Outlier

Your child is on a path—the kid path, and you are on the parent one. This means that if your child’s needs change you will make the change and absorb the responsibility to make it so. It’s an eighteen year commitment to which you offer them a soft landing and the benefit of parental responsibility until they arrive at legal age. As years pass, some days you will look at your child and swear that everything is moving at warp speed and other times you will be left wondering when you ever decided to take on this heartbreaking work of staggering genius. I borrow this phase from Dave Eggers who used it to describe parenthood, when he was thrust into being the parent to his brother upon their parents’ deaths. Parenthood is well described by his artist’s hand.

Although the path is a given, it is the decisions that can overwhelm your thinking. Some decisions will be slam dunks but a few will challenge you to the depth of your soul because they will require a deviation from the norm, a break from the pack. It is because of this—the outlier path can give you pause, even though it is absolutely right.

Breaking from the step with the masses, bucking tradition, or striking out on your own. Many times these phases are high-jacked as descriptors of mavericks such as Marie Curie, Steve Jobs, and Richard Feynman. But there is a meaning that parents come to understand as years pass and children grow and mature, or one child becomes children, introducing a variety of personalities. A child’s interests will broaden to encompass a variety of actives such as art/dance/music classes, sports activities and school. You will look around, do your research, possibly pull from your own experience and make the best choice given all the known variables.

Keeping this in mind, you will make decisions for your child or children that run with the masses. If you live in San Francisco, your child will most likely look at all the same schools as their friends, enjoy all the same art programs or athletic opportunities, but it is possible that one or more may not be right for your child. However, there your child is nestled within the mass.

Here’s an example. There is a dance program that every family that you socialize with has a child in and your child is among the ranks. A year in, you can see that the program is no longer the right fit. You wish to remove your child but you are stressed by the decision to do so because you will leave relationships, change the direction of your child, and leave the people you know and care for. What is right for many is just not right for your child. Breath in and exhale. Your true objective is to develop a child with maturity and with the acquired resiliency skills that, as a young adult, allows them to manage their life and find happiness.

To offer a more salient example of a tough choice, let’s say that there is a school that has a reputation as a feeder to the top-tier high schools or colleges and your child gains entry. A couple years in, you know the fit is wrong, not because of academics but because of the culture. The long-term objective has not changed but the immediate process is wrong. Making a choice to take a path less traveled or completely revamping the direction your child is heading is okay. Sometimes a greater success can be found once a decision has been struck and a mind is turned.

If you or a relative went to a specific school, art class, or played on a certain caliber of sports team that does not mean that your child will enjoy the experience as you did. The word “enjoy” is a loose word that can be substituted with fascinated, intrigued, or excited. With this in mind, don’t be undone by the decision to make the change. As Lonna tells all, grow the tree you have. Give yourself the privilege to change your mind. Humanists, Maria Papova put this eloquently when she writes, allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.

The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.
–Albert Einstein

Of all the decisions that we make as parents, I have found the decisions most fraught with overthinking and sleepless nights are the ones that address the decisions about my children’s future, especially those wrapped up in emotions that I know put my child on an outlier path.

All of you will do right by your children and we want to acknowledge that doing right is not always easy, especially when it is contrary to an established norm.

Supplemental Material

Children

What Do You Do with a Problem?
Kobi Yamada, Illustrated by Mae Besom

We have enjoyed What You Do with an Idea last year and the problem book is just as helpful and aspiring. Problems like ideas stay with us until we solve them and give them permission to go away. As so many know, a problem that is not addressed has away of haunting our mind. Yamada has a simple and practical solution, while Besom adds with drawings that only add to a child’s ability to make problems larger then they are. In Yamada’s aspiration voice, a solution is readily at hand. Once solved, a level of self-awareness and optimism filled the space were worried had once stood strong.

Parents

Outliers: The Story of Success
Malcolm Gladwell

Mr. Gladwell is a well-enjoyed author who spends an exceptional amount of time in the library to find patterns that the rest of us find enjoyable but would not research. His mini-biographies on successful people and the nuisances of lives present a diagram for how individual uniqueness and choices can bring about excellent and rewarding lives. The outlier decision is an extrapolation of the outlier individual.

Educators

Question for Lonna

As a teacher and steward of children and families, you have helped many through the years when they made a choice contrary to the norm, please share your thoughts on the wisdom of the hard choice.

At some point our culture decided changing ones mind makes a child a quitter. Making this even more absurd is the over programming of children therefore they are often quitting something they never chose to begin with.

Being a parent means the times you listen and observe can be more important for your child than the times you talk. As difficult as it is, sometimes we have to let children make their own choices, even if we don’t agree. If soccer is all the rage but your child would rather draw, let him draw.

This becomes most difficult when your child is a young adult. One of my dearest friends lost her husband to cancer when their daughter was two. She has done a remarkable job raising Paige on her own. Paige did beautifully at her private school in Charleston and received early acceptance to Ole Miss. As a Freshman, Paige
devoured every second of collegiate life from sorority, football games and great grades. Sophomore year she began to question if she was in the right environment. When she told her mom she was considering taking time off and reconsidering schools her mother called me quite upset. Why would she leave? She is doing great, she has so many friends. Nothing went wrong. Shouldn’t she stay, get her degree and then make life choices?

My gut was to support my friend. Of course Paige was not to leave Ole Miss! But then I thought of my other dear friend, Yvette, whom I write this newsletter with. I thought of a conversation we had about how young adults need to be heard and change their mind. How sometimes the culture of a school turns out not t o match
what the student needs.

Paige called me. I told Paige I thought she should take a gap semester. Travel. Take a course in something she has never had time for. Take a step back and reexamine her future. Paige is now taking time off, she will return in the Fall and is able to breathe. I am proud of her courage to be different. Proud of her ability to say, “time out.” I am most proud of how her mother gave her the space to make this choice.

Being a parent if a lifetime occupation. Giving our children of all ages the option to change their mind is never easy, but sometimes the exact thing that can allow for true growth.