Teaching Our Kids To Feel Extraordinary
Yes, by all accounts, today was a very ordinary day.
There are so many days like today—so many ordinary, nothing special days. No extraordinary events, no dramatic celebrations, no on-top-of-the-world accomplishments. But have you noticed that it is days like today—these ordinary, nothing special days—that make up the majority of our lives? It isn’t the shining moments, the extraordinary opportunities, or the big breaks that make up a life. In fact, the highs from those things tend to be fleeting, sometimes disappearing before we have even had a chance to open the bottle of champagne. It is the ordinary, nothing special days that stick around. John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” Well, I think that life is what happens when you are busy living ordinary days.
Yet every message I see—every ad and commercial, every Facebook update, every filtered and Photoshopped photo—seems to be promoting the extraordinary. It’s no wonder so many of us feel like we’re a step behind, like we’re not enough this or that, like we’re languishing in the ordinary.
We tell our kids that they can be whatever they want. Because they can be. We tell them to shoot for the stars. Because they should. We tell them that they are good and kind and smart and brave. Because, of course, they are.
But in our quest to teach them to be strong and daring and, dare I say, extraordinary, I can’t help but wonder if we are somehow forgetting to teach them to appreciate the ordinary? In our encouragement of Big and Bold Dreams, are we forgetting to nurture the soft and quiet ones? Are we prioritizing a moment of greatness at the expense of a life of goodness?
Fortunately, children seem to be programmed to find joy in the ordinary, to find purpose in simply being good and kind. My youngest son absolutely lights up when someone compliments the good snacks that he picked out at the grocery store, and he is never prouder than when he is able to make his brother laugh or feel better. Kids, it seems, just want to love and be loved, be kind and brave, and do the right thing.
A couple of weeks ago, my son, Jackson, told my husband about some trouble he was having with a boy in his class. We talked about how sometimes kids can feel kind of icky inside and just need a friend. We talked about things he could do to help the boy feel better. And we suggested that he spend the next day at school being extra nice to the boy … you know, just to see what would happen.
The next day I waited in my usual spot on the playground after school. Jackson usually saunters over to me, dawdling and goofing off with friends along the way. Yet on that day he ran over and the first thing he blurted out was, “Guess what?! I was extra nice to so-and-so and he was nice to me too!” Now let me explain something: Not once has Jackson ever come running to me with news of any kind after school. Not ever. Never. Not when he aced a spelling test. Not when he scored the winning goal in gym class. Never. Ever. Information tends to flow out of him more like a leaky faucet than a burst pipe, coming in bits and pieces, slowly and over a long period of time. But this news—the news of being brave and kind, of trying to be good friend—was something that he just couldn’t wait to share. This, to him, was absolutely extraordinary.
While children might have Big and Bold Dreams of becoming an astronaut or an actress or a major league baseball player, I think that they really just want to know that the soft and quiet dreams—things like being a good friend, trying hard, loving wholeheartedly, and being loved unconditionally—are enough, that these things are more than enough.
When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a mother and raising a happy family. I had a few Big and Bold Dreams, too, things like traveling to faraway places and owning a couple horses, but most of my dreams were soft and quiet. I wanted to have a strong marriage and build a loving family. I wanted to create a comfortable home, maintain good relationships with extended family and have a handful of enduring friendships. I wanted a desk where I could do whatever work it was that I decided to do. I wanted to color pictures at the table with my kids, read stories before bed at night, make cookies and dance in the kitchen with my husband.
Yet now that I am essentially living out these soft and quiet dreams that I had as a child, some days it just doesn’t feel like I am enough. I tell myself that I need to do more, be more, have more. Something in me or around me tells me that I should be better at this or that, that I have dropped one of the way-too-many balls that I am juggling (family, marriage, career, friends and more), that I have fallen short and am not quite enough.
And something tells me that I am not alone because I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: I know too many people who are good parents, who are good employees, who have healthy marriages and solid relationships, who are kind and good people living out their soft and quiet dreams each and every day, yet still feel like they are not enough, like they are falling behind in some way, like they are somehow a disappointment because they haven’t achieved their Big and Bold Dreams.
So I find myself wondering: How can we encourage our children’s Big and Bold Dreams while nurturing the soft and quiet ones as well? How can we help them shoot for the stars while teaching them that there is more than enough right here, around them and within them? How can we prevent our children from developing this feeling of never enough-ness that so many of us feel as adults?
Well, I think it starts with the difficult task of teaching ourselves these lessons. It starts with respecting our Big and Bold Dreams, but living out our own soft and quiet dreams with pride and confidence. It starts with praising the times that we, as adults, have tried hard and loved fully and acted bravely, regardless of the outcome. It starts with showing ourselves a little kindness and mercy; prioritizing things like friendship and community and family; and congratulating ourselves for all the ways that we are doing a pretty amazing job as a parent, spouse, friend, sister, brother, neighbor or whatever. It starts by treating every day like a special one, by deeming ourselves to be special and more than enough.
There is a popular poem by William Martin that starts with “Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives” and ends with the advice to, instead, “make the ordinary come alive for them” because the “the extraordinary will take care of itself.” If there is one poem that embodies my parenting philosophy it is this one, and its prophetic words continue to ring true in my own life as well. Because what I have found is that the times when I have done something with an eye on the potential prestige or in a quest for something extraordinary, I have been sorely disappointed. But the times when I have done something with kindness, courage and a full heart, the times when I have made the ordinary come alive, the results have always been … well … extraordinary.
As parents, we all have Big and Bold dreams for our children. But as much as I want my children to shoot for the stars, I want them to be content and satisfied here on the ground. I want them to learn how to be a good friend, not just as a child but as an adult, when friendships become harder to maintain and more important than ever. I want them to figure out how to love their enemies. I want them to be hard workers and good employees, of course, but above all I want them to be good brothers, good husbands and good parents (should they choose to become a husband or a parent, of course). I want them to understand the power of stillness and rest and listening. I want them to know the value of a handwritten letter, a long hug and comfortable silence.
And, more than anything, when they lay their heads on their pillows at night, I want their last thought before falling asleep to be: Today was special. Today I loved and was loved. Today I lived. Today was extraordinary.
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