Fresh out of college, my son’s first grade teacher vibrated with enthusiasm for her students. She wore a constant smile, too. I liked her. I liked her so much that I volunteered to be Room Mom.
And then we had our first parent/teacher conference where she looked me in the eye and told me that Thomas, my six-year old, had been placed in the lowest reading group. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Bray, but he’s so far behind. He doesn’t know how to read.” Eyes locked, we sat in awkward silence.
In the blink of an eye I felt like the worst mother in the room.
My first thought was to defend myself. Should I list the reading programs and educational games I’d invested in or whip out my library card to show her how well-worn it was? I wanted to explain (or justify) why enrichment activities and preschool had routinely been pushed aside in favor of playing cars and trains and Legos.
Thomas had shown little interest in learning to read, so I chose not to push. Instead, I let him build tiny towns and create stories in miniature. In short, I let him play.
Had I handicapped my son? Would he miss opportunities because I hadn’t insisted he learn to read? Had I wasted valuable time?
Listening to the expert crowd—or falling victim to my mom-guilt—might have led me to overcorrect. I could have signed my first grader up for private tutoring or committed to a rigorous catch-up-quick reading program.
Fortunately, I had a wise mother who assured (and reassured) me not to do either of those things. “He’ll do things when he’s ready, Traci,” my mom would say. It was true for walking, talking, and potty-training. Why would it be any different with him learning to read? Mom had a point.
So, instead of cannonballing into the situation to save my son’s literacy future, I listened to my mother and took a step back, letting my little guy set his own pace.
By the end of first grade, Thomas had learned to read so well that he joined an advanced reading group. I take no credit for his accomplishment. Success came when his readiness arrived and met an outstanding teacher.
It’s never easy being a parent in a similar situation. Of course, we want our child to excel instead of struggle, but how do we know when to jump in versus when to step back?
Too often, I think, we allow our current culture of comparison to dictate what good parenting looks like.
Do good parents insist on plenty of margin and white space in family calendars? Slow-family living? Daily time around the family table to process life together? A Chip and Joanna Gaines-inspired lifestyle where baby goats provide the entertainment rather than a television?
Or, do good parents structure a family calendar filled with ample organized educational opportunities? Preschool programming, enrichment extracurriculars, and “fill-in-the-blank-with-robotics-then-soccer-then-tuba” practices? Do they crush carpooling and manage meals-on-the-go like a pro?
I believe the answer is found somewhere between an empty calendar and a Pinterest-worthy color-coded family activity spreadsheet.
As preschoolers enter elementary grades followed by middle school and junior high and high school, the level of activity on your family calendar will rise and fall, naturally. Some days will feel 25 hours long and some years will pass in a flash.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” A time. A season. That’s important.
What it means is there’s not a season where it all happens at one time. Everything has its own time and its own season.
When my mom told me to let Thomas decide when he was going to read, what she basically said was, “Traci, there’s a time for him to learn to read. It wasn’t yesterday, and it isn’t right this minute. Relax.”
Recently, my husband and I watched our son receive his Master of Public Affairs degree. At 22-years old, I thought he’d blown through college too quickly. Was he ready to be an adult?
Mom’s words came back, “He’ll do things when he’s ready, Traci.” And, he did.