I love walking long the beach admiring the shape of the driftwood. I love the irregularity of each piece. I love that no two pieces are the same.
I wish we would appreciate our children the way we do driftwood on the shore.
You see, there seems to be a gold standard for human beings that we call well-rounded. At sports and school prize-givings, there’s usually even an award for “best all-rounder” or something of similar effect. Well-rounded is a vague kind of a term, suggesting that the person to whom we can attribute this quality is fully developed in every desirable trait and ability. They are complete in some way that those of us with pieces/qualities missing are not. From childhood, we are given the mistaken impression that being well-rounded is favourable and actually possible.
Believing our children should be well-rounded leads us to a deficit-based approach to parenting. The aim of this approach is to fill in the perceived gaps of our child. They’re a little behind in maths, so they get sent to private tutoring in the evenings, even though they’ve just spent 6 hours at school. They’re not very socially confident so they are bombarded with playdates and social activities as if over-exposure will make them feel differently. Yes, we need to support our children where they struggle but we don’t need to change them.
With a deficit-based approach, it’s almost as if we’re trying to protect our children from the pain of being themselves. We justify our choices to our children and to ourselves by declaring that what we’re doing is “for their own good”. I remember being sent to netball and tennis lessons despite my lack of co-ordination and complete disinterest in sports because it was apparently going to make me fit in better socially (New Zealand is a very sports-based culture).
Our children can sense when we’re treating them like a project, tinkering away to improve them. And the message it gives them is this: You’re not good enough as you are.
Imagine if, instead, we took a strengths-based approach to parenting. We would use those hours after school and in the weekends to encourage our children to do the things they love and are good at. We would use that time to fill our children up, not to fill in their gaps. When doing what they love, children experience joy, they see all that they’re capable of and they catch a glimpse of their own potential. In this way, their self-confidence grows.
It is my understanding that the spiritual role of parenting is to help our children to be themselves (you can read more about that here). We do not get to shape and mould them into who we think they should be. Instead, I see it as my job to honour and empower my boys to be authentic so that they can be the people they are intended to be. We’re all purpose-built, perfectly-shaped for the lives ahead of us, including our children.
Imagine each of us is a piece of wood. No piece is the same. There are rough bits and smooth bits on all of us. If we equate being well-rounded with being the spherical shape of a ball, the wood (the person) must be sculpted from their irregular form into a perfect sphere. Chunks need to be taken off, gaps need to be filled and everything sanded down to make it regular and smooth. At the end, their original shape is nowhere to be seen. The person becomes unrecognisable and no longer themselves, difficult to pick out because they are so similar to everyone else. This is what trying to make our children well-rounded does to them.
We are all most happy when we feel able to be ourselves. If we raise our children to be themselves, they won’t need to well-rounded. I’m not saying we shouldn’t equip them with the essential skills they need in life, just that we need to stop expecting them to be all things and to be all things well.
Besides, I haven’t met anyone who is truly well-rounded. Are you? I sure as heck am not! Yet so many people are miserable trying to become so by carrying on the gap-filling habits that their parents (and society in general) started in early life.
If we raise our children to be themselves, they’re going to be well-equipped for their particular futures. They’re going to go into occupations that use their natural strengths. If they struggle with maths, it’s unlikely they’re going to choose to be a statistician or engineer and it’s not going to matter that they only just scraped through their high school maths assessments. Let’s just appreciate our kids as they are and stop burdening them and ourselves with the mythical notion of well-roundedness. Instead let’s support our beautiful, oddly-shaped children in being authentic, passionate and confident.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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