Why I Raised My Kids To Be Mediocre

When my son was in elementary school he was invited to join the Math team.  Invitations into this circle were reserved for those who excelled in the subject.  Assuming that anyone on whom such an honor was bestowed would be thrilled, I enthusiastically congratulated him.

“I’m not doing it,” he told me in a tone of utmost finality.

“Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you enjoy it,” he explained.

What followed on the heels of the recognition of my son’s academic prowess was unexpectedly negative.  He had been outed as smart – a label that repelled him.  He would spend the next several years trying to undo it.

It wasn’t the ‘smart’ part that my son minded.  He just didn’t want the responsibility that came with it.  Grown-ups expect a lot from little achievers.  Once a child proves that he can rise to the top, the pressure to remain there is immense.

I know this because I, too, was labeled a ‘smart one.’ Rare was the occasion that my academic report card didn’t prove my potential for a great future. It was thrilling to my second-generation blue-collar parents to brag about my achievements and the future they dreamed for me.  “She’s going to be a doctor,” my father would tell people, without ever asking me what I wanted for a career.

I decided that I didn’t want my own children to become puppets who performed for their parents, teachers or coaches.  Nor did I want them to depend on recognition.  Which is why I raised them to be mediocre.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want them to excel or work to their full potential.  Rather, I wanted them to know that it’s okay to be just okay; and that they can have a full and successful life even if they never become ‘the best’ at anything.

If I had encouraged my children to stay up late studying, worry themselves silly, and pile their efforts on top of their talents, they may have won more recognition from admirers.  But none held the promise of happiness, or a good career, or even a college acceptance. 

What happens when we give children opportunities for relaxation and playtime no matter the amount of homework?  They learn to balance their time, get their work done, and still leave space for the things that sustain their souls – a practice many adults have abandoned to their detriment.

What happens when we forbid them from comparing themselves to their peers or siblings, and we teach ourselves to do the same? They learn to encourage others, instead of envy them, thereby preserving faith in themselves.

When children are groomed to detach love from performance, and they have no fear of judgment from the adults they look up to, they’re excited to try new things, even if they don’t excel at them.  They’re unafraid of failure and more apt to take positive risks.  And they make better choices for themselves – ones that will lead to fulfillment of their unique purpose in life.

My college Junior texted me an observation.  “I’m so relieved that you don’t bug me about grades or my schedule or things that are going on because you trust me.  I have friends whose parents harass them on a daily basis.”

As parents, we sometimes fear that if our children don’t adhere to our metrics for success, they’ll fail at life.  We think that they can’t or won’t survive without our interference, and we condition them to believe the same. Secretly, we also may worry that they’ll embarrass or disappoint us because we believe that the way our kids’ lives look reflect on our own success as a parent.

So we formulate plans for them as if it’s a roadmap with an indisputable delineation of paths.  Do this and you’ll arrive at success.  Do that and you’ll be a worthless bum who can’t support yourself and will end up living under my roof until I die.

The truth is that when children are intrinsically motivated, instead of by the promise of glory, or the threat of a dissatisfied adult, they’re more able to sort out the pieces of their own puzzle and not be tempted to throw it in the trash. 

If children learn how to slice up the pie chart of life in a way that sustains them for the long haul, but not necessarily in a way that impresses others, they’re more likely to enjoy the journey and less likely to resent it.  When no one asks them to take on the impossible task of being the best, children end up being self-reliant, successful, and anything but mediocre.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Deb D
    Jun 15, 2020 @ 10:58:03

    I appreciate the dialogue. Success is a complicated and somewhat subjective topic, especially as related to parenting. Capturing that in one post is tricky.


  2. Ronald Ross
    Jun 12, 2020 @ 19:15:44

    I wonder if you needed a doctor, a hair stylist, a plumber are you ok with just an average one?
    Here’s what I do want to know, what job do you have now? Did your parents pushing you help you achieve that so now you can sit back and are more economically prepared to help your kids go to good schools and gave a safety net? Are they getting good grades without you “hounding” them as to what their grades are?


    • Deb D
      Jun 13, 2020 @ 17:51:18

      Thank you for your comments Ronald. I’m happy to answer your questions if they are in earnest.
      Perhaps the point was missed that the end goal is not mediocrity. Rather, that standard measurements of ‘superiority’ miss the mark of success and alter the development of one’s natural instinct to succeed and find meaning.
      When I contract with a provider, I pick one that cares enough about what they do to invest their best work. I judge the services I receive by process and outcomes. I’ve never asked anyone for their educational transcripts, but I’d bet that at least some of them were mediocre students.
      My children who are still in school get ‘good’ grades because I don’t focus on their grades. They know what they need to do to get where they want to go. And they know that all their choices have consequences. None of my children strive to fail.
      Your question about an economic safety net is a fair one and I see why you ask it. To answer directly, my children have invested financially in their own higher education with a full understanding of the end result. They have no delusion of a ‘safety net.’ Which is to say that when they launch, they make their own way, debt and all.


      • Ronald Ross
        Jun 14, 2020 @ 22:00:49

        See now I do agree with you. Let me say my original post was after a discussion about your post. I think the fact that your end result, being exceptional, is what others I talk to do not understand. I think if you have instilled in your kids a self determination to do the right thing, then you have done what many of us would wish for our own kids. It seems your kids may reach their potential and do not need a prodding.
        The problem I see, that I believe others misconstrue in your post, is that mediocre or being average, especially for those that have high potential is on Ok outcome.

  3. Deb D
    Sep 13, 2018 @ 13:34:22

    Here, here!


  4. Deb D
    Sep 13, 2018 @ 13:33:35

    Glad to share it with you. May you enjoy the peace in mediocrity!


  5. E Palmer
    Sep 13, 2018 @ 13:00:57

    Love this one!


  6. heather manolian
    Sep 13, 2018 @ 11:55:30

    Wow you nailed it!! Here’s to mediocrity!! 😁👍🏻


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