Friday, November 5, 2010

"My Kid is Better than Your Kid!"

"My kid is better than your kid!" There. It's good to get that out in the open.
With most Pleasanton parents holding bachelor's or advanced degrees, we're bound to have a population of children with higher-than-average performance in many areas of life. But as admirable as this statistic may be, astounding achievements shouldn't be our only measures of children's success.
I'm happy for parents whose kids will be Rhodes Scholars, Olympic champions, runway models, professional athletes and maestros – all before the age of 10. Really, I am. But the parental bragging antics can go too far. People tell me the boasting occurs all across Pleasanton.
For instance, when I innocently displayed excitement to a friend over one of my children's good grades, I mentioned that it wasn't the grades that most impressed me but that my child had worked so hard for them.
My friend responded by saying, "Well, (my child) doesn't have to try! He gets straight A's anyway!"
I bit my tongue. If only I'd had the courage to respond the way I wanted to.
"If you think that's impressive," I should have said, "you ought to hear my child's armpit farts! Mark my words, we'll have a world-record holder one day!"
In a "Community of Character," the character is what should count.
Success should not be defined by a predetermined mold of test scores, number of extracurricular activities, and a child so committed to a singular sport that he misses out on new adventures.
It brings a smile to my face, however, when parents praise a child for success that results purely from passion, not the parents' pushing.  For example, my friend Shelley Casey's son, Nathan, runs faster than the wind and also manages to be a down-to-earth, clever 12-year-old with an uncanny ability to make fun of himself. So when Shelley showed good humor in posting Nathan's Hart Middle School cross-country triumphs in her Facebook status, the accolades came in waves. 
Shelley's excitement was for her son's devotion to an activity he loves, and it showed. Nathan, meanwhile, owns his accomplishment with a healthy, amusing attitude.
Another friend, whose children attend Fairlands Elementary and Hart and who asked that I not identify her, said omissions of compliments also are telling.
"I don't feel any competition when my kids either succeed or don't succeed in something," she said, adding that she always tries to compliment someone or their child whenever she can. "But sometimes it seems that it's people who are less secure in themselves who try to live through their children's successes," she said. 
I have to wonder if my friend has a point. I also believe that each of us is the sum total not only of our successes but of how well we adjust after failure. 
The child who can shrug off a bad grade or a poor athletic performance — and learn from it — is better equipped for life's inevitable challenges than the child who is pushed or spoon-fed through every activity and coddled after every failure.
Kelly Lensing, whose children attend Lydiksen Elementary and Hart, notices that some Pleasanton parents seem to propagate social stigmas by worrying too much.
"I've noticed – even with myself – that if parents have a concern that our children will have a negative experience in the future," she said, "then we'll try to protect them from our fear by bolstering them against possible negative exposure. But by giving them scripts to follow, we're actually lending credibility to the viewpoint we fear."
By way of example, Kelly spoke of children of mixed race or those who have special needs and whose parents provide them language to use should they be questioned about perceived differences.
"I wonder sometimes if we wouldn't serve our children better simply by making a conscious effort to remain staunchly in their corner," she said.
Perhaps the parental "one-upmanship" is not unique to Pleasanton. By what measurement does our community rate good parenting or children? Is there danger in rating either?
Although I'm not a perfect parent and have no illusions of raising perfect children, it takes conscious effort to resist the urge to protect my children from reality —even in this hamlet of Pleasanton that we know and love so much.

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