July 22, 2014

Be the Expert

In their book No More Perfect Kids, Jill Savage and Kathy Koch say, “We risk great damage to children when we expect them to be who they weren’t created to be. Expecting them to give us what they can’t doesn’t work.”

Of course, this truth doesn’t mean holding low expectations. Rather, as Jill and Kathy point out, “Setting appropriate expectations is a key to successful parenting. This requires us to know our children – really know our kids. If our goals are too low, children won’t achieve as much as they might have. If they’re too high, children may get frustrated and give up. In either case, they may not achieve what they’re capable of. Setting appropriate expectations requires us to really know our children.”

The key word in that paragraph is appropriate. And the key implicit idea – which Kathy and Jill explain further elsewhere – is that expectations must be individualized. In other words, our expectations for any given child must match how God has chosen to wire him – not the unrealistic ideal we may have envisioned before his birth. And each and every child must be viewed as a unique creation – a one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-repeated miracle, as Kathy often notes. Children ought not be standardized, as if they were products on an assembly line, expecting from them all the same accomplishments met in the same way at the same pace and to the same degree.

Of course, doing the right thing takes work. Trying to discern how each child has been designed – which strengths are not only gifts but passions, which weaknesses are character issues to be resolved and which are innate traits to be embraced – is a tricky, never-ending process. And we feel so busy with all the demands on our lives that the thought of such continuous effort overwhelms. It’s much easier to let an outside “expert” determine a narrow set of “norms” for all kids and then expect every child to fit into the box.

Easier but wrong. Do we expect a rabbit to fly or cat to swim? Would we expect every cat to catch the same amount of mice each week, keeping a careful tally and penalizing the ones who didn’t catch “enough?” Would we rate each one’s method of mouse catching, ranking them against each other? Would we put a cat in a hopping contest against a rabbit?

We seem to understand the absurdity of standardization in that context. So why don’t we grasp it when it comes to our children? Why do we feel there are perfect ideals – academically, behaviorally, relationally, physically – by which we can measure the “worth” of a child? Why do we let ourselves be led by false prophets who would try to convince us of those lies?

Of course, we can refer to “experts” to gain a general idea about child development as a whole. But we need to be careful, listening only to those who understand that children are human beings, not robots of some sort. And we need to personalize the ideas of even the most trusted authority because that person has not met our children. A parent who has committed to the on-going process of discovering and embracing the uniqueness of her child is the real expert on that child – the only one who can truly customize an appropriate growing-up experience for him. Be that parent. Be your child’s expert. 

Photo Credit: Tetra Pak


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