December is a very busy month for most of us. In my family, we attend concerts, games, parties and family gatherings. We shop for the perfect gifts for teachers and relatives and decorate our house and yard. We also have two birthdays in December; one on the 19th and one on the 26th. This year December 19 was a busy day for our family with a faculty meeting to organize, a play rehearsal to attend and a town council meeting in the evening. I made it through the day and shared with a colleague that I felt that I had been a “good enough” mother that day. Two birthday gifts were wrapped in non-holiday paper and were ready to be opened before school. The other two were in the trunk of the car and were wrapped later in the day, in holiday paper! While I did not bake a cake, I did pick up a birthday cupcake at a cupcake shop in Chester, and we purchased some of our favorite takeout food from an Indian restaurant. So, we had everyone together for dinner before the evening meeting that day. While the birthday might not have been perfect, it was “good enough.”
In our world, where many people search for perfection, I do believe that sometimes good enough is pretty close to great. I have been reading the book Enough as She Is, by Rachel Simmons, and I would recommend the book to anyone that knows people who are trapped in the search for perfection. She writes specifically about the experiences of girls and women, but the themes are transferable to all. While writing about the impact of social media, the self-doubt and self-criticism that our girls engage in, and the overthinking that takes place in the minds of our daughters she shares practical suggestions for parents. She gives some great advice to parents and one of my favorite suggestions is that you should “parent the daughter you have, not the daughter you wish you had.” In this section, she shares that higher levels of anxiety are seen in girls whose parents push to have them placed in high-level classes even though they do not qualify for the class or who criticize their daughters for their failures. Additionally, parents who value their child only for their successes rather than character traits like kindness and integrity are more likely to have children who suffer from anxiety and depression. Interestingly, the academic achievement of girls does not suffer when parents focus on encouraging them to be kind, caring, and a good friend rather than focusing on grades.
I think a lot about the pressure that we put on our children to get really good grades on everything and to be an athletic or artistic star. In 2013, Tim Elmore, who works for Growing Leaders, did some research about student athletes and their parents. At one point in an online post, he says that there are “only six words parents need to say to their kids about sports or any performance.” Those words are “I love to watch you play.” Not a critique about the game, not suggestions for how to make improvements, and not a comparison with other athletes or performers, just “I love to watch you play.” Here again, the focus is on your child and not your child’s achievement. The child that you have, not the child that could be better if they only cut for the ball or made that outfield catch. Their performance will always be good enough if we care more about what they did rather than how high they achieved.
As a parent, I do not claim to have all the answers, but I am trying. I am trying to encourage the joy of doing something and being a strong part of a team rather than being the best. I am also trying to see the joy in the being in a play rather than having the staring role. I try to believe that my homemade cupcakes are just as yummy as those made by professional bakers, but I am not sure that I can always believe that. I am lucky enough to spend my day with many young people who are doing wonderful things. I hope that I can show the children at Gill that they are good enough as they are, and I do love going to games, concerts, and performances just to watch them play.
Rachel Simmons will be speaking at Gill on April 9 as a part of the Common Ground Speaks series, and I am really looking forward to hearing her speak with our Upper School students during the school day, with our faculty in the afternoon, and with parents in the evening. I am sure that it will be a fabulous program, and I hope that we can all find the time to read her book and attend her evening program.