His name is Adam. I see him sitting across from me in the kindergarten reading group as we all clutch our little paper readers. He stands and dips his head close to the words and begins. Painstakingly. Slow and stammering. Some kids fidget. I ache for him. The teacher makes corrections as needed, but mostly, he’s left to figure it out on his own. He finally gets through his line and sits down.
Now it’s my turn. Schooled in reading, but as yet unschooled in the ways of academia, I stand and begin my line. Painstakingly. Slow and stammering. Some kids fidget. My ache subsides. I don’t know if Adam notices, but I feel like I was with him in his stumbling. Like I was a friend in the group of fast readers and fidgeting children.
Empathy and focus on others—it’s so easily lost. And early. I found out at the next parent teacher conference that it was unacceptable to alter my own knowledge and abilities to make another feel better. And, of course, they were right.
By the third or fourth grade, I found out more about a concept I wouldn’t be able to name for years to come. Today, I’m naming it, because it still haunts me. And, I’m guessing, It haunts you.
Validation. The dictionary describes it: “to give official sanction, confirmation, or approval to”. Somewhere along the way the official part gets blurred, and we just seek for the approval part. Anyone will do as long as they’re willing to stamp our little document with the word “APPROVE”.
By fourth grade, I saw the numbers on a scale as validation, and I wasn’t measuring up. By middle school, I saw my grades as a measure. With them I could gain approval of most adults. Forgetting about Adam, I saw them as a way to compete with my classmates. They may have small numbers on the scale or large numbers of basketball points and larger numbers of friends. But I could produce a test with a big red A on the top and have instant “official” validation.
As my spiritual life grew, I found my approval in Christ and His work. I learned that being the best and doing my best were vastly different goals. I moved on. Or so I thought.
Now I have my own kindergartener, and he’s the last of four. And they are safe from reading circles and big red As or Cs or Fs because we homeschool, and I can shield them.
But validation in a sneaky thing. The homeschool group gets together, and it becomes hard not to thrust my paper in front of others, seeking for that stamp. Non-homeschooling parents question my choices, and I scramble for something to show them that I’m okay and won’t they please stamp my paper with a big red A?
Except now, if I’m not careful, I unwittingly pull out four more papers. Please tell me that my child is intelligent enough, normal enough, spiritual enough, adjusted enough, social enough……enough…..enough…..enough. Tell me I haven’t failed. Tell me I’m approved. Validate my decisions and my choices and my performance. And maybe my curriculum, too?
It’s a long and treacherous path with a lot of pitfalls and slides backwards. But, now my little “Adam” sits on my lap with his little paper reader. And he reads. Painstakingly. Slow and stammering. And I will myself not to fidget. I still the ache the same way I did those decades ago in that reading circle. I’m with him in his stumbling. I’m his friend, and I let him figure it out for himself.
I’m putting away my personal test papers and my performance reviews. Who says that the other homeschool mom or the professional mom or the mom of the well-adjusted (whatever that means) public school kid is “official”? I’m finding that the mom who seems like she has it all together, is tempted to pull out her paper for my validation as much as it tempts me to pull out mine for hers.
So now, I’m trying to just be with others. To think of them, and maybe even stumble a bit along with them so they know they’re not alone. I’m their friend. Competing and community are opposites and cannot exist together. I cannot seek others’ validation without ignoring their true value. And mine.
In truth, the only stamp we need is the official smile of a God who sees a big red A of Acceptance drawn with the precious blood of His Son on the fleshly tables of our hearts. God. with. us.