Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Last night was middle school open house. The spring open house is usually more sparsely attended, so it was a great chance to have uninterrupted sessions devoted to hearing our two middle schoolers' teachers sing their praises.

Now, these are the two kids, who, it doesn't seem so long ago, hid from me, "forgot" assignments, argued constantly, and (in Neal's-13 case) took forever to read, and who I thought would always struggle in school. We still deal constantly with character issues at home that seem larger than life sometimes. However, from last night's teachers' reports, apparently at school, my children are kind, thoughtful, helpful, and well-liked. (Every now and then a parent needs to hear that the myriad of failures we see at home are not always the complete picture of how our children really are turning out!)

While all of Neal's female teachers seem to love his politeness (teaching him to answer "Yes, Ma'am," was clearly the most significant investment in his future success at school!), early in the semester, one of the coaches told Allie-14 (8th grade) that Neal (a year behind her, in 7th grade) was "goofing off" in his athletics class. Never one to micromanage, I figured if it were bad enough, the coach would have called me, but Dennis took the opportunity last night to probe the matter.

Turns out, Neal's not skipping, not passing notes, not missing homework. No, in fact, the coach said, "His behavior was nothing that would raise flags for any other kid. It's just that we knew his sister [Allie], so we had very high expectations of him. He's got some big shoes to fill."

At first I was a little taken aback at the comment. First of all, because Allie is a very competitive athlete, and naturally enjoys PE. The type of student every coach must just love. Neal, on the other hand, is coordinated, enjoys biking and skateboarding, and played football because every other seventh grade boy did.

But athletics is not his passion. His passion is music. It's not fair to compare two very different children.

But the more I thought about it, I realized the coach was not talking about ability, especially not physical ability. He was talking about recognizing potential. Whether Neal ever ends up being a star athlete or not, his coach realizes that he has leadership qualities - qualities of good character - somewhere under that quirky seventh grade boy's facade that will go untapped unless we expect them of him.

Qualities a teacher might not have known to expect of Neal, if he did not have an older sister.

Or of Libby (10) if she didn't have an older brother...
Or of Annie (6) if she did not have an older sister...
Or of Ruthie (4) if she did not have an older sister...

Lord knows, I'm not talking about the kind of expectation to be perfect that stresses kids out. I'm talking about the kind of positive peer pressure that helps kids see that they have something that not only reflects on them, but also reflects them: their family name.

Kids need to know that they can rise to the occasion. I believe Neal will. Someone's gone on before, and several girls behind him are watching. Expectations can be a good thing.
A good name is more desirable than great riches;
to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
Proverbs 22:1


Ginger said...

Wow - great post! Yes, this family is a team and what one individual does reflects on the rest as well. I hope that our kids will come alongside one another and encourage eachother on - the positive peer pressure.

The Roaming Southerner said...

yeah, I think positive peer pressure is a good thing in some ways. I always made sure I behaved the way that I would want my brothers too because my parents always told me that they were watching me. (oldest and only girl--can we all say mini-mom complex?). The good thing was when I was in college my brother said he didn't drink in high school cause I didn't and he saw that "it can be done!" That was good to hear.

I think encouraging the younger kids that the even younger kids are watching helps keep that mentality (I don't know what you do with the youngest: say a cousin, the dog?)

Laura said...

Oh great post. So incredibly true too!

Mommy-fied said...

Yes, expectations can be good. In fact they are impt. Like you said Katherine, if not they may not discover their potential.

I used to work in the "youth industry", not quite directly but more office based. And I remember coming across a study of kids who became resilient despite their troubled backgrounds. Two main factors were consistent in helping them. One a strong mentor who took them under their wings. Two, positive expectations were made known to them.

I was always more afraid of over stressing a kid by placing too high expectations and didn't realise until then that no expectations was not a good thing either.

I just pray I'll know how to balance! Thanks for sharing an example.

Kristina at Learn2Luv2Run said...

great post, great reminders

Unknown said...

Great thoughts. It's hard to keep them separate, and I think even looking at each individual as one who might change in even their own interests. They are lucky to have you as their advocate.

Anonymous said...

My 2 brothers set the path for us-they had a terrible reputation. My sister did not even try to overcome it. I've always been very quiet, a pleaser, and it worked for some teachers but a couple (a husband and wife who taught in the same school and whos kids attended with my brothers)in HS wouldn't give me a fair chance. I could not get higher than a C grade in any of their classes but worse was the animosity I felt from them.