Let me be clear from the get-go: no one has actually ever said these words. No, this is purely my sensitive Momma’s heart hearing implications that may or may not be there.
And let my appreciation of my son’s teachers and our school district also be abundantly clear. I feel very blessed to live where we do and to have the education and loving, talented professionals that are available to us.
All of this said, my kid is different. He doesn’t fit the mold. If you’ve been anywhere close to my shoes, you know the exact mold I’m talking about: the mold that sits calmly in desks for hours on end, doesn’t chew on pencils and can complete all assignments in a timely basis with enough energy left to play appropriately and animatedly with their peers.
This is not my son. Beyond “normal” 5-year-old boy antsiness, he does not sit still; in fact, he rarely sits. He prefers to run around aimlessly. He chews on everything. It can take him hours to focus in enough to complete one assignment, usually with endless support of teachers at school and many frustrated, pleading tears from Mommy at home. By the time he is done, he is beat and wants to chill in his own world. I get this; my social energy level is the same.
I never, ever imagined these struggles. I was nerd-extraordinaire in school. I worked hard for my good grades, but I got them. And I can’t imagine the horror on my mother’s face if I had come home with a note from the teacher; I was able to do what was expected of me, plain and simple.
My husband tells a far different story. His growing up years were filled with constant reprimands for not paying attention and consequences when he did not. Regardless, he turned out okay, pretty darn okay, actually. So he tells me not worry, that our son will be okay, that this is just his personality, that it’s who he is.
I could feel okay about this, I probably could, if we weren’t so busy being presented with ways to fix our son at every turn.
Let me be clear about one other point: I am fully okay with getting him the help he needs. We are not unwilling to accept that our son may have a diagnosis of some sort and all the future implications, treatment and services that will go along with this. We are actively and eagerly pursuing many options to help him succeed at what is before him. He currently receives Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy, has individualized aide support and special oral stimulation devices at home and at school, and works with a Learning Support Specialist. We have had countless meetings and conversations with school staff and do our very best to dedicate loads of time and attention to his needs at home.
While I don’t begrudge assisting my son or aiding him in getting to where he needs to be, I wonder if all this assistance and aid would even be necessary if the mold he is being forced into wasn’t so tight. I was recently chatting with a friend about all of this, and she referenced the European model of children learning to read at age 6-7 versus the American push for 4 and 5 year-olds to read. I wonder if we are pushing a 5 year-old boy beyond what is truly reasonable and developmentally appropriate. I wonder…
It’s not that he’s different that is a problem. It’s that his difference is treated as a problem.
I see my son, and I see a boy who is brilliant with a fascinating memory and an incredible heart. I see a boy who is kind, plays well with others and has so many friends. I know that he is very behind his peers in reading and writing, but I also know he is far ahead in mathematics and logic. While frequent redirection from the world he zones off is necessary, his creativity is a beautiful thing that shouldn’t be stifled. Because is it really the best thing for our children to quash who they are?
The thing is, he still functions at an age-appropriate-level: eating, dressing, learning to ride a bike, planning the elaborate paper decorations he wants to make for a belated Arbor Day party, and fighting with his sister over whose turn it is to play with their new Baymax toy. Most of all, I see a boy who is happy. My son, with his endless giggles and smiles, is the happiest child I know.
So I don’t see a child who needs to be fixed. I just see a child who is different.
It would be so much easier if he fit the mold, mostly because I think it would save us all years of extra meetings, fights over getting assignments done, and migraines of frustration. But he doesn’t.
What do I believe? I believe that his future school years will be very painful and exhausting. I think we will all have to work really hard to just get through them without being buried in defeat. As parents, we will have the tricky task of catering to the mold while still nurturing the unique beauty our son brings to this world.
But I do believe, that on the other side he will be fine. He will be a thriving, functioning, society-participating adult who succeeds in life, and then I will cry in relief. I also believe that he will probably always zone out in the middle of dinner conversations and annoy his own spouse someday, just like my husband does to me.
You know what I don’t believe? That I will refuse to ever believe? That my son is a problem.
He’s different, he’s not broken. He’s exactly the way God made him. And you’ll excuse my momma bear hackles which will always be raised if anything otherwise is ever said or implied.
Check out this VProud video for an example of an teaching style that inspires and provides me with hope for the direction our educational system might someday go!
First image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:12359307, copyright:prometeus
Second image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:3708757, copyright:_ella_
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Kathy Radigan says
Amen!! It is very tricky to be mom today. All three of my kids did not fit the mold. And it can be frustrating and maddening. For me I always go back to my instincts, what is my heart saying? It sounds like you are handling him perfectly. Sending lots of love your way! xo
Maddening is such a perfect word for this. Thanks for the encouragement, Kathy.
Loooooooooove everything about this!…and you 🙂
Thanks for the support, friend!
Julia Sherwin says
Meredith, sadly, our world and U.S. educational system in consistently putting more and more pressure on children at younger ages to succeed, score well in standardized tests and meet sometimes unreasonably benchmarks. I’ve written about and interviewed experts on Common Core. My husband and I remember when we were just learning letters in Kindergarten and First Grade. Now my daughter comes home with book reports in First Grade. Difference is more normal than you may realize, and boys, especially, have a harder time “fitting the mold.” They are normally more active and less mature, and until teachers and parents start to accept this behavior as “normal,” we’re going to continue to get the calls from school and notes on test pages. In fact, my first grade daughter shows signs of this, yet she is doing very well in school. Case in point: The teacher recommended reading support for her in October. October of First Grade! Yet now, in April, the child can read chapter books fluidly. She’s a beautiful reader, but it shouldn’t have been expected in the first month of First Grade. She also sometimes has severe anxiety during test-taking, and seems to “forget” the things she knows so well or take extra long to complete a test. I just read a fantastic letter from the superintendent of the WCASD, and he is now starting to meet with legislators to try to change the mandated Keystone exams for high schoolers in Pa. It’s a very sad situation of pressure that begins at the Kindergarten level and continues until the high school years, where, he cites in his letter, a young girl is literally pulling her hair out from the pressure. You’re doing the right thing by your son by getting him the help he may need, but recognize the gift of time! He’s still so young, so don’t let the pressure crush both of you.
Julia, it makes me so grateful to hear that this being noticed by school and government officials–makes us feel less crazy for feeling the way I do. The pressure today is SO far off the sandboxes I remember playing with in Kindergarten. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and helping me think through all of this in a logical way. xoxoxo
Debbie McCormick says
Beautiful post Meredith. I’m a firm believer that our school system is broken and needs a complete overhaul. School is different for our little kindergarten kids from the way it used to be. Now, they are doing 1st grade work in K5 thanks to Common Core. Add to that all the mandatory testing and shortened recess times during the day, it is no wonder so many kids can’t sit still. Kids need to move. And our school system doesn’t seem to care about that one important aspect of child development. And by school system, I am referring to the decision makers in our government, not our teachers. I’ve talked to many teachers who are just as fed up with all this as parents are. Hang in there and remember you are your child’s best advocate. Never stop fighting for what you know is best for them at school.
That is so true, Debbie–I am hearing more and more from teachers who are just as frustrated as the parents. So many of them feel like they are between a rock and hard place. Thanks for “getting it”.
He is NOT broken, and I would think he’s more normal than the 5yo who can sit still all day and resist gnawing on those #2’s! xo
Thanks for saying this, love!
Ashley ~ 3 Little Greenwoods says
I love you for putting into words what many parents feel about their children. As a mother I have come to realize there are no ‘normal’ children. Each is different in their own way.
As a kindergarten teacher it frustrates me to no end that our education system expects 4 and 5 year old to be reading before first grade. Children are not allowed to be children anymore.
Ashley, this perspective as a one who actually teaches these children is so helpful! And yes, missing the days when our kids could be kids…:(
Janine Huldie says
Meredith, I was told last year with Emma towards the end of pre-school that she didn’t know how to sound out certain letters and that she could only count to 10, but should be counting to 20. When I questioned her teacher further, I found out they really weren’t teaching either that she was supposed to know at all. So how was she supposed to be held accountable for something not really taught to her directly. So, I ended up teaching her both over the summer myself and she was just fine starting kindergarten. The point is our kids are all different, but you are right we do know our own kids and as moms we just have to follow our guts to do what is right for them when need be. Hugs and tons of love to you. xoxo <3
Exactly, Janine. I feel like it’s so much work at home to keep children up to the standards set. Work is fine, but my little guy comes home from school exhausted! Not wanting more work…thanks for sharing your experience!
JD @ Honest Mom says
I fully agree with you about the crazy expectations of the school system now. We’ve taken the exact wrong approach to “catch up” to other countries. Way too much is expected of five and six year old kids in kindergarten. My K daughter comes home and tells me math is hard. That’s because she’s doing math my current 3rd grader did when she was in 1st grade, or even 2nd! That’s how much things have changed over the past three years with the new standards.
I fear that giving my girls developmentally inappropriate math is going to turn them off from math. I see it happening already with my 3rd grader. It’s sad.
Anyway, I completely agree with you. Your son does NOT need to be fixed. And I’d have the same reaction as you. xoxo
JD, thanks so much for these supportive words. And this is what is happening with my son and reading! He doesn’t want to do it now because he feels like he “isn’t good at it”, and this kills me 🙁
Cynthia Gabriele Sprouts Consignment Boutique says
I agree with Julia. I too went through this with two of my daughters, one had ADD & a 1% speech articulation, she know has her bachelors degree & is successful. That was not without hard work & very frustrating times. She does not see it the same way & applauds me for my patience, hard to believe. The fourth child, a girl, had ADD & dyslexia, again constant work with her, the school district, college, etc. She too has a bachelor & is pursuing her love of working with horses.
Hang in there, get him the help he can use, move forward knowing he is unique, as is every child, & the rest will fall into place.
Thanks, Cindy. I do think he will get to where he needs to go…I just think it will be a long, tough road getting there. Appreciate you sharing your experience.
That was absolutely beautiful. We are preparing to send our first born to school next fall and our school options are between the lesser of two evils. Just the process of choosing a school has been mind boggling, with part of the problem being the education system itself. We’ve even considered homeschooling which absolutely scares me to death. You are an incredible advocate for your son. And he is going to blossom into an incredible, intelligent young man for all your efforts.
Alisa, yes! Never thought homeschooling would be on the table for us either, but…it is. Not sure if we can keep up with status quo for years to come??
dawn koller says
My favorite piece you have written. Really beautifully said, by a beautiful Mom.
Thank you, friend–you are sweet. xo
Kathy at kissing the frog says
Okay, listen Meredith, as a teacher and a mama of five VERY different boys, I think we need more teachers who understand what you are saying. My oldest son’s first grade teacher forever endeared me to her by saying these words at his report card conference (and this was the year after his twin brother died from cancer and I was wondering if my special needs son could even stay at his school), she leaned across the table and looked right into my eyes, “I believe all children are a gift from God, and I would never try to make any of them fit into some kind of a mold in which they do not belong.” I seriously almost kissed her.
Unfortunately, the very next year, he had a second grade teacher whose philosophy WAS that all kids should sit, act, behave, and learn the same way. The inconsistency really sucks; but that is where you as his mom get up to school and watch the teachers and talk to other moms and STRONGLY suggest who she wants her son to have as a teacher next year. The teachers will listen and take your suggestions into account. Good luck and hugs to both of you!!
Kathy, what a wonderful teacher! (the first one). So glad you felt validated and heard. And thanks for the encouragement to press on as an advocate for my son.
Jen Kehl says
My son was 5 when I started my blog, and it’s original name was Break the Parenting Mold. So I get it. I really get it.
And let me tell you, that even as a homeschooled kid I STILL get the same comments and reactions from my family! It’s not an easy road to run with these extraordinary kids in this crazy new world.
The American backlash to not performing as well academically as other countries has been to force our children to be in school younger, and behave in a way that is completely unnatural, especially to boys.
Keep doing what you’re doing. As long as he knows that you see him as perfect, as long as the way you present his therapies to him is positive, then he’ll be ok.
I told Isaiah that his tick was a super-power. And even though he’s old enough and way smart enough to know better, he still believes me.
You are an amazing mama, keep it up!
Aw, Jen, what a sweet way to love your boy. Thanks for sharing this and for being an example of someone who has pressed through this with grace!
Carolyn Erb says
This. This is exactly why I am terrified of August 31–the first day of Kindy! I see so much of this in our future, and I’m both scared and so, so sad. We haven’t even started, and I’m already panicking and considering other options. It’s all so ridiculous and unnecessary!
I so hope you have a smoother experience–but know that you always have a safe and understanding ear here if it’s not ideal. In this together!
Karen Turner says
Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. The last few sentences made me cry. I really needed to hear that about my own son.
Love and hugs, Karen–know that your child is NOT BROKEN!!
Julie Conner says
Mere! Oh my gosh you are speaking to my biggest fear right now. Sending my active, fun loving boy to public school to sit in a chair for hours on end. Completely unnatural. And you know what I don’t even think your son is different, I think he is probably more like most of the boys in the world. Those who need to move, and be creative and think on their own, not conform to the “norm”. I am still struggling with the thought of sending my boys to public school where they are forced to do homework in Kindergarten. The rebel in me will come out! haha I am currently considering any other option that will nurture the growth of my kids so that their entire education doesn’t have to be a struggle. This is a very powerful post, I am inspired by you as always. XOXO!
Julie, thanks for understanding our struggle–and for validating that my son is just fine 🙂 Praying for next year for you guys, but what amazing strength from everyone chiming in that we aren’t alone with our boys!
Kathy Deutsch says
Your son is fine. The mold is too tight and the expectations are too rigid. My son is 30 and he had numerous issues in school. Thankfully his teachers did not have the same strict guidelines that are imposed today. They let me know what he needed to get by, and they let him alone.
He did ok in class, excelled at speech giving and explanation. He still fights math in college (full time), but he is warm hearted, loving and is helping care for his 84 year old grandma as well as my 14 chickens, 3 dogs and numerous fish tanks. In classes he is always helping other students.
Do what you think is best for your child so he can grow into an honorable man.
Kathy, thank you for sharing your experience and for this voice of encouragement–sounds like you did an amazing job with your son!
Femme @ femmefrugality says
Dang you made me cry. Amen amen amen.
xoxoxo and thanks for cheering this truth on!
Katie Pease says
I am a grandma of 8-year-old twin boys who are hysterically funny, creative beyond belief, and really just try to have a good time wherever they go. The public school system sometimes doesn’t appreciate this about them. Medication is suggested to my daughter EVERY year by a new teacher (not one of them with the PhD behind her to qualify the suggestion). Medication is not for the boys, but to make the teachers’ day go more smoothly. I do get that, especially when you have multiple boys in the class like my grandsons. You want whatever works. But boys are not broken, the system that doesn’t let them go outside and play multiple times throughout their day is what is broken. The system that is requiring them to focus on a level of academics that is pretty far advanced than what we ever did at their age without facilitating the learning environment that encourages the mastering of the new skills, only the punishment for if you do not.
I never thought I would look at a report card and see C’s and think, “Oh THANK GOD, he passed”, and just say, “way to go buddy, you got through it. I know it was tough.” But that’s our reality.
Katie, you completely get what we are going through. It kills me that my son doesn’t even get to have recess–they need to have downtime! And exactly–giving thanks for any passing grades here too.
My son doesn’t fit the mold, either. He’s spunky, energetic, artistic, and has a brain for math and science. He has zero patience for sitting still for more than a few minutes, and even then, he swings his feet, his hands become action figures, and he’s constantly looking all over the place, observing the world he lives in. After two and a half years of back and forth with the schools, I realized that my son was being hurt by the mold. He was so beaten down by all the notes home, all the reprimands, and all the sitting still in a classroom. Today, though, at a day shy of 10 years old, he is happier, spirited, back to drawing/painting/molding clay, and reading everything he can (while walking, kicking his feet, still observing the world). Why is he happier? Because I live in a state with a virtual academy/school. He finishes his ‘traditional’ school work in under two hours, because he understands now that the sooner he finishes the work, the sooner he can return to his own world. It worked for us; it might not work for everyone, but it definitely brought my son back to us. He was so down on himself (he’s very hard on himself), now, he’s back to being kind, silly, funny, intelligent, and just all around HAPPY.
Melissa, you’ve shared exactly what has been on my heart–seeing him beat down like this just won’t continue to work. Alternative schooling ideas have been weighing heavily on my mind, and I so appreciate you sharing your experience. And so glad you have your little boy back to his happy self!
Look into BrainHighways.com
Will do, Candice!
Mountain Mama says
Thanks for writing on this very timely topic! I have run into exactly the same issues with my kindergartner son. He was a young 5 year old when he entered kinder and he ended up repeating, at our request. I sure hope that the pendulum swings back soon towards more a more developmentally appropriate kindergarten. The early childhood brain is fundamentally different than an upper elementary brain.
Wouldn’t it be so great if the pendulum did swing back, Mountain Mama? Sorry you are having the same struggles…
Well received and truly believed!! I have the same view!!!!! It has been a constant struggle and battle with keeping my high energy, giant personality of a 10 year old son on track and in line with his peers. Amen to not conforming and having a mind of your own and not being JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE! Our differences are what make us unique and wonderful and ever changing in this crazy fast paced world. Can we please celebrate difference and realize if we were all the same, the world would cease to exist.
“Celebrate difference”–exactly, Tammy. Exactly!
I have a son much like yours. Although not in school yet, we have had struggles already in pre-school. I agree, he does not need “fixing”.
He uses a wiggle cushion, a chewie, fish oils and we’ve eliminated from his diet as needed.
Again, I don’t see it as fixing. I choose to see it as helping to set him up for success, instead of failure.
Lei, this is well said. We are working hard to set our boys up for success. Will continue wishing it wasn’t so narrowly defined, but definitely want him to have the smoothest road possible.
My sweet boy is finishing up 7th grade (by the skin of his teeth). We have struggled since K when the comments started about “butt in the air” learning. In four years I was told 3 times ” I have never had a child like this!” The third time I lost it! “How is it possible that you have the college degree and training, thousands of children come through these doors year after year and I only have two, no special training and YOU can’t figure him out but I can???!!!”
We pulled him the next year and were fortunate to be able to have him attend the regional magnet school where he has done exceptionally well…until this year when it’s fit the mold or fail 🙁
He would love to be home-schooled but I am not convinced that that is the best track, for us.
We are working on helping him through, he knows we have his back. I can say I have learned that punishment doesn’t work, it’s not his fault anyway….love him, pray over him, tell him ALL the WONDERFUL, UNIQUE things about him and what you see for him. He will see it too! Stay strong Mama!
Vicki, I’m so sorry for all your struggles, and it sounds like you have done such an amazing job with you son with such amazing perspective. You hang in there too, keep up that prayer, and thanks for sharing your experience here!
I love how well you stated this. My son doesn’t fit the mold either. He’s in 6th grade and has been struggling with school ever since he started. He does have an IEP which had been great in the sense that he doesn’t have to fit the mold. Less schoolwork and even the fact that they can’t hold him back a grade has lessened the stress of schoolwork for us. That being said, it’s still rough and I wish you well. It sounds like your son already has a great team on his side.
Christa, that is really interesting how you said that they can’t hold him back a grade (our school won’t either) and the IEP helping–I think I need to take more of this perspective! Thanks for sharing your experience here!
Ooh my goodness, thank you! If I sent this to a friend it could easily be passed off as my life! Obviously I won’t, but as sad as it makes me to think that others are dealing with the exact same issues I’m so grateful not to be alone. My son has ADHD and dyslexia… We just came limping in across the finish line of 3rd grade. To say I’m dreading 4th is an understatement.
You sound like a fantastic Mama and I just want to encourage you to keep being a Man’s bear to your beautiful boy. Do whatever you have to do on your own after those ridiculous nights of homework. Trust your husband to lead your son knowing that he’s already walked that path. Embrace that amazing kid and know that you are doing your very best!
Nicole, this encouragement means so very much. Thank you. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience and cheer me on through mine. Know you are in my prayers as you tackle 4th grade–we mamas can do this together!
This breaks my heart. He sounds like a normal boy to me. I fear that public school will destroy his love of learning.
My son doesn’t fit the public school mold either. We homeschool and it is amazing! I would recommend it. A great way to start is by reading more about it. I would start by reading this web site. https://simplycharlottemason.com/what-is-the-charlotte-mason-method/
Wendy, thanks for sharing your experience, and I’m so glad you found something that’s such a great fit for your son! Yay!