I heard a groan from my oldest daughter at the kitchen table as she went through the papers from her backpack.
“What’s wrong?” I asked from the kitchen.
“I got a terrible grade on this,” she held a paper up and sat down hard on her chair in frustration. “I’m going to have to take it again.”
“Is that a bad thing?” I wondered aloud.
“Yes, mom, it’s terrible. First of all, I got a bad grade and, if I don’t do well the next time, then I’ll have to take it again!”
“Do you know the material? Do you understand it?” I asked.
“No, not really,” she admitted.
“Well, then it seems like taking it again is a pretty good option. Why is that a bad thing?” I was confused at this point.
“Aren’t you upset that I have to keep taking it? What if I have to take it four more times?”
“Then hopefully you’ll understand it after practicing four more times,“ I shrugged. “I care more about you learning the material than the grade or the number of times it takes to learn a concept. What’s the point of an assignment if you get a great grade, but you don’t learn anything?”
It struck me how she and I valued different things in this particular situation. She was very concerned about the transaction of writing down the right answers so she could get the grade she wanted in exchange. I was much more concerned about the bigger picture of her mastering the material and transforming as a student.
Sometimes I think I fall into this trap as a parent. I focus so much on daily transactions with my kids that I forget these transactions are building blocks towards transformation.
For example, every day I ask my children to do something, eat something, or avoid something and they comply to various degrees. We go to bed and wake up the next morning and we do it all over again.
It’s effective. It’s fairly predictable. It’s measurable.
But it’s also endlessly exhausting, and somewhat pointless, when I forget it all leads to something bigger. When I don’t take the time to reflect and celebrate how far we’ve come, it’s easy to feel like every day is a drudge of “do this” and “don’t do this.”
It reminds me of a time I asked my girls to clean their room and they shoved all their clothes and toys into a closet instead of putting things where they belonged. They were quick to tell me they did what I asked. Their room was clean and the floor was clear. In some ways it was true: the to-do list got a check mark, but it didn’t mean much because the task wasn’t done well.
We ended up pulling every last thing out of their closet and working together to put clothes and toys away in their rightful places. The girls didn’t really enjoy it and I can’t say I did either. There was whining and frustration from all of us. It took time and some struggle, but most transformation does.
Focusing on transactions over transformation places more focus on what my kids do as opposed to how they do things.
We live in a society that thrives on predictable transactions. I hand over money at Chick-Fil-A and I receive chicken minis in return. My kids turn in homework and then receive grades. I complete a survey at a restaurant and I receive a coupon. I appreciate the consistency and security of transactions, but they’re building blocks.
My goal in parenting is not to complete all the right transactions before my children graduate high school and check off a giant list of skills they can perform upon command; my goal is to help shape my kids into independent, compassionate, empathetic, wise, helpful leaders that go out of their way to cultivate and create wherever they go.
I’m afraid if I’m not clear and careful my kids might begin to believe that what they do is more important than how they do it. I don’t want them to be so focused on marking off a to-do list that tasks take priority over their character.
My daughter wanted to complete the assignment, receive the grade, and move on, but thankfully, her teacher understands the bigger picture. She values my daughter’s overall growth and transformation. I want that to be my priority and perspective, too. I want to view every transaction as a process of their transformation into who my kids are meant to be.