I love walking along the beach, admiring the shape of the driftwood. I love the irregularity of each piece. I love that no two pieces are the same.
This is what I love about children too.
However, 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 can lead 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 we send them to private tutoring in the afternoons, even though they’ve just spent six hours at school.
They’re not very socially confident so we bombard them with playdates and social activities as if over-exposure will make them feel differently.
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).
Yes, we need to support our children where they struggle.
Yes, it can be good to expose our children to a wide variety of experiences.
But we don’t need to change them.
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.
When my son, Jake (8), comes in from an afternoon spent practicing his cricket bowls on the lawn, he is glowing. I get a thorough run-down of the various kinds of bowls he can deliver and a blow-by-blow account of the one that knocked the stumps right over.
Jake is brimming with enthusiasm and pride in his progress. I tousle his hair, feeling pleased that I didn’t make him sit down and do extra writing practise, as it had crossed my mind to do.
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 be 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 good at everything.
Besides, I haven’t met anyone who is truly good at everything. 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 college maths assessments.
Let’s appreciate our kids as they are and stop burdening them and ourselves with the mythical notion of well-roundedness.
Instead let’s empower our beautiful, oddly-shaped children to be authentic, passionate and confident.
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