Just Okay IS Okay: Redefining the “Excellence” Narrative

Years ago, all my friends enrolled their three-year-olds in full-day preschool. Not because they were working and needed it for child care. No, it was to make sure they were getting a head start in their education. 

I couldn’t imagine my three-year-olds in school all day already, so I kept my children home with me and enrolled them in some short exploratory classes at the community center. 

When kindergarten signups began, all my friends enrolled their children at the new charter school, since the in-district school had a not-so-stellar reputation. Everything in me warned me that this might not be the right place for my family, but I was worried. Maybe I had doomed my kids by not enrolling them in preschool. Maybe we were already way behind!

I signed them up for the charter school, and while there were many excellent things we experienced there, it turned out my gut feeling was right. It was absolutely the wrong place for my kids.

I won’t go into details now, but I learned that I need to listen to my intuition when it comes to my children’s education.  

Over the years, my approach has greatly differed from many around me.

And I’ve probably suffered socially for it. I mean, what is there to talk about at mom’s groups if you’re not bragging about your kids’ latest academic achievements? (That is sarcasm by the way. Kind of).

I’m in the thick of it now, with college applications just around the corner for my oldest. All the blogs will tell you your child needs to be a leader in every activity they join, excel at every sport or art, and get top grades in every class at the highest level possible in order to go to their chosen college. But I just can’t get on board with that!

My kids are great students! But they’re not “exceptional”, and I hate that I feel like I should have to justify that. I am just so tired of the rat race. Why the pressure to make our kids take five AP classes a year, retake the SATs three times (and spend hundreds if not thousands for tutoring) in hopes of a slightly better score, or only celebrate 4.0+ GPAs?

(Note- I am not talking about students who have the internal drive or natural ability to excel and choose these classes and activities. I’m talking about the parental side of things– our own personal expectations that may cause us to push where we shouldn’t.)

Where does that leave everyone else?

What about my daughter who struggles with anxiety? How about the students struggling with a learning disability? What if they just don’t like school, but are good humans? Do we really have to accept the narrative that it’s “only the best or nothing”?

I don’t want my children to ever believe that my love and support for them is conditional on their success in school or in their chosen activity.

And so, some of my attitudes have changed over time to try to preserve those relationships.

  • I am ok with lower grades if I know my kids are honestly doing their best
  • My husband and I try to balance between pushing when they need a little help stretching out of their comfort zones and being okay with a choice that might be different than the one I would make. 
  • I don’t push my kids to take certain classes, other than what is needed for graduation/college entrance. They work with their teachers and counselor, and I offer my input only if requested.
  • I don’t check the grade book often unless they give me a reason to.
  • I trust them to know their own capabilities better than I do. If my daughter thinks a certain AP class is more than she can handle, who am I to tell her otherwise? 
  • I trust that whatever their post-high school plans are, my kids will figure it out. I know very few people actually doing what they went to school for (myself included).

So if you want permission to ease up, you have it. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids. It doesn’t mean they will fail if they don’t get into Harvard or win a full-time scholarship. The reality is, most of our kids won’t do either of those things. 

The kids will be alright. You will be too. So don’t be afraid to be okay with OK.

To rephrase the popular commercial: Just okay is okay. It’s more than okay. It’s great.

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Valerie grew up Naperville, Illinois, and is a Midwestern girl at heart even though she spent 16 years in Phoenix. She moved to Marion in 2016 with her husband, daughter (14), and two sons (12 and 9). Valerie graduated from BYU with a degree in Instrumental Music Education. She is a former band director, a current substitute teacher and accompanist, and an avid reader and crafter.

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