Jumping Off the Gerbil Wheel
By Jeannette Webb
Time for confession. I was born with the classic gerbil wheel personality: firstborn, Type A, deeply competitive, hot temper. I’ve lived with a sense of urgency from childhood and I was parented to dominate. And dominate I did throughout high school, college, and into a professional career. I won all the awards and I was wildly successful by the world’s standards.
But God, in his infinite wisdom, allowed me full rein in my driven frenzy that eventually broke my health. He brought a kind man with a servant’s heart into my life as a husband. He surrounded me with people who modeled a balanced way of living.
Exiting The Wheel
As a result, when it came time for me to parent, the paradigm had radically shifted. I had jumped off the gerbil wheel but was now operating in unfamiliar territory. Would my kids be successful? Would they ever have those esteem-building moments that normally come through traditional school and activities? Could they get into college? I didn’t know, but I was unwilling to let them replicate my childhood.
I’m on the other side of those questions now. Those cute little kids that I worried about are now successful adults, more successful than I ever dreamed about being. I learned some important lessons off the gerbil wheel that I’d like to share with you.
Down Time Matters
With the normal speed of life ramped up to the extreme these days, we somehow believe that God’s admonitions to “Be Still” no longer apply. We hit the floor running in the morning and drop exhausted into bed at night with nary a moment to catch our breath in between. There is no time to evaluate our choices, prepare our children for the next expectation of them, or debrief with them when something is completed. We rush along never learning lessons from our experiences and often missing the fleeting glimpse of our child’s heart. Many homeschool parents take down time to the extreme and their students never have any expectations placed on them which is just as dangerous. Balance and moderation is as important here as in anything else.
It’s Not About You
It’s not about them either. Life is about sharing your special gift with others. It was my job to model that for my children and equip them to do the same. A big chunk of life is about serving and listening. It’s about having enough flex room in your schedule that you can help others that God places in your path. If your schedule is overloaded with extracurricular stuff, you’ll miss your heavenly agenda. Interestingly enough, you’ll probably also miss your child’s dream college because busyness does not lead to excellence or develop interesting kids. Neither does it develop compassion or a servant’s heart.
Excellence is Worth Pursuing
Even though I left the gerbil wheel, I did not walk away from requiring excellence of my children. We didn’t do the “list” of standard kid activities that everyone else was doing. Instead, we chose extracurriculars carefully based on each child’s bent, then expected their best in their given field. The few things we did, we did very, very well. I continually raised the bar, introduced new components, trained them in leadership, and expected adult-level behavior. I was in the trenches with them mentoring, modeling, encouraging, and correcting. They developed mastery skills and their confidence soared. As young adults, there is nothing in life they are afraid to tackle.
Unfortunately many parents think that demanding excellence will damage their child’s fragile self-esteem. Somehow kids are supposed to know intuitively what is best for them and will choose the correct path. If you want their self-esteem to stay fragile, leave them on the couch. If you want to grow a robust self-esteem, shake their world up and expect hard things. Force them out of their comfort zone. Lead them out of kid stuff and into the real world.
Caught in the Wheel
There are many well-meaning parents today frantically pushing their kids into the gerbil wheel. They have the checklist for what their student needs to be successful in their bid to competitive colleges. They pile on tons of tough classes, loads of activities, and life is a constant race against the clock. Not only have they not trained their kids to live a healthy balanced life of excellence, they have also probably shut the door to their dreams for their child. Driven kids look pretty much alike in a college application. They’ve checked the boxes, but there is nothing unique about them. They honestly never had the time to discover that. Their lives were too rigid to follow a side trail to something interesting and therefore become interesting. These kids will do fine (in an exhausted kind of way), but they will rarely reach the pinnacle of their potential either for themselves, for the college they could have attended, or for what they ultimately offer the world.
Jeannette Webb is founder of Aiming Higher Consultants, a firm dedicated to helping Christian students gain admission to great colleges. She has a heart of assisting parents as they train their children for excellence. Jeannete works to empower families to make thoughtful choices for their younger children, to confidently navigate the difficult high school years, and then ace the college admissions process.
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