I stumbled across an excellent opinion piece today about kids and potential. Psychologist Steven Hayes tells how his son, who was diagnosed as a little kid with a muscle-weakness disorder called hypotonia, went on to become a MMA Black Belt in high school.

Hayes’s point is not that every kid can become anything they want, but instead that things like diagnosed disorders, standardized tests, and personality types only tell us averages, they don’t magically predict the future. In short, he says, “People are individuals, not averages.”

I’ve written about this before in this post, and I think it’s central for homeschoolers: We shouldn’t be too specific about what we demand that our kids excel at, because some kids just might not be built to get beyond basic proficiency in certain subjects. But as Hayes says, we certainly shouldn’t put limits on what our kids can accomplish, just because they start out slow. It may be they’ll remain slower than average in some subject or other despite all our best efforts, but on the other hand they might surprise us.

For us parents, it also poses a big spiritual question: Can we and our kids live well with the uncertainty of knowing the future is always a mystery? Can we keep a flexible hope for good things, and a healthy sense of purpose for our kids, when unexpected doors open or close because of what our kids find they can or can’t do in the long run? And can we deal with regret when our kids don’t become what we had hoped, even if we may never know how much the failure was rooted in genetics, or in our kid’s character, or in our family life, or in our teaching methods?

What I hope to cultivate each day is a love for the mystery of it all. I’ll look at what my kids seem “naturally” good at, and try to encourage those things, to be sure. And I’ll insist on basic proficiency in key subjects like reading, writing, math, foreign language, music, religion, and physical education. But I’ll also try to keep the pressure light and help them find their own way, so that I can meet my kids over and over again as they continue to become something new.

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