His words sunk deep. Unexpected, seemingly out of nowhere, after a holiday break from school. How long had he been feeling this way, carrying such burden and I hadn’t even noticed?
As I unpacked backpacks, looking over papers that had sat untouched for those vacation days, he let it spill, "Mom, I just feel all the stress coming back."
I never knew he was feeling such pressure. It didn’t seem to fit my son who loved to laugh, the one who always had such a positive, upbeat spirit. Once again I was made aware of how this grade thing could affect so deeply. That often kids believe they are only as good as whatever "score" is reflected on a paper, test, or report card. And it feels like fierce competition - just to keep up.
One child almost in tears over a grade that was brought home on an assignment.
Another confiding, "Mom, I'm trying hard not to be worried about the STAAR test."
Kids aren't intended to carry such burden. Standardized tests, grades, or scores, measure a “few” things. A very few things. It doesn't fully reflect everything about our kids, it can’t possibly do that. And though as a family we've tried hard not to put any big emphasis on statewide standardized testing, we found our kids were still “affected” by the stress of it all.
I empathize with teachers and schools who are often scrutinized by the scores. Such pressure, it seems, for many in the educational system of our culture. As parents and educators, we understand the need for methods of measurement, to evaluate learning, to see how we can improve, to help our kids reach forward. But maybe sometimes, we put so much value there, our kids who can't quite see the big picture like we can, start feeling that it's a direct reflection of how good they are.
Am reminded again of how much I just want to let our kids be kids. And I wonder if I've been guilty, even unintentionally, of putting too much emphasis on the score at times, and that stress then transferred over to little shoulders not meant to carry such weight. Young lives that are meant to be throwing balls, dancing and twirling, climbing trees, picking flowers, playing dress up, catching fireflies, exploring the world. I wonder sometimes if we have secretly believed that if our kids are "successful" by outward standards, then we somehow must be "successful" as parents.
Tests have no ability to fully measure the worth of our child, any more than a scale or paycheck has any ability to truly measure our worth as an adult. The tests won't say how fast they can run, the tests won't measure how creatively they can draw a picture, the tests won't tell how incredibly they can play an instrument, the tests won't see how amazingly they can sing, the tests can't determine the capacity in their hearts to give, the tests won't measure how compassionately they can help up a friend who's fallen, the tests won't appreciate how brave they are to stand for the right thing.
There's so much more beauty, value, ability, creativity, passion, and life that's an incredible part of who our child is, that the tests will never see or reflect.
The heart of it all is not really based on whether our kids go to private school, or public school, or are homeschooled. Because the issue might still affect us all, down deep, no matter what we choose. At the core, the question that may confront us most is, “How am I measuring the success of my child?”
Or even, quite possibly, the tougher question, “Am I measuring my own success in parenting based on the outward success of my child?”
We grow up into adults, often continuing to do the same thing we were taught as kids. Measuring success in terms that we were never meant to be measured. Our standards may change, but we still have an assortment of imaginary rulers and scales, invisibles charts and graphs, secretly used to compare our lives with those around us.
Maybe in all of our teaching and striving to “succeed,” the push for the “A” and not for the “B,” we sometimes miss the incredible power of just learning to “be.”
To be – at rest and at peace.
To be – happy and content.
To be – secure in who we were created to be.
To be – great in the unique gifts we have inside.
To be – free.
May God help us change our attention and focus towards what matters most. May we release ourselves from unnecessary burden and stress. May we encourage and equip young hearts to be all they can possibly be in this life.
Such freedom found there. Moms…Dads…press on; you are building greatness in the lives of your kids.
Hug your child today. Look them in the eye. Tell them again how proud you are of them. Say what you love most about them, about who they are, on the inside. They may not tell you this, but they need to hear those words no matter how old they are. And maybe for a change, don't talk about tests or scores or how they did on something at school, just go do something fun. Laugh. And enjoy these amazing, precious gifts who may one day change the world.
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7
“Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Philippians 4:6
"...this I know that God is for me." Ps. 56:9
He is. Always with them, always for them.
Debbie McDaniel is a writer, pastor's wife, mom to three amazing kids (and a lot of pets). Join her each morning on Fresh Day Ahead's facebook page, DebbieWebbMcDaniel, for daily encouragement in living strong, free, hope-filled lives. Find her also at Twitter.