitude.
When one of my little mates succeeds, I will be there in the front row, cheering them on. I adore it when my family and friend’s kids do well and are celebrated. And of course I love it when my boy receives an award or makes the team. These are the moments of childhood that make parent’s hearts swell with pride. The moments our kids look back on and smile.
But at the same time, when it feels like my child isn’t streaking ahead in any particular area, I resist feeling badly. Because I also support the plodders. The kids that fly under the radar, that do their best and stick to the middle of the road. After all, that’s probably the best kind of preparation for adulthood there is.
Are your kids plodders?
Does it ever get you down?