Sunday, August 10, 2008

Redefining “Special”

Have you ever noticed that people take criticism much better when it is said about them than they ever do about their children? Don't believe it? Try making an observation about the negative behavior of a woman's husband, and she will probably jump aboard the gripe train with you for a solid hour. Try making a casual comment about her child not saying "please" and watch out! It isn't that parents aren't capable of seeing their child's flaws (believe me, we know every one and then some) but we really don't like having other people see them.

When I was a public school teacher, I was constantly talking with parents about things I noticed in their children while in my classroom. I always tried to balance the good things with the not so good things, but no matter how I phrased it, parents never took the criticism well. Now that I am a mom, hearing that my baby is not on level with other kids in her class, is an absolutely devastating reality. Where is that leveled headed realist who understood the eccentricities of each child? Well, I do believe that part of me completely evaporated the day I gave birth. For the first time, I am the parent. I want more than anything for my baby to succeed and for others to see only her strengths and not notice her weaknesses. I want others to see that she is very special. Isn't that what all parents want?

But here is my question… if every child is special, than how does that make being special special? Why am I such a nut about her excelling in math, reading, and science when there are always people who will be better at those things than she will ever be? Why do I feel the need to put her in every extracurricular activity that she has ever held a half hearted interest in if it will never result in her becoming a musical prodigy, world renowned ballerina, or Pulitzer Prize winner? If there are thousands of people who have already mastered those things, how will forcing her to master them make her special?? Maybe the problem is that we desperately need to change the meaning of the word special. Maybe we need to teach our kids that being special is not just about being smart or talented at something, but rather about being loving, kind, gentle, humble, honest, encouraging, dedicated, passionate, and positive all at the same time.

Think about it – how many people in your life have you known who can do math well?? How many people have you known who can play football well?? How many people have you know who can sing or play an instrument well? Chances are, there are several. We glorify these people on television, radio, and billboards all the time. Now think, how many people have you known who really find enjoyment in helping out a friend? Who can see the hurt in a friends eyes, and go out of their way to make them happy – even it if means acting the fool? Who find just as much joy in your accomplishments and rewards as you do, without jealousy or judgment? Who raise you up when you are weak, hold your hand when you fall, and throw a party when you succeed? How many people have you known who do all that? Chances are, unless you are really blessed, you haven't known many. That is because these types of people only come once in a lifetime. They only grace our lives on the rarest occasions. These type of people are truly unique… a rare find… they are truly special.

Instead of sobbing over a low test score, or mourning the loss of the honor roll placement, or beating kids over the head to learn their alphabet before they reach three, why don't you make a bigger deal about the bigger things? Celebrate their love for their peers, reward their desire to help those around them without having to be asked, jump for joy when they forgive someone who hurt them. If you see your child modeling a loving heart and attitude that truly personifies what it means to be "special" make that the ultimate accomplishment, the thing that they should strive to do. Help them to understand there is no other way they should want to be. That there is nothing more special than loving people more than themselves. That would make this world a truly special place to be now wouldn't it??

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