Being the smartest is highly overrated.
So is being the best.
School just started up. All those helicopters have been refueled and parents are ready to hover over every teacher and coach to ensure success at every athletic event and on every report card.
But maybe we’re missing what is most important.
One of my favorite writers, Glennon Doyle Melton, shared on her Momastery blog a letter she wrote to her child. Here’s part of it:
“We don’t send you to school to become the best at anything at all. We already love you as much as we possibly could. You do not have to earn our love or pride and you can’t lose it. That’s done.
“We send you to school to practice being brave and kind.
“Kind people are brave people. Brave is not a feeling that you should wait for. It is a decision. It is a decision that compassion is more important than fear, than fitting in, than following the crowd.
“Trust me, baby, it is. It is more important. Don’t try to be the best, honey. Just be kind and brave. That’s all you ever need to be.”
I don’t remember the smartest kid in my class. I do know it wasn’t me. I do remember the kindest kids. Margaret O’Hara, in grade school, and Mary Ross in high school. Their gentleness always made me feel accepted and included.
Last week, I read an article Meg Conley wrote for Huffington Post that suggests we ask our children three questions over dinner every night. If you don’t have dinner together as a family, now is a good time to start.
Here are the three questions:
1. How were you brave today?
Why does bravery matter? It will take you so much farther in life than being smart. It will help you make life better, not just for yourself, but for others.
When children are little, we are their courage. We scare away the monsters under the bed, gallantly remove spiders from the corners and make lightning strike somewhere else.
But our job isn’t to show children how brave we are, it’s to help them discover how brave they are.
The more they practice being brave, the more they will be brave when life hands them the chance to do so. They will learn that life isn’t something to fear, but a wonder to face.
2. How were you kind today?
Be kind. It’s not even that hard. I tell my grandkids that all the time.
I remind myself every morning, “Regina, be kinder than necessary today.” Go the extra. Buy a stranger’s lunch. Put quarters in a stranger’s parking meter. Thank everyone, from the nurse drawing your blood to the librarian collecting your fine to the server who refills your coffee.
I’ve discovered that boys too often get a pass on being kind. On my grandson’s playground, I often see boys shoving and pushing each other.
“They’re just being boys … boys will be boys,” adults say, as if boys can’t be kind. They can be if we raise the bar and challenge them to be kinder.
When I see kids being rough, I don’t care whose kids they are, I holler, “Hey, be kind.” It makes them pause, at least for a moment.
3. How did you fail today?
Not “Did you fail today?” but how did you fail, because we’re raising children into adults, not into perfect specimens of greatness to display like trophies to make us feel good.
If success at all things is valued too highly, kids don’t grow their comfort zone. They don’t want to move up to the next difficult level of swim class or try a new sport because they might fail.
There are so many opportunities for adventure or learning or discovery that I missed growing up because I was too afraid of doing it wrong or getting hurt or looking foolish.
King Solomon in Proverbs said, “A righteous man falls down seven times and gets up.” Life isn’t about not falling; it’s about getting up fast after the fall. Olympic runner Mo Farah proved that when he fell in the 10,000-meter race at the Rio Olympics. He hit the ground, popped back up, kept running and won the gold medal.
All of us, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors and coaches can make a big difference in a child’s life by remembering those three questions and asking them of ourselves, then make better choices to live better answers.
They will help us remember that we aren’t raising children. We’re raising adults, adults who won’t have us around to be their guide.
If we simply ask the right questions, those questions will be their guide.
Read Regina Brett online at cjn.org/regina. Connect with her on Facebook at ReginaBrettFans and on @ReginaBrett.