I hear some variation of the question almost every day. “Mom, who in our family was the youngest to learn to read?” “Mom, am I good at math?” “Am I good at ballet?” “Am I . . . ?” In a million different ways, my kids daily try to measure their value. Their worth. Who they are. They do it by seeking success in their childlike endeavors or excelling in simple schoolwork. They do it when they wonder if someone else—a sibling, a peer, anyone—has excelled more than they have. And it’s not so much a question of competition—Am I the best?—it’s a question of value. What defines me? Do I rise or fall in worth if someone else does better than I do?
It seems childish, but like so many other parts of parenting, far too often I find that their constant questions mirror the questions that threaten to plague me, too. “Have I done enough?” “Is my child succeeding?” “How does our education/discipline/parenting style measure up?” Each question a metric for my value, and my children’s.
It’s not that there isn’t a place for honest assessment—there is! But the metric we’re using when we do that assessment has a profound impact on us and our kids. My value, identity, and success as a homeschooling mom aren’t based on how or whether my children excel academically or in extracurriculars. It’s not even based on their behavior or demeanor, as if they exist to make me, as a parent, look stellar. I can’t wear their good deeds like a badge of honor. As a wise woman (my own homeschooling mom) told me repeatedly, “My children are not my trophies.”
To avoid exhaustion and to avoid placing false burdens on my own children, I have to live in the reality that my value isn’t defined by my children’s successes in school, behavior, or anything else. It’s defined by my Creator and Redeemer. A poor homeschooling day (or even year!) does not change my identity in Christ. And my definition of success has to live in that reality too. If success is a polite, respectful child who always obeys, or a squadron of tiny students who always test above grade level, what happens when a soul I’ve been entrusted with is struggling, or when my kids don’t become who I thought they’d be?
In reality, success isn’t a result. Because the result isn’t fully within my control. Success is faithfulness with what I am given. Being faithful to tenderly nurture and train the hearts and souls of my children. Faithful to help their minds grow to the best of each child’s ability. Faithful in the little choices and tasks, knowing even the smallest things set the trajectory for our home and family. And even faithful to rest in God’s grace, freely bestowed, when I fall short.
And this is the picture my children need. Each of the little people entrusted to my husband and me have their own gifts and struggles. Areas where they will naturally blossom faster, and areas where growth will be an uphill battle. There will always be things that one sibling does better than another, always areas where a peer excels more. My children need to know that their value isn’t defined on a sliding metric, as if they were worth more, or loved more, based on their behavior or performance. They need to know that success is faithfulness before God, not a high SAT score, entrance into a great university, or a better performance than someone else. And they need to know that grace is there for them, even when faithfulness hasn’t happened.
The identity of my children—their value and their worth—isn’t changed by their accomplishments or their failures. And neither is mine. And the success of this upcoming homeschool year won’t be calculated based on grades or whether curriculum is fully completed. Like all of us, I am simply called to be faithful with what I am given to do.
About the Author
Rachael Denhollander is an attorney, advocate, and educator who was the first woman to speak out publicly against former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, one of the most prolific sexual abusers in recorded history. As a result of her activism, more than 250 women came forward as survivors of Nassar’s abuse, leading to his life imprisonment. Rachael and her husband, Jacob, live in Kentucky with their four children. Her memoir, What Is a Girl Worth?, shines a spotlight on the physical and emotional impact of abuse, the extraordinary power of faith and forgiveness, and the importance of doing what’s right in the moments that matter most. She is also the author of How Much Is a Little Girl Worth?, a tenderhearted anthem to little girls everywhere, teaching them that they have immeasurable worth because they are made in the image of God.
What Is a Girl Worth? is the inspiring true story of Rachael’s journey from an idealistic young gymnast to a strong and determined woman who found the courage to raise her voice against evil, even when she thought the world might not listen. This deeply personal and compelling narrative shines a spotlight on the physical and emotional impact of abuse, why so many survivors are reluctant to speak out, what it means to be believed, the extraordinary power of faith and forgiveness, and how we can learn to do what’s right in the moments that matter most.
How Much Is a Little Girl Worth? is Rachael Denhollander’s tender-hearted anthem to little girls everywhere, teaching them that they have immeasurable worth because they are made in the image of God. Armed with this understanding, girls will develop confidence in their own value and blossom into women who can face any challenge life puts in their path.