I realized today that being a good parent involves recognizing my own insecurities about my worth – the aspects of myself from which I feel my own value as a person comes – and not raising my children out of that place of fear.
For me – painfully shy, socially awkward, often feeling out of place or more like an observer than a participant, never quite fitting in – it was in my intelligence that I found an opportunity to shine, a way to attract positive attention from both adults and peers, and a role to play in my social network. Failing at something academic (with a very broad definition of that term that may include “not being perfect” or “not being the best”) was ridiculously hard for me to cope with, and the thought of losing my intelligence to brain injury or dementia is still one of my greatest fears. While I honestly enjoy and excel at intellectual pursuits, making it so central to my sense of self-worth left me feeling inadequate and incomplete, wanting to be seen and valued and loved for more than just my intelligence, to belong in a community for more holistic reasons. That was one thing that I loved about my husband Paul from the beginning: that he saw and loved the entirety of who I am, and didn’t make my intelligence the most important part of who I was to him.
Now, as my children enter the school years, I am noticing some of those same insecurities about my own intellectual “failings” resurfacing in a new form – how some part of me wants to push, and push, and push my kids towards academic success; how inside, I start feeling panicky because Aubade is three now and doesn’t know all her letters yet and can’t count past four; how I second-guess our educational choices multiple times every day because if I don’t choose the absolute best thing they are going to be less than what they could be, less than intellectually and academically perfect.
And it’s just as ridiculous and overblown now that it’s about my children as it was when it was just about me.
Academic success is a good thing, but it’s not the only or even the most important thing needed to have a good life, or a happy life, or a successful life. Character matters more, for goodness and meaningful purpose; emotional intelligence and relationships matter more, for happiness; and self-awareness, ambition, drive, and persistence matter more for success. Still more important than all of these is faith. Seek first the kingdom of God, Jesus says, and all these things which you need, which fill your heart with worry, will be given to you. For intelligence can be lost, and happiness can turn to sadness, and success can collapse in an instant – but God will never lose or forsake His children, those who love Him and are called by His name. It is His perfect love, after all, that casts out fear, that gives us value unconditionally, and that makes us whole.