One thing we’ve always told our children is to try their best and aim, not for perfection, but an improvement. Nobody is perfect. Even the smartest prodigy in the world is likely to err.

But very often, even when they get a better result that’s improved by five or six marks, it’s still just a C or B grade that we don’t approve of. Cue disappointed look on our face.

When good is not good enough

Common sense tells us that we can’t all squeeze into the rarefied stratum where the elites dwell – there is not enough room at the top. But we still hold our children to impossible standards, benchmarking them against conventional measures of success instead of valuing them for their unique quirks and abilities. Time and time again, we don’t appreciate our children for who they are, but what we want them to be.

Fun for fun’s sake is now a luxury, even meaningless. It seems essential that we should hone every sport, activity and hobby to be a level of proficiency that helps open doors or merits a mention in a winning resume. In our relentless pursuit of excellence, good is no longer good enough, and being labelled average might as well be an insult. Either you are a top A-student or you are a washed-out loser.

No special skills

Months before the PSLE, a common question among parents with P6 kids was: “Are you applying for DSA?” The Direct School Admission scheme is a way of securing a place in popular secondary schools as it recognises talents beyond good grades. Unfortunately, some children don’t have any particularly unique talent or skill that makes them qualified for DSA. With the number of parents applying for it every year, not all the children will have an equal chance of qualifying. A lot of them will be good enough for the Express stream, but not for top schools. They might enjoy sports, but they are not good enough to join any competition. It almost feels like a curse just being average.

But there is one valuable trait we often miss out from many average people. As a movie quote goes, “Because the strong man who has known power all his life may lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of strength and knows… compassion.” For those of us who are mere average folks, we know not just how valuable any improvement or newly acquired skills can be, but also how it feels to struggle with your fellow men, your fellow Singaporeans to work hard and achieve success. It gives us something more valuable than knowledge and intelligence; it grants us empathy.

Celebrating the small successes

That’s why it’s important to celebrate the small triumphs your child has. It’s not just to motivate your child, but also to affirm the principle that your child means more to you than only grades and successes. It’s to live with the knowledge that you approve of your child’s existence, this life that can give you joy beyond some five-digit salary or some expensive bungalow. It’s to celebrate the power of having family who will love you and cherish you for a life worth living. That is the real reason why we celebrate the small successes of these little wonders, not because we are afraid of their failure.

“For the longest time, we joked about his useless talent,” wrote a Straits Time reader responding to a similar article. Her son has struggled with maths as a child, but he could identify every national flag. “Well, it turns out that it may not be as useless after all. In September this year, my boy will be going overseas to study international relations!”

They say success is in the eye of the beholder, but there’s a more appropriate adage that’s often misattributed to Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”

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