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More Like Your Son
Photo: Sebastian Czapnik
I saw John’s mother at the grocery. John had been in my son’s Boy Scout troop. My youngest son invited John and his parents to attend the court of honor where Ben would receive the rank of Eagle. Ben admired the older boy.

John’s mother saw me, and congratulated me on Ben’s achievement. She praised my son. He was a great kid she said. Her words were humbling and flattering.

Then she said, “I just wish John were more like your son.” 

The statement floored me.

I would not trade my three sons for anyone. But if I had a fourth son, I would want him to be John. John was rambunctious, but he was also bright and caring. What impressed Ben—me, too—was how John helped the younger boys in the troop. John always encouraged them to do their best. They often exceeded what they thought they were capable of doing.

When a skills contest took place John paired himself against a boy who most needed to work on that skill. John led the boy to building the skill—knot-tying, first-aid, or whatever—by competing against the boy. John somehow always just barely lost.The younger boys never realized what John was doing—but both my son and I recognized it.

Blinded to Strengths

Ben copied John’s technique when Ben was older. It was one of the things John’s mother praised Ben for when she spoke to me. I told her Ben had learned that from John. She was startled. Parents often concentrate more on their children’s shortcomings than their strengths. We want our children to improve their weaknesses. But this should not blind us to their strengths.

John’s parents are both teachers.God blessed them with John, a son who does poorly in academics. John is too full of energy, too restless to sit quietly at his desk. When I was a child, in the 1960s, this was known as “being a boy.” Today, it is often considered misbehavior. His parents viewed it, on some level, as a rejection of their values.

John was as much a teacher as his parents, albeit, not in a formal classroom setting. John was teaching with his skills contests. The other boys learned by following John’s example and with his encouragement. John’s parents failed to recognize this because it did not fit their conception of a “teacher.”

One of the hardest jobs parents have is to be able to step outside our own preconceptions. Recognizing talents possessed by our children that by our own standards are unconventional is especially difficult. Outstanding sports coaches win because they adjust their game plan to fit the strengths of any set of players. They do not force talent to fit a game plan.

Similarly, as parents, we must adjust our plans to fit our children’s strengths, even when they are different from our hopes.

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Mark Lardas. Copyright © 2009 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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