The Faithful Scribbler

A Catholic Mother In A Secular World

An Open Letter To Parents, From the Faithful Scribbler

on October 26, 2012

Dear Parents,

Please stop talking about how smart your child is.  Please stop bragging to anyone who will listen (and many who’d rather not!) about how Justin knew his colors at 3 months and was reading the Wall Street Journal at 12!  Please don’t bore me with the details of how to teach your toddler long division before they are potty trained.  I’m really not that interested.

I’ve worked with thousands of children in the last 15 years– as a teacher, as a summer camp director, and as a healthcare professional.  I hate to break it to you, Mom, but although Justin may be reading Chaucer before bed, he hits when he’s angry and eats his boogers when he’s bored….or when he’s boogery…or hungry…or it’s a day of the week ending in ‘y’.

Justin is average, at best.  I’m so sorry to dash your illusions!  I know you were thinking that having a “smart” child means you’re a great parent.  I know you were measuring your success rate by his test scores, and the speed at which he is hitting classic developmental milestones.  I know you feel validated that he’s being tested for the ‘gifted’ program at school.


IF little Justin IS in fact “smart”….let’s say, for the sake of argument he’s a GENIUS (which, frankly, is unlikely), does that make him GOOD?

Does it make him kind?





Does he have self-discipline?  A heart for serving others?  Is he a good sport?  Is he fair?  Does he love or know the Lord?

Wouldn’t you rather answer “yes” to these questions, regardless of those test scores?!  Let’s not forget– ‘smart’ is not a measure of character!

Please take some time to re-evaluate why you care so much about ‘smart’.  Is it the culture of Baby Einstein videos?  Something about your personal values?  Something society tells you is most important?  Stop and ponder for a moment… what if little Justin WASN’T so “smart”?

What if little Justin didn’t walk until he was two years old?  What if he never walked at all!?

What if Justin couldn’t speak until he was three?

What if he was still strugging with learning his colors in kindergarten, or couldn’t learn to read until third grade?

What if?!  Would Justin be less of a person?  Would you love him, and celebrate the miracle of his life, LESS?  Would you be embarassed at the playground, with nothing to brag about?  Would you be disappointed?

I am a special needs parent.  My child didn’t walk until she was two years old.  My child didn’t speak until three and half years of age, and even now, at age 5, her language is sometimes unintelligible.  Although her IQ is average to high, she is struggling to learn to read.  She can not sit still in class.  She can not control her emotions and has a hard time in gym class becuase she does not understand games with multiple rules.  When the gym teacher says “knock down the other team’s bowling pin”, she does not understand why the other team keeps getting in her way, preventing her from doing as he’s asked.

Is she smart?  Who can say?  The truth is I don’t really care.  I want her to work to her potential, whatever that may be, because I want her to be determined, tenacious, and committed, not because the test score validates her…or me for that matter!  I want to raise a child who is honest, fair, faithful, generous, truthful, humble and kind.  I can honestly tell you we’re not there yet.  She is some of those things, and some of those things need work.  She’s in kindergarten, after all!

Today in gym class, Little Scribbler and her two buddies from the special ed kindergarten were having a hard time understanding the rules of Steal the Bacon.  They participate with a general ed kindergarten during art, music, and PE.  Little Scribbler also joins the general ed kindergarten for Math and Reading.  She and her buddies don’t understand Steal the Bacon.  They break the rules.  Other “smart” children yell at them and belittle them for not understanding.  They get indignant that LS and her buddies stepped across the center line of the gym.  They are angry that their team didn’t win, because LS and her buddies don’t understand.  These kids.  These ‘smart’ kids.

And then, in the middle of 45 screaming five year olds, a little girl in a white hair bow steps across the line, from her side of the gym to LS’s side of the gym.  She picks up four balls, and hands one each to LS and her buddies.  She shows them how to play.  They cross the line again.  She retrieves the balls, guides them back to where they belong, and repeats her explaination.  It goes on for 20 minutes.

THAT is a child who’s mother should be bragging.  That child is kind, self-donative, patient, compassionate and loving.  That is a child who can’t stand to see other children suffering, even in this small way, and takes matters into her own hands.  That child has character worth bragging about.  I wonder who that child will grow up to be.  I bet she’ll be someone I’d want to know.

Food for thought.


The Faithful Scribbler


7 responses to “An Open Letter To Parents, From the Faithful Scribbler

  1. I loved this post. Gracie is very compassionate and that is something I have to build on, because she is also very competitive. Thanks for making me think today

  2. Also, Gracie has been having a really hard time this week at school since her Babooshka died, and she has had 3 amazing friends (who she has only known since last month) really help her through the day with their compassion and help. You know those girls have good parents – such good caring and sharing at age 4 :) Sorry, your post really hit me hard today! Maybe I’ll send you an email!

  3. Kristy says:

    I hear you, other Kristy! I cried all afternoon after I left school. This tiny tiny girl was so unbelievably kind and I thought to myself, no one else is going to recognize her for it. And maybe they shouldn’t– it’s not as though we should be kind so that we can get accolades for it. I just wish we celebrated that kind of love more than this “smart” stuff. It really REALLY gets under my skin when people brag about smart, becuase it just doesn’t mean anything to me.

  4. Ali says:

    Just wanted to throw this out there, too. While I totally agree, I have a child who is extremely book smart, yet he has much difficulty reading and understanding the emotions of others. We have worked DILIGENTLY for the last five of his seven years trying to teach him to “get it”. He has made a lot of progress, but it often takes me explaining how the other party might feel in just about each and every situation. I is very hard for me when I see him not being able to empathize or put himself in the shoes of another, because without an explanation, he just doesn’t see it. He might be that “mean” child at the time, but feel horrible about it and degrade himself later after I explain to him how that person might have felt when he acted that way. Trust me, I have been horrified many times. So while he may not always be kind, he doesn’t mean it that way. He just doesn’t get it just like your dd doesn’t get steal the bacon. So, I think we have to be mindful that not all “delays” for lack of a better term, are visible. Because he is so academically smart, people do not understand why he also doesn’t always see through a situation involving the feelings of others. Thankfully, his empathy is starting to spontaneously show through now that he’s getting older, but it all comes from teaching. His brother, on the other hand, is naturally empathetic.

    So, I guess that “smart” does mean something to me because it is something my child is good at – the “smart” that you mention, anyway. I think we all like to be proud of the things our children are good at, and I think it’s ok to be proud of whatever that may be. But would I like for him to be naturally kind and generous just as other people might like their child to be naturally smart? Of course! But that is coming more slowly for him, just as academics come more slowly for others. I think the real issue here is that it’s all about the way we carry ourselves as PARENTS, and how we choose to share our children’s gifts with others. I think we need to be mindful of the fact that every single child is good at SOMETHING and be humble about singing our praises publicly. I hope that you don’t look down on the child who appears very smart, yet might appear “mean”, because that child could very well have some delays too. Nobody is good at everything.

  5. Ali says:

    And for the record, I also have a child that is naturally kind, generous, and empathetic. I fear academics may not come as easily for him. But, I will be super proud of him for that, just like I am proud of my naturally bright child who has difficulty with others’ feelings.

  6. twalton says:

    Kristy..what a great post..I often think about this myself. what are we teaching our kiddos in the way of morals and values. I try to teach my chldren about “unchangeables” –things people cannot change about themselves. This and compassion for others is what we should boast about!! Love this..thanks for sharing!!

    • Kristy says:

      Well said Allison! Its a good point to remember for me. Obvious issues are much easier for me to be patient with, but those”hidden” issues, like working to develop empathy, are just as valid.

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