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Living up to our potential?

Enjoying the view of the Lake Champlain Bridge. (Provided photo — Diane Chase)

I heard a lot about my children’s potential by well-meaning people. I need you to understand when someone is trying to help my struggling child, I am willing to listen to anything. At one point, in my child’s younger days, I would have even tried an exorcism. It was never recommended. The one suggestion I still struggle with is hearing about my children living up to their potential. To me, their potential is focusing on what they could achieve at a future date, not what they are actually capable of doing now. Living up to our potential seems unachievable because we are always living toward a future goal. It lives in the same orbit of “if only.” It renders the ability to focus on the now irrelevant. This applies to adults as well as children. It applies to the voice in my own head, to the words I direct toward my children, and the voice I hear from other people.

At one point I was hearing about my child’s potential so frequently I felt people thought my child was one of a set of twins named Child and Potential. The child was unable to focus, talked too much, or wasn’t timely while the potential was, simply put, perfect. The conversation was directed toward a possible version of my child, not on the capabilities of the child today. Yes, some future prototype may achieve those goals and understand timeliness, but that person wasn’t living in my house.

Let’s add a pandemic into the mix. Yippee. The conversations are already swirling with the “if only.” What if our children never live up to their potential? I have learned to take a step back from my self-criticism and my child’s potential to ask for help in the now. That doesn’t exclude or excuse not doing work. It does mean to direct the conversation more to the task at hand rather than how someone is failing at their future self. Is this confusing? I’ll try again.

If you are home and figuring out an online learning model and your child isn’t doing the necessary work, instead of focusing on their potential, ask different questions. What can I do to help him/her now? We aren’t focusing on the missed opportunities. We are concentrating on today. Most teachers and administrators are an incredible resource and want children to succeed. They care about children and can offer different tools, tricks, and ways to motivate. During the spring trial-run for online learning, teachers expressed opportunities for parents and students to connect. Take them up on it. Librarians/media specialists are another invaluable resource. These people’s jobs are to promote learning. Be vulnerable. Ask for help from anyone you can. I’ve gotten advice from people in a grocery checkout line.

As we transition into the fall and whatever new normal school will evolve into, I want to help my children realize they are enough. I want to quiet the chatter in our heads that is disappointed we aren’t achieving that mythical potential. Remember, right now, the goal line is constantly changing. Stay safe.

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