We are Failing at Making our Kids Perfect. Here’s why that’s Okay.

My ten year old daughter and I shot some hoops yesterday after dinner. She wore flip flops. As I got in my car this morning to go to work I was thinking about that for some reason. On one hand I’m glad she is out getting some exercise with her dad. On the other hand, why flip flops? A quick glance into the back seat told me why. Her tennis shoes are in by back seat. She probably has no idea and did not give an ounce of priority to finding them when they weren’t right in front of the door. The flip flops were there; the sneakers were not. Thus, basketball in flip flops.

It occurred to me that her mother and I have done a mediocre job of teaching our kids how to keep track of their stuff. When they finish with something, it just goes wherever they are when they finish with it. She probably changed shoes in the car or something and that’s just where they stayed. We have tried to teach them. Put your stuff where it goes and don’t just lay it down somewhere. That way, when you need it you will know right where it is. We have earned maybe a C- in teaching the keeping-track-of-your-stuff skill.

As I sit here now, I am eating a small salad for lunch that I had to buy from the company cafeteria. Why? Because I couldn’t quickly find my lunch bag this morning as I was rushing out the door. Why? Because I didn’t put it where it goes Friday evening. In the keeping-track-of-your-stuff skill, I am about a solid B-, depending on the stuff. My wife may score me lower, but I am certainly better than some but worse than others.

This led me to wonder whether it is possible – or even desirable – to teach our kids to be better than us at the things we wish we were better at. On one hand, we all want our kids to turn out better than we did. We think (or at least I used to think) that means filling in the gaps we have. In sports, parents want their kids to make it just a little further than they did. In money, we want our kids not to worry about money. We would rather they not fart or swear in mixed company. If I am a sort-of lazy, non-competitive, scarcity-thinking, stinky butt who swears like a sailor, am I really the right person to be teaching them all of this?

Now for the good news. We are excellent at teaching them the things we are good at. Both of my daughters are very creative and hilarious. Our thirteen year old knows that hard work and sacrifice often means the difference between a B and an A… and she often earns As. Our ten year old knows this same connection between hard work, sacrifice, and grades… and she is quite happy with a B, thank you very much. They are both kind and generous and respectful and polite (when it counts). They argue until they forget what they were arguing about and then they keep arguing anyway. They make up as quickly as they started arguing. They care about their health and they care about others’ feelings and they want to spend as much quality time as possible with their family and close friends. The list of things they earn a solid A+ in goes on and on. And guess what? It looks a lot like the combined list of things their mother and I are good at.

I suppose we earn an A+ in teaching the things we are good at. And what about everything else? Well, they’ll just have to pick that stuff up elsewhere I guess. And considering the foundational skills they are crushing, I’m okay with that.

By the way, my ten year old nearly beat me at H-O-R-S-E while wearing flip flops. I’m in trouble.


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