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The Blessing of Wendy Mogel

A few months ago I began a mommy-ed reading list suggested by Dr. Chris McCurry of Seattle that was designed to help educate parents about raising resilient children. My favorite books on the list were The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus by Wendy Mogel, and I made my regular Teaching My Baby to Read readers a promise that I would be blogging several posts about them soon.

Flash forward almost two months later, and the original posts I had written about Wendy Mogel have mysteriously disappeared. On my desktop? On my hard drive? On a scrap of spiral notebook paper somewhere? I have no idea, although the hardcopy theory is likely. There are future “I Brake for Mom” column ideas all over our house and it’s driving my husband nuts. There are bound to be some blog ideas floating around too.

Okay, so neither book is as fresh in my head as I would have preferred. But in some ways, that will make this review even better because you’ll be able to see the essential things I have learned from Wendy Mogel that have stuck with me.

Both books are written from a Jewish perspective, primarily for a Jewish audience. As a United Methodist, I found this refreshing. Dr. Mogel also seemed to be writing for an extremely affluent audience; the type of people who can afford $30,000 a year for private school and still afford to send their teenager on a humanitarian trip to Africa. I am clearly not in that socio-economic circumstance but am familiar with those types of neighborhoods through my own personal life experience.

Even if you were not interested in learning any new parenting tips at all, it would be really interesting to read The Blessing of a B Minus just to hear Dr. Mogel describe how wealthy, educated parents try to “game the system” and coach their teenagers into elite colleges. Can anyone say “Modern Day Castrati?” Since I somehow managed to go to Stanford through my own determination, with my public university educated parents not knowing any of those tricks, it was fascinating to hear about the advantages some of my wealthier classmates might have had. I never had a tutor nor did it ever occur to my parents to start grooming my extracurriculars for future glory starting at age 6.

It’s really thought provoking to think about all of those high-achieving parents spending oodles and oodles of money on their children’s private school educations and extracurricular in the hopes of them going to elite universities, and then sending their kids off to college without knowing how to do laundry. This explains half of my freshman dorm, and I’m not even joking.

I don’t think you could “make” your kid get into Stanford anyways, unless you were an extremely famous politician. My husband and I have talked about this extensively. By around 8th or 9th grade (at the latest), a teenager has to decide for himself that he really wants it. When I was in high school I remember having enough time to watch The Nanny each week with my mom and little sister, and that was it. Those thirty minutes of recreation were my big treat to myself because the rest of the time I was studying or running various school clubs. Parents can’t “make” a kid have that type of drive.

My husband and I can’t “make” our kids get into our alma mater, and that’s okay. If they really want to go to a school like Stanford then they will have to put in the effort to get there on their own. If they don’t want to work hard enough for that, then Stanford isn’t the right place for them. I’m saying “Stanford”, but you could fill in the blank there for any competitive college of your choice.

Dr. Mogel’s book for parenting younger children, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, spoke a lot more about her own personal recommitment to Judaism, and what drove that decision. Again, I found that really interesting. I’ve read the Christian Bible cover to cover at least half a dozen times, but I have never read the Talmud. I had a basic knowledge of how Talmudic teaching effects women and children that I had previously gleaned from reading Maggie Anton’s fictional series Rashi’s Daughters, but that was it! I was especially inspired by how Dr. Mogel talked about the dinner table as the altar of a family, and weekly Shabbat meals as a religious experience.

Okay all you Wendy Mogel readers out there… I think the comments on my blog are working again. What are your thoughts about either book? I’m dying to hear!

Talent is Overrated by Goeff Colvin

Right now I’m midway through a Mommy-Ed reading list designed to help foster resiliency in children. My most recent read is Talent Is Overrated, What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin. This book had a business focus instead of parenting, but it was still useful to me. Here’s a great quote to show you why:

“Many of the most successful people do seem to be highly intelligent. But what the research suggests very strongly is that the link between intelligence and high achievement isn’t nearly as powerful as we commonly suppose. Most important, the research tells us that intelligence as we usually think of it–a high IQ–is not a prerequisite to extraordinary achievement.” (p45)

In layman’s terms, you don’t have to be “gifted” to produce extraordinary achievement and high IQ is no guarantee of future success.

So what does Colvin believe engenders achievement? Deliberate practice, and lots of it. That means practicing to improve your weaknesses over and over again. I don’t recall if Colvin mentioned the so-called 10,o00 hour rule or not, but he seems to be describing the same idea.

There is an especially interesting section about violin players on pages 56-61 and how many practice hours they need to log become they become virtuosos.  I’d love to have the mom from Homeschooling, or Who’s Ever Home read that part and tell me what she thinks, because her daughter Haley is extraordinarily talented at the violin. Or is it that Hayley just practices a heck of a lot more and a heck of a lot smarter than everybody else? Here’s a You Tube clip of 9 year old Haley performing Moto Perpetuo by Paganini. It will be the perfect accompaniment to the rest of my post. 🙂

So how do talent, IQ and success all fit together? If I were to throw in my own two cents, I would venture to guess that it has something to do with intensity and education begetting education. My grandpa was a wonderful violinist too, and he eventually became a member of the San Diego Symphony. But he didn’t just wake up one day and start playing the violin. He was probably just as awful as everyone else to start with.  My grandpa was intensely focused however.  Even as a retired adult, he was obsessed with music. He loved and pursued music of all types, and learned how to play and teach every single instrument but the organ. He also had parents and a brother who also played the violin. In fact, my great-grandparents courted in their local town orchestra. There was probably a lot of musical education begetting musical education in their household.

What Talent is Overrated means is that even if your child isn’t “gifted” maybe you should consider the idea that your child could be gifted at a certain subject, if he or she really put in the hours. Also, it takes a lot of hours for anyone to become good at something, so don’t let your kid give up too early.  Make sure that your children know that with enough practice they will improve at anything.  Then, keep your fingers crossed that at some point internal motivation will kick in and you won’t have to nag your kids do something that they are now good at.

Raising Resilient Children

I had the opportunity to hear Seattle’s Dr. Chris McCurry speak on the topic of raising resilient children recently, and he gave me a lot to think about. Is my goal as a parent to raise children who are happy or to raise children that can face whatever challenge life throws at them with courage and grace?

Dr. McCurry said that happiness is a fleeting emotion that you can’t force a child to feel no matter how hard you try, and that a better goal would be to raise children who are functional no matter what. This dovetails with what I’ve been trying to reinforce with my own kids for a while: happiness is a choice, not a state of being. Raising resilient children who chose to be happy would be my ultimate goal.

As part of his lecture Dr. McCurry suggested a list of books to read that could help parents learn about fostering resiliency. Since the only time I ever get to read books these days is sitting on the toilet (lid down!) while my two-year-old takes a bath, it’s going to be slow going for me to get through these, but I’m always game for a little Mommy-Ed.

I’ve already Outliers, and it was indeed a fascinating read. I wish I had thought to blog about it at the time, but maybe I’ll come back to that one of these days. My goal is to read and review the rest of these books one at a time. Oh, and I’m going to choose to be happy about taking on this challenge. 🙂

“This is hard. This is fun.” — Carol Dweck

I am in the middle of a mommy-ed reading list to help me be better at fostering resiliency in my kids. Why resiliency? Well, I want both of my kids to be happy, but happiness can be fleeting. Being able to tackle whatever challenge life throws at them with grace and resiliency is so much more useful.

The first book I checked out from the library was Mindset, The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck. Dr. Dweck’s research is about fixed mindsets versus growth mindsets. Do you view intelligence as static or as something that can be increased through hard work? If you got a C on a chemistry test does that me you aren’t very smart at science or that you didn’t study hard enough? If your two-year-old refuses to eat your dinner does that mean you are a bad cook, or that you weren’t sneaky enough about how you presented those green beans? Do you approach life’s challenges with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? Dr. Dweck argues that a growth mindset will help you become more successful in the long run.

When I was a teacher at a very wonderful charter school, our entire population of parents, teachers and kids went through a 2 year reform effort on Social Emotional Learning. Part of this involved learning to be mindful of offering children encouragement instead of praise. It’s better to say “Wow, you are really working hard on that,” instead of “You are really smart at that”. Another example would be to say “You must really like to explore with oil pastels,” instead of “That picture is so pretty”.

In Mindset Dr. Dweck offers the quote “This is hard. This is fun.” which I absolutely love! I used that just the other day when Jenna was learning to use scissors. I’m also going to try to model using that phrase myself, so that my kids watch me work on something difficult and hear me say: “This is hard. This is fun.”

On a personal note, I was really excited to see the Olympic wrestler Patricia Miranda mentioned on page 21. She was a college friend and teammate of my husband, and truly is an inspiration. I think that wrestlers in general embody a growth mindset because unless you live in the Midwest, nobody enters wrestling hoping to get huge scholarships or lots of fame. Wrestlers work hard because they love wrestling, and are constantly trying to improve their skills no matter what the cost. They don’t call them “meatheads” for nothing.

This summer I am going to sign my son Bruce(7) up for the two week free trial of Dr. Dweck’s Brainology program on the computer.  But the way Bruce is already cranking through Harry Potter 7 is making me think there is already “meathead” in his blood.