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Throw Away the Xerox Machine

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Face it: Your child is not perfect. So try to appreciate their challenges and enjoy their strengths.

When our children are first born, when they're in infancy, through the toddler years, and sometimes even older stages, we have the illusion that they are like a blank slate, an unshaped lump of clay. We imagine that our job is to write their characters on them, to mold them into the exact human being we have always fantasized about.

Sure it's hard work. But that's our job, to create a human being out of nothing. And not just any human being, but a supercharged, super-realized one. That's why we rush to sign our children up for Jump Start and Mommy-and-Me and Gymboree and music appreciation... Who knows what untapped genius is there? Who knows what prodigy could be in the making? We want the best for our children and this is the road to success. Isn't it?

But a funny thing happens as our children get older. We start to recognize that our ability to shape them is much more limited than we originally believed. They, in fact, don't come completely unformed. They actually come with not only specific physical characteristics, but with personality traits as well, with their set of strengths and weaknesses. With their specific opportunities and challenges.

As the child grows, a wise parent understands his limited role and uses his influence appropriately and sensitively.

An even wiser parent recognizes this at an earlier stage.


King Solomon advises: "Educate the child according to his ways, so that when he grows up he will not depart from it." Educate your child according to who your child is, not your unfulfilled dreams or fantasies.

Imagine you'd like to grow tulips. Colorful, vibrant, beautiful tulips. You'd read about tulips to see what care they require. You'd plant the bulbs in rich soil. You'd make sure they get the appropriate amount of sun and water. You might even talk to them.

If you force your plant to bloom before it's ready, you may stunt its growth.

If you do all these things, chances are you will raise healthy tulips, in glorious colors. If you do none of this, your tulips will wither and die. But whatever you do, however solicitous you are of the needs of your plants, you won't be able to turn your tulip into a rose.

And further, if you try to force your plant to bloom before it's ready, you may stunt its growth or it may not emerge.

Each child is a flower, one that has never before blossomed. You must study your child reverently and patiently, confident that with appropriate care you will see results.


The Schwartzes had one daughter, Shelley, who struggled with school. For years there were meetings with teachers and principals, detentions and nightly homework battles. Finally, Dr. and Mrs. Schwartz (having matured a little along the way) backed out of the homework fight. "We didn't want to ruin our relationship with our daughter," they explained to me.

So Shelley continued to ignore her homework and receive poor grades and the teachers continued to call. But home had become a safer place. One day when Shelley was in 10th grade, she called home to say she got a 96 on her history test.

Shelley received poor grades. But home had become a safer place.

"I discovered it's different when I pay attention," she told them, marveling at this revelation.

"We want you to know we've always believed in you," replied her proud parents.

We have to believe in our child. Even when it's difficult. Especially when it's difficult. Even though they're not like us. Because they're not. Believe in them even though they're not living up to our dreams. Because they won't.

Unless we adjust our dreams to suit reality.

If you're very disciplined and driven, you may be disappointed and confused by a disorganized and easygoing child. You need to: 1) appreciate their challenges and 2) enjoy their strengths.


Okay, we're smart, aware parents. We recognize that our children are not carbon copies of us. Nor are they who we "could have been" -- given the right opportunities, and healthier, more conscious parenting!

Our children are and separate human beings. Their memory may not be as sharp as ours (or it may be quicker). Their analytical skills may be weak (or stronger). A friend told me that he stopped playing chess with his father because whenever he won his father threw a tantrum. We may even be conflicted about what we want. But we need to recognize and honor the differences.

He stopped playing chess with his father because whenever he won his father threw a tantrum.

Professor Mel Levine of the University of North Carolina is an expert in learning differences among children. He teaches us an even deeper point. Children's ability to exert themselves is not uniform. How often does a report card read, "If only she would make a little more effort..."?

What's a little more effort? How much does that cost this child? This is a misunderstood and under appreciated point.

The Goldbergs have two children. The oldest, Steve, leaves the dinner table every night and goes straight to his desk, spending the next 4 hours methodically and diligently working through his homework. The youngest, Esther, dawdles over dinner, chats about her day, plays a little ball, bakes some cookies, and has to be harassed into spending 15 minutes on her evening's work.

The Goldbergs can't get Steve to relax about his grades and work a little less anymore than they can get Esther to work harder. They are not good and bad children. They are not productive and lazy children. Their ability to make an effort is dramatically different.


We've realized the fallacy of the "super mom" myth, and now we have to explode the idea of "super kid."

Once we stop trying to mold our child into the perfect human being, we have to take pleasure in their strengths. Maybe your easygoing child is fun to be with, warm and generous. Maybe your driven child is the one you can rely on to organize and take charge. But they must be allowed to bloom at their own pace and in their own individual way.

We've realized the fallacy of the "super mom" myth, and now we have to explode the idea of "super kid."

If we have very specific expectations of a child, we'll be frustrated and they'll be frustrated. Maybe you regret never learning to play the piano, so you're forcing your child. Not only is this unlikely to lead to a love of music, but once the external coercion is removed, your child will probably stop. This is suggested in the second half of King Solomon's statement: only if you educate the child according to his way, will they not depart from it.

In this case, the only outcome is probably a damaged parent-child relationship.

We had our one chance at childhood, and now it's our son or daughter's opportunity. Help them enjoy the process of growing and realizing their potential. Just make sure it's truly theirs. Let them know you love them. And be sure to share your unbridled excitement in the cultivation of this new and special blossom.


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