The 2004 film The Incredibles poses the intriguing question: "What would happen if superheroes lived among us as normal citizens?" In this film, a couple of former superheroes, Mr. Incredible and Elasti-girl, marry and then are forced deep undercover using the alter-egos, Bob and Helen Parr. The movie explores how this family deals with suppressing their superpowers in order to live a "normal" life.
As a homeschooling father, one of the most intriguing aspects of this film is how Bob and Helen deal with their children, two of whom have nascent superpowers. The aptly named son, Dash has super-speed. His older sister, Violet, has the ability to disappear and cast force fields. The baby of the family, Jack-Jack, has not displayed any super-powers and the family is slowly accepting that he is, perhaps, not "super" at all.
The Incredibles has much to teach us concerning raising our children, specifically, how to nurture and develop the "super-abilities" that lie dormant within each of them. I firmly believe that each of our children is a budding "superhero" waiting to be discovered and developed. Their abilities are likely not as dramatic as our fictional friends, but that does not diminish the potential of each of our kids to change the world in their own way.
Baby Jack-Jack is a mystery. His parents must realize that he has to be "special" - he has the right DNA - but yet he displays no superpowers. There is nothing mom and dad can do to force superpowers into him. All they can do is wait and watch. That is one of our primary roles as parents. Gifts are discovered, not created. We need to be students of our students in order to discover the secrets that lie deep within. Eventually, Jack-Jack's superpower is hilariously revealed to an unsuspecting babysitter. Similarly, you also may be surprised at the gifts displayed by your children. In our family, our kid's gifts revealed themselves in areas that neither Lee nor I would ever have imagined.
Our oldest son exhibited a sudden and profound talent in chess when he was 14. Chess was something I taught my kids when they were five and seven. "Taught" in the loosest sense of the word - just how the pieces move. This lesson lay dormant in my eldest for years. For his 14th birthday, Kevin requested a chess book. I looked at him as if he had requested Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations". I was clueless where this desire came from. We had not spoken of it for years. He received lots of birthday presents, but only one made it back to his room that day: Play Winning Chess . Kevin emerged from his room about two weeks later and proclaimed: "I'm ready to play in a tournament." Before I acceded to this, I told him he would have to beat me first. I detected the slightest trace of a smile on his face as he quickly ripped my position apart and stomped enthusiastically on my King. After that, I was quite willing to let him pick on someone more his intellectual size, so off to a chess tournament we went.
The tournament director was convinced that I was one of those parents that pushed my children to hide my own shortcomings. A few minutes of interrogation, however, convinced him that chess was probably the least likely place I would choose to bolster my self-esteem. I was utterly lost. Kevin, however, felt right at home. He ripped through a series of adult opponents with enthusiasm normally reserved for a box of Krispy Kremes. He left his first tournament with a rating that placed him among the elite of Washington State high school chess players. Lee and I spent the next four years feeding him chess books and driving him to tournaments. He ended his high school chess career in 2006 by finishing second in state.
A couple of years after the surprise birthday request of my eldest, my youngest son did, in fact, ask me for Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations". Again, Lee and I never saw it coming. I hated economics. Lee actually failed economics in college. Both of us were nonplussed . Wealth of Nations was followed by various other ancient tomes on political economics and philosophy. We learned not to ask "why" and to just fork over the books. We figured it was a good investment.
That is exactly the way it turned out. For reasons known only to God, my youngest son "caught fire" with economics. This led to amazing opportunities for him with scholarships, fellowships and meaningful employment. None of which would have been possible if we had attempted to force his passion into areas where we, his parents, felt more comfortable.
Such is the nature of children and superheroes. Who they are and what they become may not be what you think. With Kevin and Alex, the only way it made any sense at all was in retrospect. Kevin had always been quiet and analytical as a child so, now, chess seems a somewhat logical source of his enchantment. Alex was always our little academic.
The message: be students of your students. Observe their passions. Don't be too skeptical or try to force them to love what you love. They are individuals and will spend their lives striving to become who God intended them to be. You play a critical role in shaping and guiding, but not in defining or forcing. Some of your children may exhibit "superpowers" in chess, math, and philosophy. Others will flex their muscles in sports, writing, or music. The first step in raising your own superheroes is to discover where their super-powers reside. It will require your most focused attention, and will frequently demand that most elusive of all superpowers: patience.
Matt Binz works with his wife Lee (The HomeScholar) in their home-based business. Their mission is helping parents homeschool high school and many of their services are free. Please visit their website, www.TheHomeScholar.com for more information and to sign up for their FREE mini-course, "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make When Homeschooling High School"