We had practiced all week. And I was realizing how fantastic my three-year-old was at memorization. It made me want to stretch and challenge him to memorize more. So we did, two verses instead of the usual one.
We showed up for his Wednesday evening “Knight School” at church where I stay with him because his little brother is too young to attend alone. He learned a new verse before it was time to recite the two he had already memorized for his teacher.
When it came time to recite his verses, he nailed the first two and went on to say the one he had just learned as well. Three gold coins into his envelope. I beamed; so proud of the hard work he had put into his accomplishment.
>>> I’m no stranger to having an “above average” child, but I’m used to that phrase being applied to his HEIGHT. :P
Seeing my son excel beyond what is expected for his age gave me pride I didn’t know what to do with. And I began to understand how and why parents get so thrilled off of seeing their child’s accomplishments, particularly the “advanced” ones. The compliments from teachers and other parents can really puff our chests out. I can see where parents get to craving those praises for those displays of higher achievement. It starts to be about how much better your child is doing compared to everyone else’s children. And that can lead us all down a dangerous path, both for the parents and the child.
But here’s what set me straight in that moment.
Just after my son tucked away his three gold coins, his friend Jordan came up to recite his verse. Jordan is just two months younger than my son, but is about a year behind developmentally. He had recently been diagnosed with some special needs related to his failure to thrive as a baby (due to a medical condition.) Jordan had been working with speech, occupational, and physical therapists to catch him up. It had been a hard season for Jordan’s parents to walk through; I knew it well because they are dear friends of ours.
Jordan recited one of the shorter verses with all of the inflections and hand motions right on par, but only about 30% of the words were audible. When he finished, his mom said with tears in her eyes to the boys’ teacher, “That was a lot for him.”
My son instantly started clapping for him and yelled, “YAY JORDAN, THAT WAS SO GOOD, BUDDY!” Jordan smiled from ear to ear. He grabbed his one gold coin from his teacher like it was a million dollars and reciprocated the high five my son was holding out for him.
That’s when MY eyes filled with tears. (It happened several months ago and I’m even crying now as I write about it.) That’s when I realized that I would praise my son’s kindness far above his accomplishment. His exhibitions of the fruits of the spirit above his good works. That’s when I realized that I was starting a battle within myself to not spend my best parenting energy comparing my son to his peers, but instead encouraging him to love his friends.
It’s when I connected the dots–that the comparison of man is a sickness that I didn’t want to push into my son’s life at such an early age. I’m sure it’s a sin he’ll fight his whole life like the rest of us, but it doesn’t have to start here and with me.
Because when we measure ourselves up to each other, we’re either left coveting or feeling self-righteous. Whether we want for our neighbor’s wealth or we feel better about our goodness compared to someone else’s badness and it gives us a false sense of perfection. When we all need grace. When we all fall short of the glory of God. Not one of us is good enough before the throne. And yet every one of us is rich with eternal life if we believe in the salvation won for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There’s no need to compare horizontally when we have so much to be thankful for vertically.
So, practically speaking, I’ll continue to nurture my son’s gifts. I’ll continue to challenge him so that he can grow in the areas where the Lord has clearly purposed skills and knacks and interests in his life. But I’m going to pray and strive against my selfish desire for him to be better than his peers; I just want him to be his own best. Whatever that looks like for him.
And I will make the biggest deal when I see him exhibit kindness to his peers. Because his display of encouragement to Jordan was my proudest moment as a mom to date. And I hadn’t coached him for that moment. We didn’t practice. I couldn’t take any credit except that I hope it was something he had seen displayed in our home. That right there was the son I wanted to be raising. I’d rather him be a better friend than a better scholar or the best athlete.
I’m not saying I’ll do it perfectly; Lord knows I need grace every day to keep all my parenting desires in check. But I’m writing this here right now for myself to look back at and know what I need to strive for. I hope it can do the same for a few of you.
I’d love to hear your input about praising kindness in kids and deflecting the parental pride that comes with “giftedness.” I’m learning this stuff as I go and share all of this with humility on the topic.