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My Kids Don't Have to Be Good at Everything

Being an American parent is exhausting. 

Your kids are supposed to participate in sports (more than one) and music and math and competitive spelling.  They need to have experienced horseback riding and seen the National Parks and gone to a Broadway show and know how to build a robot.  Oh, and of course, they need to know Latin and be classically trained.

And if they haven't accomplished all these things, you are letting them down.  You have failed as a parent.

I feel this even in Tanzania.  I have tried for three years to find Grace a piano teacher with no success.  I don't want to drive her an hour each direction every week, and I haven't been able to find someone close by.  She keeps reminding me that she wants to learn piano, but she's finished fifth grade and it still hasn't happened.  Which makes me feel like I am depriving her of something really important.  Because everyone knows that every child is supposed to learn an instrument, right?

There are other things my kids miss out on because we live in Tanzania--gymnastics, Children's Museums, craft stores, beautiful parks with towering oak trees, watching seasons change.  Lily reminded me recently that she would love to take ballet lessons.  Not going to happen.

I am a collector of lists of children's books, as my favorite activity with my kids is reading out loud to them.  But every time I get a new list, I panic slightly because there are just so many good books out there that my kids need to read.  And I can never catch up.  For a moment I think, But their lives will be tragic and deprived if they haven't read every single one of the Little House books!  How will they survive?  And you wonder why Gil thinks I'm dramatic.

There's this intense pressure in American culture that your kids must be good at everything.  And if they can't be good at everything, then in the very least, you must expose them to everything and teach them everything else.  And if they don't, they are really missing out and will probably become hobos when they grow up.

But I've had to remind myself that I need to step back from the frenzy and ask, Who says?  Who says that my kids will never learn discipline if they don't learn to play an instrument?  Who says they won't learn teamwork if they don't play sports?  Who says that they won't be good thinkers if they never learn Latin?  Who says they won't learn to love their siblings if they are not homeschooled?

Of course, those are all good things.  But somehow we've convinced ourselves that we aren't succeeding in the rules of parenting if they don't get all of the good things.  Can't there be more than one way to successfully raise and educate a child?

So when I start feeling the pressure and the panic that my kids are missing out, I try to remember what they do have, what they have learned.  My kids know how to navigate multiple cultures and countries and international travel doesn't phase them.  They are great swimmers who love snorkeling. HOPAC shines when it comes to performing arts, community service, and ethnic diversity.   In our home they've learned to be hospitable to our many guests, and my girls have learned to love cooking as much as I do.  So even if Grace never gets piano lessons (though I am still looking!), no one can ever accuse her of being deprived.

If my list of what my kids are learning causes your stomach to tense with stress, then make your own list.  Maybe you're passing on your gift of creativity, or gardening, or adventuring.  Maybe you're using YouTube for art lessons.  And honestly, the vast majority of middle-class American kids will never be deprived in the true sense of the word.  Even if your kids never learn music or sports, even if they never master another language or horseback riding, they still will be some of the most privileged kids in the world. 

 And, of course, the qualities of courage, kindness, patience, and humility are by far what will make a child successful in this life--and those can be learned in a million different ways.

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