Without question, parents want their kids to be happy and confident. However, too often we conflate happiness with material success as evidenced by our obsession with the number of activities our kids are in, how well they do on tests, or how many flashcards and workbooks we did with them when they were younger. In fact, when my first daughter was a toddler, I dreaded telling other moms I was a teacher because inevitably I would get some form of the question, “What flashcards, workbooks, activities, etc. do you use?” My response was always the same, “None. I let her play.” Often times I was met by stunned silence and in some cases even a sneer but every time it was the end of the conversation.
Don’t get me wrong. I can also get caught up in those material successes; in fact, I was one of the loudest parents on the pool deck this summer and was thrilled when she came home with those ribbons. However, it was our daughter who continually reminded us of what was truly important and one specific example really stands out. After her first competitive meet where her dad and I were ecstatic that she came in 2nd and her relay team came in 1st, she came up to us bubbling with excitement (something that is rare) and exclaimed, “Mommy, I made a new friend!”
Through our journey, we have had our share of tough days and heartbreak and on those days you become almost envious of parents whose children are seemingly gliding through their elementary days. But you know what? I wouldn’t trade those tough days for anything and here’s why. Facing these challenges forced us to rebaseline; in other words, we were forced to abandon those type A ambitions for our daughter as we realized that school for her was a struggle neither one of us understood. As we watched her scratch and claw to just keep up and at the same time watch our once confident girl fade, all we wanted was for her smile to return. With that, our priority became her happiness, not her academic success.
Our efforts changed from fretting over her homework to teaching her mindfulness techniques, changing her negative outlook to a positive one and making sure she saw even the tiniest of successes every day. We worried less about test scores and more about personal victories. We snuggled more, played more and found time to do the things she loved to do. During one of her toughest periods, she and I even volunteered at a cat shelter because she wanted to help cats find homes. Just that two hours a week gave her something that was hers and a place where she was succeeding.
Now, I have a kid whose smile has returned and who can find the positive in anything. We still have our bumps and bad days but what we see now is a kid who confidently tells people she has dyslexia and that she loves who she is. And, perhaps more importantly, she has given us the greater gift – the reminder of what truly matters in life.