My dad kept meticulous journals. Since his death, I've been slowly going through them. I stumbled upon this little nugget. What great wisdom in this journal entry:
"Dr. [Joe] indicated that Lenaya was moving quickly in her correspondence courses. I gave her the following advice in my letter: "One thing you should know. Although I know you have always been capable of good grades, and of course generally have gotten them, grades are less important to me than that you learn the things you study and experience the joy of learning. I had a friend in college who was a straight A student but who did not know the joy of learning; I always thought he was pretty sad. What you accomplish is important of course, but you are so much more than just the sum of your accomplishments. Your sweet, vivacious, intelligent, warm, wonderful personality is so much larger than a mere list of classes and grades. Study hard, yes, and learn, but don't let grades be the bottom line. Grades will generally but not always follow a zest for learning, but the zest is so much more important than the actual grades." I hope she takes the advice; I probably give her too much advice."
I can hear my dad saying these words so clearly, he could have said them to me yesterday instead of being gone from our mortal earth for more than two years! I don't remember this particular letter, but this was a sentiment he often expressed to all five of his children. It resonated with me, and I believe, with my siblings too. We all found joy in the journey. We all love learning. We all cherish knowledge more for the sake of thought than for financial compensation. But the one line, "You are so much more than just the sum of your accomplishments" I'm not sure resonated so fully for me. Is that true? Doesn't the world tell us all the time that we matter based on our contribution; our importance; our popularity? I certainly struggled with this in my youth: see The Pathways Home first 200 pages, but I wonder now if I still struggle with this.
You see, I don't find my value based on my accomplishments, but I'm definitely guilty of seeking value based on the sum of my children's accomplishments. I don't mean to... in fact, before this week I'm not sure I ever realized I did it. But aren't our children a reflection of us? Doesn't their good behavior suggest successful parenting and bad behavior, well, doesn't that mean we are failing? Now logically, in my mind, I know that is absolutely not true! I spent a fair amount of time in the book indicating just how false that was. I believe that with my own parents whole-heartedly! I KNOW that my poor choices were NEVER a reflection of their poor parenting.
And yet I apparently need to do some serious soul-searching and self-analyzing because last week, it was a dozy! My four-year-old suddenly out of nowhere after having been potty trained for more than two years began peeing his pants. I was overwhelmed with concern which was followed by feelings of complete failure. See, I am not the sum of my accomplishments, but my son's regression in accomplishments made me feel inadequate for weeks. And that's a bummer... because I am more than the sum of my son's accomplishments; and HE is more than the sum of his developmental milestones. Such hypocrisy was running around these parts!
So I had to ask myself why am I doing this to myself? And I realized something really important happened. Although my value is NOT determined by the behavior of my children, sometimes the things they do are excellent wake-up calls for us parents. I discovered that he did FAR better when he got more attention; when I was softer, quieter. I found the gentler my approach (which by no means comes naturally for me), the more successful he was. Also, the more I saw him... I mean really saw him for who he is. The other night was our date night, and he told me, "Mama I'm gonna treat you so good!" I had to laugh, but it was sweet and stuck with me. Am I treating him so good? If I'm worried about my success based on his behavior, then I surely am failing him. But if I instead use his behavior as a compass of sorts to help guide me in the difficult, beautiful experience that is motherhood, well, then I think that goes hand in hand with my dad's advice, "The zest is so much more important than the actual grades." And yes! I can apply this to my whole life! The zest is so much more important than the one-year-old having a melt down. The zest is so much more important than being first or best or having the most trophy's. The truth is, the awards or accolades are typically the least impressive parts. It has been a profound and important reminder to me.
On the flip side, we have to also be careful not to commandeer our children's accomplishments as our own. In October, Xiana made the choice to be baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I was so proud of her. I felt such relief that she was so good. When she was confirmed, she sobbed telling me she could feel the Holy Ghost so strongly. I know that I was not as spiritually sensitive when I was 8-years-old. Again, the temptation to determine my value based on her accomplishments was front and center. Doesn't that mean that I'm such a good parent? Aren't I so special and wise to have such an old soul for a daughter? It's silly really, but it truly does work both ways. We have to be careful not to feel like we are the sum of our accomplishments OR failures just as we have to be careful to understand that is true of our children as well. President Monson's profound yet simple statement reiterates what my dad wrote in his journal twenty years ago.
And I would add to it, the zest is so much more important than [fill in the blank]. And it truly is!