Thankfully, I was able to raise my daughters, in large part, prior to the advent of social media. If you have heard me speak or teach over the last few years you know I’m concerned over the pressure mothers – of all ages, makes and models – feel to present their lives, homes and, of course, children in the best light possible. I’ve felt that pressure as well. Like most, I don’t post pictures or statuses displaying failure, anger, disappointment, weight gain, dust, dead flowers, etc. We seem to be compelled to present only our successes to the social media world – and, in a good many cases, that usually includes the achievements and triumphs of our children.
Not that there is anything wrong with bragging on and sharing these accomplishments – but I’m afraid we may be becoming a generation of moms who value and promote “what our children do” instead of “who our children are.” We cherish their accomplishments over their character. Somehow we believe our success as moms apparently parallels our kids’ successes in their endeavors.
I don’t know about you, but I am dreadful at remembering lines from books or movies. Yet, the first time I read the words in the book, and then heard them again in the movie, I have not been able to get the main character, Abileen Clark’s, words spoken in Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help” out of my mind. In order to compensate, or redirect, her small charge’s attention from her distracted mother, Abileen continually reminded the little girl, “You is smart, you is kind, you is important.” Abileen’s mantra was intended, despite the deficiencies and challenges surrounding them, to daily instill in that young life an overriding sense of her value, her character and her ability. And yes, the “her” in the last sentence is meant to be ambiguous – because I think the “her” could be Abileen just as much as the little girl.
Abileen’s mantra serves as a good example of encouraging the attributes of character, worth and ability in our children. If we only commend our sons and daughters on their actions and accomplishments, they will eventually let both us and themselves down. They will feel as though they have failed if their efforts fall short of the mark.
As you know, the 2016 Olympics are currently taking place. The most elite athletes in the world are taking part. It is amazing to watch them excel, and sometimes even fail, in their sport of choice.
However, not every player or participant in a sport can acquire elite status. Not every student can achieve entrance into an elite school. Not every kid can drive an elite car, or wear elite clothes. There aren’t that many of us who can ever achieve “elite” status at anything. I wonder, though, how many of our kids feel they have failed because they don’t attain that elusive standing. They aren’t the best athlete. They don’t get the highest grades. They don’t drive the nicest cars or wear the most expensive clothes. Not everyone can be class president, homecoming queen or have the lead in the school musical.
However, what all of our kids can be is extraordinary! They can be cloaked in extraordinary and excellent character. We can instill in each of them the qualities of kindness, courage, loyalty, hard work, commitment, encouragement, joy, gratitude and integrity. By teaching, encouraging, and giving accolades for these attributes, they become what our children seek to attain. They can become who our children truly are. They develop the authentic qualities that last a lifetime.
Our three daughters have each achieved goals they have set for themselves; they have worked hard and had fun doing so. We have been extremely proud of their accomplishments and have not been silent in letting them or others know.
But our deepest pride comes in the character they display. One of our girls ended up playing on one of those “elite” and extraordinary sports teams. The team’s successful years together were the source of great fun, school and parental pride, and tremendous friendships. When she began playing for the coach in middle school, I challenged her, “I don’t care if Coach is ever able to say you are the best athlete he ever coached, but I do expect him to be able to say you are one of the finest.” I reminded her of this expectation several times during the ensuing years. And yes, while I shed many tears of joy and pride at the girls’ amazing success, I shed the most when I heard our daughter was to be recognized – at the conclusion of her senior season – with a state-wide award (sponsored in part by the state’s coaches association and the Army) that was based on – – yep, character! The award represented qualities of being self-motivated, trustworthy, coachable, unselfish, responsible, courageous, disciplined, determined, encouraging and having poise, together with the Army characteristics of duty, integrity, selfless service, honor, trust, personal courage and respect. Not one word of athletic ability or success!
Another of our daughters labels herself as “being one of the nicest people” anyone knows. We make great fun of her self-pronouncements. But I will tell you – she truly is! She is nice to her very core. That same daughter swam on the school swim team. At the awards banquet that year, she was awarded a captain’s star, not because of her accomplishments in the pool, but because, as the coach explained, she had stuck by her commitment to the swim team, passing up an opportunity to participate in a school activity which was within her eventual career choice.
Finally, our other daughter has succeeded in many ways in her young life, but her sterling quality among her cache of exceptional attributes? – – – she is wise beyond her years. Her wisdom, discernment and character have sometimes been at great cost to her – but she has come forth as gold.
I could go on and on about their beauty, talents, smarts, achievements, etc. But for me, their shining moments exist through their demonstration of their unique character. It is, indeed, who they are! They aren’t perfect, they do not succeed in every choice or endeavor, word or deed – but they know what our expectations are for them – from the inside out!
Each of our children has the capacity to be kind; to be important and cherished in our eyes; to be smart in his or her abilities in life. As moms, we have the obligation and responsibility to set that mark for them. To cheer them on, remind them, encourage and correct them and then be their proudest supporters and loudest audience when they achieve those extraordinary character attributes we have desired for them and sought to instill in them.
If we build our children up in “who they are” and not “what they do,” they will not be beaten down when they don’t measure up to “success” as defined by social media, their peers and even other parents. Their character will shine above their efforts and achievements – be they successes or failures. “Who they are” will not be affected by not scoring the winning goal, getting the lead in the school play or not passing an AP exams or failing to get into an Ivy League school. Who they are will be their foundation, their compass, their stalwart inner quality.
So, I encourage you to choose your mantra. To reflect on what you post on social media about your children. To determine what character traits you desire to instill within your children. And then get to work – telling, retelling, reminding, correcting, guiding, encouraging, rewarding and even bragging! And moms – don’t forget to exemplify!
When the proverbial “rubber meets the road” in life, “who” our children are on the inside will certainly matter immensely more than “what” they have accomplished. The same goes for us moms. So, like Abileen Clark, maybe our mantra to our children will help us along life’s way as well.
Finally, remember, some accomplishments are meant, not to be posted, snapped or tweeted, but simply to be pondered and treasured in our mommas’ hearts!
Thought to Ponder: Do you encourage and gives accolades to your children when they are among the elite in their actions and accomplishments or when they are extraordinary in their character?