Thursday, December 18, 2008

Together-Mom Revisited

.....and we're back! After talking to every human being who works at IBM, and more than a few computer voice mazes, over the past 36 hours I finally found someone who had a clue. He had me remove my battery, unplug everything, replug everything, and by golly, we have liftoff! Hallelujah, it's a Christmas miracle!

One person at IBM told me that it was going to cost $475+tax to fix this damn thing, so I am THRILLED beyond all sense - especially since I only paid $500 to begin with - that the fix was so simple. HOORAY!

Note to self, back up pictures today.

Anyway, back to the content, I just got this comment on my "Together Mom" post:
Good blog. It helps. Any comments on the "together moms" that appear to have "together kids" and a "together house"? Arrrrgggh! Each of my kids does only ONE activity (lesson, sport or music). My husband likes to see us all at the dinner table and honestly my whole family cherishes our stable family dinners. Plus, we have most Saturdays off to just sit by the pool or whatever. Is this why my kids didn't make the "Gifted Program"? I think they will still get into the local university when the time comes. Any thoughts?
Of course I have thoughts!

First of all, research shows that one of the best things you can do to insulate your kids from future problems (dropping out of school, getting pregnant at 13, using drugs and alcohol, etc.) is to have a meal with them regularly. This comes straight from Dr. Dave (who also informed me that popular ideas about parenting are about 20 years behind current research - we have to find a way to get that information faster! Preferably a way that doesn't require me to stay in therapy so that I can post them all here, because the co-pay went up, folks, and I can't afford Dr. Dave anymore!). The other thing, incidentally, is to teach them from an early age to help. If you have your kids set the table, for example, and say, "You're such a good helper!" that's good stuff. He said that if you only teach your kid one value, teach them the value of being a helper...

I digress. So, firstly, you are already doing something so right by having a family meal. Pat yourself on the back.

Second, there is no proof at all that having your kids in every possible activity will make them gifted. I firmly believe, as a former "gifted" student and someone who went to school to be a teacher, that giftedness is geneticly predetermined. There are things that you can do to give your kids a leg up (read to them, take them to science museums instead of movies, etc.), but your kid has an IQ range that is (probably) pre-set. No matter what you do, most kids are going to fall in the 90 - 110 range (that's why it's the middle - the scale is set up to be a bell curve) and all you can do is help them to achieve their maximum individual pre-set level.

In other words, I believe that everyone is born with a range that is determined by their genes. Environmentally, you can do things to help them achieve their maximum potential, but you're not going to be able to take an average kid and make him gifted, any more than you're going to be able to do something to make a kid with a mental handicap average. You have to work within the realistic boundaries of each child's abilities. You provide the environment, full of books and fun educational activities and opportunities to learn, and help them be the best person, the best student, the smartest kid that they can realistically be.

Also, having a high IQ isn't necessarily predictive of future happiness or success. I was in the gifted program in grade school and I dropped (flunked) out of the state university the first time. I was on the Dean's list when I graduated from the other state university, so I figured it out... It took time, though, and drive, and *I* had to do it - my parents couldn't do it for me. Meanwhile, my husband, who was never identified as "gifted" in school is now an actual rocket scientist. And "gifted" Amy? My maximum income in my life (before I decided to stay home and raise kids) was about $35,000 a year. Husband's starting income was almost double that. So, um... Don't hang your hat on the whole "gifted" thing.

I firmly believe that it's more important to teach your kids the value of helping, the value of hard work, the value of not giving up, and the value of being really good at one thing (instead of a "jack of all trades master of none" like me!), the value of problem solving (and how to do it), the value of scientific thought... than it is to have them be "gifted." All "gifted" really means, in the schools, is "we're going to stick this group of kids in a special class so that they aren't bored to tears in the other class." They're not giving out the keys to the kingdom in the separate class, either. I remember, mostly, doing those puzzles where you have five kids, five colors of hat, and five snacks, and given a few clues you have to figure out which kid has which hat and which snack. I promise that this has never, ever come up in actual life. Calculus, which I wish I knew, actually comes up occasionally. Puzzles? Not so much. Unless I'm doing a puzzle.

It's important for us, as parents, to figure out what our goals are for our children and to do things to help them reach those goals. What goal would be reached by being a 4 sport athlete? A prodigy at violin? A gymnast? A physicist?

Here's how it works in our everyday life for me - I have my kids in gymnastics because I am not someone who enjoys physical activity, and I want them to have a background of feeling good about exercise, feeling competent in activity, before they get to P.E. classes (which are designed to crush your soul and make you hate exercise forever - seriously, those uniforms? Puh-lease). When they're a little bigger, I will encourage them to play an instrument because I enjoyed playing (piano and cello) and it helped me appreciate music as an adult (even though I no longer play). It also helped me learn fractions when I was a kid. BJ is a black belt in ju-jit-su, and he wants to encourage our kids to pursue martial arts, because it is something that shaped his life. He feels that he learned valuable lessons from martial arts that he wants to pass on to our kids.

Will they do all of those things at once? Heck no. If Mary Grace turns out to be an Olympic caliber gymnast, I'll probably drop my plans for her to play an instrument. If it turns out that Claire loves the clarinet, I probably won't keep her in gymnastics. We have to have goals, but we also have to be flexible and allow them to select their own passions. We have a limited amount of time in a week, and we have to use it wisely.

As kids get older, they naturally start selecting their own activities more and more. As the parent of young kids, I'm hopeful that by listening to a lot of music I'll help them love music. I'm hopeful that by taking them to the gym a few times a week to play gymnastics, I'll help them be more coordinated than I am... But I have no illusions that I'm raising the next Mary Lou Retton or Yo Yo Ma, here. I just want them to be happy, interesting, well-rounded people. I feel that it's my duty to expose them to a lot of different activities so that when they're older they have a wide base of interests to choose from.

Plus, it all gets us out of the house.

When I saw Dr. Dave I was concerned that I wasn't a good wife, a good mother, or a good person. He had me list the things I thought a good wife/mother/person was. When I put, "A good mother has healthy kids," he said, "Wait a minute, that's not in your control. Is a mother with a child who has cancer a bad mother?" I said, "Of course not," and revised it to say, "A good mother obtains the best possible medical care for her kids - that's something I can control.

You can't control whether or not your kids are gifted, but you can provide an environment that allows them to maximize their potential. You're already doing this in having family dinners. Free time (as in, unstructured time to select their own activities/play) also helps children develop skills that will aid them as adults. Allowing them to choose one activity will help them learn to use their time wisely and be selective in what they pay attention to. Encouraging them to do well in school, by allowing time in your family schedule for homework, will help them do as well in their classes as they are able. Family activities that encourage exploration and discovery - trips to the science museum, the aquarium, the planetarium, the library - will help them become lifelong learners, and will help them associate learning with recreation.

Honestly, Anonymous, I think you're doing just fine.

As for the together moms with the together kids and the together house - I promise you that it's an illusion. We all get the same number of hours in a day, and as long as our activities are reflective of our values - if we spend that time making and eating a healthy family dinner together instead of running to the fourth activity of the evening and grabbing take out on the way - I think we're doing just fine. Those together moms may not have a healthy relationship with their husbands or their extended families, or they may be in major debt (financing all those activities and the cleaning lady to keep the house perfect!), or they may be on speed... Who knows? We're all doing the best we can, and at the end of the day as long as you are true to your core values - which seem to be family and togetherness - I think you're fine.

In our family, we value togetherness and connection. We value laughter and music. We value learning and science. We value enjoyable physical activity. We value good, healthy food. We value rest and "down time." We spend our time accordingly. Sounds like you do, too.

In my book, that makes you a "together mom" - even if you have dust bunnies under your sofa and your kids are in the "regular" classes. If I were a kid, I'd rather be in your family than some overscheduled family that never gets a chance to sit down and eat and laugh together. If you still feel like you're not measuring up, sit down with your husband and your kids (if they're old enough) and make a list of what your family values... Then figure out how you can structure your time to reflect those values more accurately. Be true to your core values, as a person and as a family, and stop trying to live up to some unattainable "ideal mom/ideal family" illusion. I promise you'll be happier as a result.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

I loved your blog!