We’ve been watching some home movies lately. The girls love to watch themselves on tv. As we’ve been watching them, I’ve been feeling really guilty. Four-year-old Catherine is not up to the par that four-year-old Abigail was. Two-year-old Elisabeth is not doing what two-year-old Abigail or Catherine either one did. And 10-month-old Samuel is behind all three of his sisters when they were his age. I started seriously beating myself up over this. I was stressing out, thinking that I needed to start really working them hard to get them “caught up.”
Abigail started reading on her own at four; she knew all the sounds for all the letters at age three and just bridged the gap from there to reading all by herself. Catherine, who just turned four last month, can recognize most of the letters when she sees them, but I don’t think she knows any sounds. Have I failed her?
Two-year-old Abigail can be seen on video singing two verses of “Amazing Grace.” Two-year-old Catherine can be seen on video singing “Twinkle Twinkle,” “You are my Sunshine,” and reciting the Lord’s Prayer with no prompting. Two-year-old Elisabeth can’t even sing all of Jesus Loves Me, and when we pulled the camera out last night, the best I could get out of her, at least musically, was “La, la, la.” After watching Catherine reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and realizing that she was younger then than Elisabeth is now, I started trying to get Elisabeth to say it with me, and she can’t even verbalize all the words yet. Have I failed her?
At ten months, Abigail was saying “baby,” “bye-bye,” and “Abidee,” her version of her name. She wasn’t walking yet, but she was waving and clapping. At ten months, Catherine wasn’t talking much, but she had just started walking, and could do several little tricks. Elisabeth at ten months was already a pro at walking, and can be seen on video clapping along with her silly sisters. Samuel, at ten months, is crawling, pulling up, and smiling. Refuses to stand on his own. Laughs when you try to get him to wave or clap. Repeats lots of babbling but not even close to talking for real. Have I failed him?
Is it really necessary that Catherine already know all the sounds when she’s going to be doing kindergarten level phonics beginning in September, and the whole workbook focuses on learning the sounds of the letters and putting them together to form words? Does she really need to know the sounds before she learns the sounds? Is it really necessary that Elisabeth be able to recite the Lord’s Prayer at this young age when she is learning simple prayers for bedtime and mealtime? Is it necessary for her to be able to sing whole songs, when she is showing more of a talent for physical feats than either one of her older sisters? Is it really necessary for Samuel to be saying words and doing hand motions and walking at only ten months old just because his sisters did?
Each one of my children is, obviously, going to be different, with unique skills and abilities. I want to expect as much out of them as they have to potential to achieve, at each stage of their life. I want to always be teaching them and encouraging them on to new achievements, whether that means walking, learning a new word, learning the third verse to a hymn, or reading. But, somehow, in the world of parenting, we (and I include myself in this) have gotten caught up in this competition-driven mindset of teaching our kids these “tricks” just for the sake of trotting them out to perform for everyone else (as evidenced by the fact that I have all these tricks on video, documented with the date and age of the child). We want to impress everyone else with our brilliant kiddos, because somehow, our kids’ achievements put more notches in our own belts.
You can see this all the time. All you have to do is ask what grade little Johnny is going into this fall. His parent will tell you and then launch into a glowing monologue, informing you just how wonderful little Johnny is in the world of academics. I’m not saying I’m not tempted to do the same. As a home-schooling mom, I already feel like I’m on the defensive with most people and that I need to prove that my child is actually being educated, so it’s almost second-nature to start listing everything that she can do.
You see it when mommies talk about their babies, too. “Is yours crawling yet?” “Is she doing anything new this week?” One of the funniest examples of this mindset to me has been with each one of my babies as they were getting their teeth. My babies’ first teeth have come in as early as five months on the dot for Elisabeth, with the latest one being Abigail at just over six months. Every time, there have been people who noticed their teeth, asked their age, and then said something like, “But my little (daughter, granddaughter, friend, so on) is already eight months old and hasn’t gotten a single tooth yet! Yours already has three!” Like I did something special, worked extra hard with my kids to get them to get their tooth earlier than the other kids. We want our babies to be the best, and that can mean achieving things early, even when it’s something that no one but God controls.
But being on the receiving end of these monologues does not usually result in my feeling amazed at the accomplishments of little Johnny. No, I’m usually just feeling weary, and often–I confess–wondering how much of it is exaggeration and how much is actually accurate. Has Johnny really already mastered his multiplication tables in preschool? Did your six-month-old baby really say “Thank you” when you gave her her dinner last night? And even if they did, so what? Is that really going to help them out when they get out of college?
So what’s my point? Well, this was partly a rambling venting sort of blog, but there are two resolutions I’d like to make publicly. Number one: I resolve to not teach my children “tricks” for the sole sake of impressing others. This gets sticky, because–and let me not be misunderstood–I do think that it is very important to constantly be expecting great things from my children. I expect them to memorize Bible verses, we teach them hymns, I make Abigail pick out chapter books along with her storybooks at the library, I try everyday to get Samuel to stand on his own. It’s not that I won’t try to teach them these things; rather, I’ll try not to do it so that they have a new repertoire of performance possibilities. Number two: I resolve to not get caught up in the one-upping conversations of whose kid has done what. As tempting as it is when someone is telling me what level their kid is on in whatever activity, I will try to just ooh and aah over their kid and leave mine out of it. What difference does it make if they know that my kid is ahead of theirs? Am I teaching my children just to impress the other mothers? It’s okay if my kid is advanced and no one else knows about it. On the flip side, it’s also okay if my child is behind the other kid. Parenting is not a competition. I have not failed my younger children simply because they don’t know as many tricks as their older siblings. They’ll learn what they need to learn when they need to learn it, and they’ll be fine.
So, confession time: many people reading this blog are probably thinking back just a couple of weeks ago to Abigail’s kindergarten graduation, where I stood her up in front of all her family and had her recite the 26 Scripture verses she had memorized over the course of the year. Now how do I justify that in light of this post? Well, here’s the honest truth. When I planned that program, I had several motivations. One was simply to share with our loved ones what we had been doing. There have been mixed reactions to our homeschooling choice, and I felt like this would be a good opportunity to open a window to our world. Now they could see that we did in fact learn things, and cover good old subject matter like addition, subtraction, and Peter Rabbit. Another was for Abigail to have the opportunity to receive affirmation from someone besides Mom and Dad. She doesn’t have outside teachers to encourage her, so I thought it would be good for her to have this time to be encouraged by her family. And, yes, being completely honest, I was proud of her and wanted to show off what she had done.
So I’m not saying I’ve accomplished these resolutions. I’m just saying I’m going to work hard on them. Feel free to point out when I’m bragging for bragging’s sake.