As educators, it is easy to become so focused on our work that we begin to doubt and question our effectiveness as parents. At least I have. That was until last week.
You see my daughter is nine and she spends a lot of time watching kids’ shows on her laptop. Probably too much time. My son is only three and plays fighting games on the iPad. Probably too many games. And so I worry. I go through phases where I curb some of my children’s activities.
Yet there are still times when I feel guilty. I should be spending more quality time with my daughter instead of just allowing her to watch shows on her laptop. I could sit down with her and require her to do something educational. And I do. But maybe not enough.
I should be spending more time playing with my son instead of just telling him to go play with some of his many action figures. I could have him practice his letters and numbers. And I do. But maybe not enough.
So I begin to doubt myself as a parent. I think that my daughter is going to become addicted to the internet and my son is going to turn into a violent child. Daddy just wants some time to relax. So what’s wrong with allowing my children to entertain themselves?
This can’t be right!
Stop being lazy Jon!
Be a better parent!
And then last week happened.
My daughter came home and told me all about math class. And how she was able to help one of her classmates learn a new skill. And he went up to the board. And he got it right! She was beaming! She was so proud of him. She is never that excited about her own success! She was proud of him.
Then later that week when I dropped my three-year-old off at daycare, his teacher said she needed to tell me something. Uh oh! What happened? She proceeded to tell me that my son is always so kind and thoughtful. That when he brings his action figures or toys to school he always makes sure that he has enough to share with his friends. This must be why he always has a fit if he can’t take several toys to school instead of just one.
Awww. My little buddy.
Maybe I am worrying for nothing. Maybe I am overreacting. Because no letter grade, benchmark result or standardized test score could have given me the joy I felt last week when I heard firsthand how kind and caring my children are.
I’ll never forget an IEP meeting that I chaired last year that opened my eyes to what matters most. The meeting was coming to a close and the results that the parent had received were not good. This mother had to sit and listen to test results that showed that her son was significantly below average in reading and math. I could tell that this was painful for her to hear. It would be difficult for anyone to sit in a meeting for over an hour and listen to adults tell them that their child is below average.
So I had to speak up. I explained to this mother that while her son may be below average in reading and math, he was above average in a much more important category. Kindness. I had known her son for a while and I told her that he was one of the happiest and kindest children I had ever met. I could tell this meant a lot to her and I was glad that I had taken just a few moments to stray from the traditional IEP routine.
For much of this spring, the country has devoted a lot of time and energy to assess our students’ reading and mathematics ability. And they are important. But more important than kindness? Really?
I feel better about my ability as a parent. My son still plays some fight games on the iPad and my daughter probably still spends too much time on her laptop. But so what? They are great kids. It’s time I start worrying less and celebrating more.