To keep one step ahead of the end-of-the-year paper shuffling, I've been sorting, filing, and tossing some schoolwork that the girls have completed. During this process, I came upon the class picture of my third grader.
Even though I've looked at this collage before, once again I was struck by the layout choice. In the middle is my daughter. Her picture is larger than the pictures of her classmates, her teacher, and her principal. Every student received a class photo with their individual picture in the center while the other students rotated in the periphery according to alphabetic order.
Our children are the stars of the show, the focal point. The story of their year in third grade revolves around them -- their perspective, their thoughts, their impressions, their experiences -- which is understandable in the sense that we all process life through the lens of our own perception.
And yet, the layout -- though aesthetically fine -- rubs me the wrong way for one simple reason: I don't want my daughter to be the center of her own universe.
I don't want any of my children to grow up thinking that the world revolves around them.
Hear me out: I'm not blaming a photography company for society's bent toward self-centeredness. I'm not suggesting that this school picture is causing social or psychological damage to these third graders because their individual head shots are enlarged. The picture isn't the problem.
The problem is that it's commonplace to transfer this practice beyond a class picture into real life -- to subscribe to the philosophy that we should always "look out for number one," or to subconsciously expect that our world should orbit around our needs and wants.
And, gosh, sometimes we parent this way, too. We've let our worlds revolve around our children. Any parent will admit that we've catered to our kids' whims at some point simply because it was easier to yield than to stand firm. Some battles aren't worth fighting, after all.
But some battles are. When my kids don't like what I've cooked for dinner, they get two choices: eat it anyway or eat breakfast tomorrow. When they fight and act rudely to one another, they have to apologize and make amends. When they demand that everyone else stops what we're doing because they're bored or displeased or unhappy, sometimes the best response they can hear boils down to two letters: No.
In the midst of this chaos of raising young children, I have to remember that, ultimately, I'm raising children who will become adults -- adults who are resilient to setbacks, adults who don't crumple or attack when circumstances don't work in their favor, adults who are considerate of others, adults who are capable of seeing beyond themselves.
So, for now, we work on simple principles at home. We teach -- and reteach -- our daughters that our family functions as a team, not merely a handful of individuals who abide under the same roof. Because we're a team, we're going to pitch in to help when help is needed. We're all going to clean up messes, even ones that we might not have created. We're not always going to get our first choice.
We're going to be frustrated that life isn't always fair, and we're going to mess up, and we're going to try again tomorrow.
While it might seem a delicate balance, it's not mutually exclusive to make our children feel valued, which they are, while also upholding that others are just as valuable. As contradictory as this sounds, I want my daughters to know that they're remarkably special, and at the same time, I want them to recognize that they're really not.
Yes, they're fiercely loved. Yes, they're one of a kind. Yes, they're precious to us, to others, and to the God who dynamically and intricately made them.
They have an important place in this universe, for certain. Unlike their school pictures, it's just not supposed to be in the center.
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