The pursuit of excellence is a Godly principle. It’s expected, from what I can see of Scripture. We are told in 2 Corinthians 8:7:
“But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.”
We also read Philippians 1:9:
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,”
Yet again, we see where Daniel was actually given a “spirit of excellence” as we read in Daniel 5:12:
“Because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.”
We see Paul command to pursue the more excellent way, as we read Philippians 4:8:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
So what is excellence and how do we pursue it without becoming perfectionistic and driving our kids crazy? Is it possible to push them to excel without them ending up in extensive psychotherapy by the time they graduate?
Let me start out by telling you that I refer to myself as “a recovering perfectionist”. I am very driven, work very hard, want things to be my very best, and always give it 100% no matter what I do. Some of it’s personality, some of it’s the way I was raised. I’m trying to strike a balance with my own children – encouraging them to do their best, especially when I can see that they are more capable then what they are giving. In a society that strives for mediocre at best, and teaches our children that whatever you think is good enough is just fine, this is a challenge and requires intentional parenting.
How we allocate our time is a big barrier to excellence. Over committing to too many things is a hallmark of many modern families. We don’t take the time to just be and live intentionally. We are busy running to every park play date or signing up for all the various extracurricular or sport related things our kids may have a momentary interest in. Being intentional about what we allow our children to do via extracurricular activities, ensuring it lines up with our overall goals for our homeschool and family is very important. Scheduling your homeschool with a buffer so that you aren’t stressed is also very important to time management. Don’t schedule out every minute of every school day – leave room to enjoy the process because there is joy in pursuits of excellence!
Evaluate yourself. Do you value excellence and giving it 100% yourself? Do you model excellence for your children by requiring it of yourself first? Do you err on the side of perfectionism or being more slack then may be glorifying to God? Do a self check and figure out where you need to focus your own mind and attention to become a woman who pursues excellence in your parenting and homeschooling.
How I model excellence in my homeschool first and foremost, starts with a mission statement. This gives me the vision for excellence – I have a mark I am working toward. Then I have goals for each year that are intentionally bringing us to the finish line of our overall mission – glory by glory, of course. It’s a long process. However, I do have a goal and I do have an overarching vision for where I want my children to be in 5 years. I also do whatever I do myself with excellence and I have been working on focusing my attention to the process of being excellent rather than the end result – which is a defining line for me in perfectionism. I will talk about that a little later on.
An Audience of One
Work heartily as unto the Lord! Sometimes my daughter has asked me, “Why are you working so hard on that Mom? Nobody is going to even see it but you!” and I will tell her “Because God sees it.” I want to communicate to my daughter the fact that God is seeing what we do and like I quoted at the beginning of this post, He thinks excellence is a worthwhile pursuit. Not to mention, everything God has done is excellent, is it not? One of the things I love about the Christian Youth Theatre my daughter is in, is that they stress this very concept heavily. Teaching children that you don’t perform, whether that’s on a stage or in your room by yourself, for anyone but God. He’s our audience and constant source of motivation to do our very best.
Reaching excellence requires goals and intent. Be very intentional in your homeschooling.
- Decide what curriculum you need to pursue based on your goals.
- Look at any extracurricular activities and see if they align with your overall goals and vision for your children. Make sure they won’t overtake your schedule or add too much stress to your lives. Sometimes that requires we give up the good for the BEST!
- Be intentional about who your children spend most of their time with (are they modeling excellence or working towards it as well?).
- Look for like minded families that are also pursuing excellence with their children. Create a culture of excellence around your children. Let them see other families doing the things they are doing, with excellence as well.
Taking a Bow Out
There are definitely going to be times where you need to let your child bow out of a particular commitment or activity because of extenuating circumstances (family illness, emergencies, or parent driven reprioritization) but watch for patterns of giving up when things become not as fun as they thought or harder then they expected. Pressing through to keep commitments is very important in molding a character that pursues excellence. I tell my daughter when it gets hard, that’s just when it’s getting fun! Teach them to rise up to challenges and see it as an opportunity to show what they are made of and learn something new about themselves that they wouldn’t otherwise if they had just quit. Give plenty of verbal affirmation as they press through about the character traits they are demonstrating as they do.
Another barrier to excellence is battled in the mind. Figure out the self talk your child has. Are they prone to saying they can’t do things? Do they voice their weaknesses in a way that provides excuses to giving up on difficult things or not trying things they think they may not be good at or naturally talented in? Help your child guide their inner thoughts by correcting their thinking when these sort of words are heard out of their mouths. Take the time to stop and put positive, self encouraging and motivating words in their minds instead. There have been times when my daughter has expressed thinking she had an inability to do something, not because she couldn’t really, but because she thought she couldn’t. I intentionally made her follow through and do that very thing, with great encouragement and cheerleading, so she could see beyond her self-doubting thoughts and build the self confidence it takes to excel at anything.
Encourage Excellence as You See it Demonstrated
Find your children doing things that show character and qualities that you think are pursuing excellence. If your child spent a long time designing a lego project – give them praise – not for the outcome but for the effort! Character is demonstrated in the effort, not the outcome. Try to compliment your kids on what character quality you think they demonstrated well, not the end result, per se. This has been a learning process for me, especially with having a special needs child, who often can’t do it perfectly – but puts a lot of effort into what he does. Sometimes the end result isn’t so terrific, even though he gave something a lot of effort.
Compliment their efforts and over time their end results will get better and you will have given them the drive to pursue excellence and press through. I may be heard saying something like “I noticed when you were being asked to do that move in ballet, it was really hard for you, but you tried it over and over again until you got it! Way to persevere!” I want to reward verbally, the things I see that show sustained effort and perseverance towards a goal. It will help her to develop the character of pursuing excellence! Even my special needs son now will pursue excellence on his own. He may tell me he’s going to get 20 States correct on a computer game that is prompting him to find the States it is calling out. He will try it over and over again, until he meets his goal of getting 20 right. I love that he sustains his efforts and sets his own appropriate goals! That’s what we want to see in our kids if they are to pursue excellence.
What it is NOT
So when does pursuing excellence become perfectionism? Perfectionism is needing things to be exactly as you think they should turn out and the way you think they should be done to get there. It’s characterized by inflexibility, critical thinking, pushing versus guiding, and an unhealthy focus on the results. That’s partially why I encourage you to focus on the characteristics of excellence in your child – because it takes your vision off from the results and helps you look towards their journey and efforts, instead of results. Perfectionism can cause you to set unrealistic goals for your children and create unhappy homes. I’ve been there.
- Manage Your Time Well
- Set goals and Model Excellence
- Don’t Give Up When Things Are Hard
- Direct Their Hearts to God
- Encourage Excellence in Thinking
- Praise All Attempts That Demonstrate Excellence
“Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before unknown men.”