Kind of a long post. I almost broke it up, but felt that would mess up the flow. Sorry for the length, but I hope you havAlmost every author I know had a common experience with their first book. They wrote it in a white-hot blaze of brilliance. This book was going to blow everyone away. They felt inspired while they wrote it and they knew it was amazing. Then they sent it off to a publisher or agent. Often, they knew that there might be some grammatical errors, or a maybe some punctuation glitches they had overlooked. But the brilliance of their book, they were sure, would more than compensate. That's what editors are for anyway, right? So, they sent something in that was a bit rough, or at least not polished, sure that the underlying awesomeness would trump a few technical errors.
You know where this is going, don't you?
Editors and agents, of course, want you to send in a book that is as polished as you can make it. Except for a very, very few exceptions who are notable exactly because they are so rare, those who do this kind of thing get their work rejected. Some agents may see hundreds of queries a day from authors who are all sure they've written the next Harry Potter/Twlight/Jurassic Park/Whatever.
Experienced authors chuckle at this now and smile ruefully as they remember doing the same thing. Serious writers revise and polish until they can make their work as good as it can be. Then they send it out to a critique group--other writers who give them honest and blunt feedback on what doesn't work and how to fix it.
Incidentally, this instinct doesn't end. I'm always surprised when I send a chapter out to my critique group. I know how amazing it is. I can feel the intrinsic worth and merit flowing. And they usually give me some nice compliments. But they also focus my attention on what is flawed and what needs to be fixed. Quite frankly, I'm often surprised by how much there is in this category. I was so sure this was awesome.
So, I have a choice. I can be defensive and insist that they are blind or malicious and cling tightly to a flawed manuscript that will never be all it can be. Or I can humble myself enough to hear what they are saying.
You know where this is going, don't you?
Whenever I take their advice, I always realize they were right.
Writing a book is something you pour your whole soul into. It consumes you and becomes a part of you. Consequently, you lose your objectivity very quickly and have very little ability to view your book calmly, dispassionately, or accurately.
I submit that parenting is much the same. You have this wonderful child who is literally part of you, your flesh and blood. You have poured your heart and soul and time and money and effort into raising this child and you love them. You are sure, quite sure, that your child is the smartest, kindest, funniest, most talented child ever.
You, like the first-time author, are so sure of the value of your child, the inherent awesomeness that you assume everyone else will, too. Yes, he might be a bit spirited, but surely everyone will see what a heart of gold he has. Yes, she might be a bit silly sometimes, but she has a heart of gold.
Usually, those lower school or elementary school years are fairly smooth. Kids that age are sweet and often do what the teacher wants, so you might even have your view of your child reinforced.
But then in middle school things start to change. You might hear that your child is disruptive or mean or lazy or disorganized or needs to be in a lower math class. You might hear that your child is all kinds of things that you don't like and don't believe. Like a critique group, they start sending back comments that imply your child is not perfect. That he or she might even be deficient in some areas and may even need some serious work. This might come from coaches or teachers or some other outside expert.
Now, you have a choice. You can assume that everyone is either blind or malicious or both. You can assume they just don't get your it. They just have it out for your child. And in doing that you can cling ever tighter to a flawed human soul that will never meet it's true potential, protecting it from that which will make him or her stronger and better.
I am not going to tell you that teachers are always right. Nor are coaches are the other outside experts who interact with and evaluate your children. But after 25 years of working in schools, I'm going to tell you that I've not many malicious fools.
Take a deep breath. This is not a rejection. This is simply your manuscript coming back with lots of red marks from people who care enough to tell you the truth, people who want to help you.
You can fight it and ignore it. Or you can listen and work on it.
Consider that it is statistically improbable that your child is as perfect as you might think they are. Yes, you love him or her. But that doesn't mean he or she always acts well and does the right thing. And that's fine. They're not mature adults. Accepting criticism of your child is not rejecting the inherent worth or value of your child. It's simply acknowledging that there is some work to be done.
Teachers are often the parent's critique group. Don't seem them as adversaries. See them as giving you feedback that will help. And for heaven sakes, if you hear the same thing from multiple people, listen! It's highly unlikely that they all have it out for your child.
I hear often from parents that "Mrs. X just doesn't like my son," or "Mr. Y just doesn't appreciate my daughter."
Maybe that's true. But I think students and parents vastly overstate the amount of personal animus behind corrective feedback that comes from teachers. It truly is not usually personal.
However, even if it is, so what? Does that automatically negate the value of the feedback? My daughter once had a teacher that she swore didn't like her. And as I watched, I came to agree. I really don't think he liked her. But that didn't negate the comments he said about her. I think some of what he said was true . More to the point, the things he told her could help her become a better person. Sometimes the feedback of our harshest critics might be truer than that of our friends.
Consider that you are going to be just as biased about your child as a teacher who doesn't like him or her--it's just bias the other way. And honestly, your bias is probably going to do more long-term harm than the other kind of bias. If a teacher is seriously biased worst-case scenario is that your child gets a lower grade in one class and some negative comments. If your bias succeeds, your child might go out into a competitive world with major blind spots and deficiencies that could impede his or her ability to get and keep a job, succeed in relationships and so on.
Hence the value of the critique group we call teachers. Coaches. Church leaders, etc. If you get comments listen and thank heaven that these people care enough about your child to use their valuable time to correct them and help you. If you hear similar themes from several people, listen!
Your job is not to protect your child from criticism. It is not to convert the world to believe in the goodness and greatness of your child. Your job is to help your child become all that he or she can become--and that includes learning to except feedback and overcome flaws. Realize that you are going into this extremely biased.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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