It’s taken me years to flesh out my feelings about the microcosm of the world known as Kindergarten-Twelfth Grades.
I realized in my early thirties that some of us are simply born into families that make succeeding in that little dog-eat-dog world very easy to do.
And then others of us have an extraordinary look or talent or personality that make fitting in a piece of cake.
But the rest of us have to fight for every friend, every party invitation, every success gained. And we don’t always go about it the right way.
And among that crowd, there is sadly no hope for some of us. We are not rich enough, talented enough, or pretty enough; or we are just too different to meet the criteria for fitting in.
For those kids it will not be an easy twelve years.
I have been intentional in raising my children with just enough awareness so that school is not a daily hell (we call it playing the game), but also with a keen sense of staying true to who they really are and accepting others at the same time.
I saw how much my expectations and lingering childhood hurts broke my oldest son’s spirit, so I gave up trying to make all four of them “those kids,” and instead decided to let them be who they were and pursue what they loved.
There have been some consequences to giving up that ghost, no doubt about it.
In some ways, my kids have suffered from my decision to not play the popularity game, to not force them to do and be and have.
This style is far different from many parents I know today who worship at the thrones of Busy, Winning, Appearance and Fitting In.
I mean, what do you do with children who are homebodies? Who, like their mother, can only handle so much interaction with other people in a day?
What do you do with children who lack a drive to compete? Who don’t care whether they win or lose?
If you’re me, you try things here and there, and eventually learn who your children are.
Common sense says that’s good parenting. But in today’s world?
Well, today’s parenting ideas were not formed out of common sense. That’s obvious.
Today our children have to start something, and they have to start it young.
And that something must turn into something bigger and better, something they’re the best at, or they will never succeed.
Take cheerleading. (I have two girls, so I know a bit about it.)
Your daughter can’t wait until sixth grade to decide she wants to cheer for her school.
Are you crazy, mom?
Down here in the South, you better have that girl in the gym at two years old, learning to bend her body in every way imaginable, shaking her booty like a DCC, or she will never make that squad.
Soccer, baseball. They’re all the same. The younger the better.
But how do they even know what they really like at that age? (When I was three years old, I’m pretty sure at one point I wanted to be a fire hydrant when I grew up.)
Because of this new pressure to specialize in one thing or ten, children break off into groups based on what they’re doing at much younger ages than ever before.
Breaking into groups is nothing new, of course. Cliques have largely been formed around status, looks and talent. Kids who are able to squeeze into these power groups with none of the above are the lucky few indeed.
And in some places (like the town I live in), you could have all the looks and talent in the world, but without the right set of parents, still be doomed. (I’ve never seen a place where parents have so much influence over their children’s friends.)
To amplify shame, nowadays not only are our children pressured to have and do and be so that they can not only be liked, but WORSHIPED by their peers, they also see exactly what they don’t have, what they’re not doing, and who they’ll never be thanks to the plethora of social media choices by which to post every second of life.
Before you preach the whole, ‘Your child doesn’t have to have a cell phone’ bit, let me assure you, they are damned if they do, but even more damned if they don’t. Ry went an entire summer without her cell phone (by choice) and started seventh grade without a single friend. Cell phones are pretty much the only way this generation connects. Sorry, Moms, but once again, that’s on us.
None of our children are perfect, and heaven knows, my four are solidly in the imperfection camp, and I’m not a mom who even tries to pretend they aren’t, as you’ve seen from many a Facebook or Instagram post.
I’m not afraid to call my kids out. But I’m also not afraid to celebrate who they are and to teach them to find value in just being.
That is a STRUGGLE, moms, do you hear me? Please don’t think I’m riding a high horse over here.
There are times I STRUGGLE not to step in and ask my daughter why she hangs out with the crew she does, a group of girls who do and go and be, leaving her to sometimes feel less than.
It’s a STRUGGLE not to beg my oldest to care more about what others think. He takes decent care of himself, but he’ll also pull the same five t-shirts from the top of the clean clothes pile and wear them over and over again without shame.
It’s a daily STRUGGLE to keep my third son, who does succeed at so much and easily draws friends, to be kind to all and include all. He is a bit like his father in the confidence/cockiness department. By far the easiest kind of kid to raise in today’s world, but not necessarily the best.😉
And I can’t even begin to tell you how I STRUGGLE with my youngest, who chooses her friends based on how many Pokemon cards they have, and whether or not they will judge her for wearing her brother’s clothing.
It’s a daily struggle not to worry about our children, and sometimes I think life would be easier if I pushed harder for them to be what the world calls “normal” and “successful.”
But I don’t.
Because to me, there is something inherently wrong with sacrificing your child’s spirit on the altar of popularity.
There is something wrong with pushing them before they’re ready to figure out what they want to do in life.
There is something wrong with shaming them for being who they are.
Don’t get me wrong. There is NOTHING wrong with being popular. Nothing at all.
I know the best people who are pretty, talented, and eager to do all, and well-liked because of it.
But I see far more who are popular for all the wrong reasons, and not even liked by the people who ironically feel worthless because they don’t share the same status.
And unfortunately, I see parents and grandparents who encourage this and turn the other cheek at what is blatantly wrong, all in the name of their child being in the right “group.”
I refuse to do that, and if my children have suffered because of it, then they’ve suffered for good reason.
Because my job is not to make my kids popular. My job is to make them good people.
My job is to raise future community helpers, family providers, loyal friends, and if they so choose, loving parents.
Parents who hopefully won’t sacrifice their own children on that altar. Parents who will teach their kids to be kind to all, shaming none, no matter the friend group. (There will always be groups, and as parents we should accept that and teach our kids to be content with their crew.)
My biggest job is to teach my kids to know who they are and Whose they are.
Because that’s the only hope of helping our children succeed on the twelve year journey they are forced to walk.
And if we don’t change directions soon, I fear what will become of these precious souls we’ve been trusted to care for. (The teen suicide rate is higher than ever before.)
It’s time to tear down these fake altars and question the reasons we built them in the first place.