In Praise of Mediocrity
April 3, 2009
I have a confession: It is my goal to raise mediocre children.
That being said, I have to give a disclaimer: I want my children to excel in relationships, in virtue, in kindness, in faith, hope and charity. But I’m not going to push them to be the best in sports, music, school, or anything else. I will nurture their natural passions, encourage a very strong work ethic, help them sample a broad variety of scholastic, musical, and athletic experiences, but I will most likely not produce a Nobel Peace winning scientist, a music virtuoso, or an Olympic athlete.
And that’s okay, right?
I subscribe to a magazine I love called Brain, Child. One of the article this issue is called “Endgame,” written by Hilary Meyerson. The subtitle of the article is “If your kids aren’t the best, should they even bother?” and she tells the tale of her mediocre children who play violin, do gymnastics, play soccer. And none of it excellently. She recounts a moment of confusion that she experienced when another mom asked her what her “endgame” was for her son’s violin playing. Does there have to be an “endgame?” She concludes the article with this realization: “I want my kids to take time away from the responsibilities of daily living, to do something that they really enjoy without worrying if they will be the best at it, or will receive recognition or kudos for it.”
This makes a lot of sense to me, and I read this article with relief, because it echoed and clarified what my own thoughts have been on this subject. I see plenty of parents who are picking something for their child to be the best at, and they give up so much time and energy and money for lessons, practices, supplies. I spoke with a woman yesterday who explained to me that she had enrolled her son in swimming lessons three times a week so that when he gets old enough, he can excel on the swim team.
This little boy just turned two years old. I am not joking about this.
I hear other parents talk about their elementary-aged kids “baseball careers.” This kind of thinking is rampant, and insidious. Our children can become superstars, if only we provide the right context and pressure. I have had moments of near-panic when I worry that my children aren’t playing team sports (aside from a mediocre foray into one season of tee ball and one season of soccer, two years ago). They aren’t taking structured music lessons (although I’m going to enroll our middle daughter in piano soon). They aren’t “specializing” in anything. I worry that my children aren’t driven enough, aren’t competitive enough, aren’t sporty enough.
But, as Meyerson expresses, “I think it is monumental hubris to assume we can mold our kids to be superstars at anything…how many of us can say we’ve reached the pinnacle in some discipline, or even come close?”
This sounds like common sense to me. I am a dedicated parent. But most afternoons don’t see us running around to lessons. One Brownie meeting every other week for Phoebe. One horse-back riding lesson a week for Lucy. Gymnastics on Saturday mornings for Phoebe and Bridget. Even all that sounds like a lot, because I like being home, cooking dinner. I like knowing that my children are playing outside after having a leisurely after-school snack. I like for them to have neighbors and friends over. I even like to hear them fighting, knowing that they are building conflict-resolution skills that will help them all their lives long. (Although this perspective is not usually the one I embrace in the moment of hearing them bicker.) Heck, I don’t even mind them playing American Girl games on the computer.
If I can raise mediocre kids who can enjoy their lives, explore their God-given talents, find their place in His Created Order, I think I’ll be pretty satisfied. And if one of them shocks us and suddenly becomes extremely driven to pursue a specific goal or skill, Dave and I will figure out how to support and encourage them. And I will amend this blog post.