The Fallacy of Benchmark Parenting
Updated: Aug 7
I would consider parenting its own helix sport.
What are Helix Sports?
The type of sports where progress is individualized. Helix sports provide a platform where each participant searches to create a new relationship with themselves; enduring pain and risk at varying degrees to achieve personal goals*.
Sounds like traditional sports to me.
Not really. Helix sports de-emphasizes rules, regulations and the programmed constraint of traditional sports. In other words, free from “expert” micro-management*.
In a helix sport, the concept of predestination is irrelevant*. The focus is on learning, iteration and progress, by your own definition.
There are rules to good parenting, I’ve read about them.
You can read all the books and attend all the seminars. Still, it doesn’t take long to realize that no child is exactly like another. There is no reliable map to tell you all you need to do to raise your specific child to be well-adjusted and equipped for life, which is why the helix sport analogy works so well.
As a parent you are constantly learning, iterating and progressing by your own and your family’s definition.
Modern schooling has enforced this notion of centralization and standardization of children, distilling child-rearing to a summary of best-guesses built on averages*. Which leaves a rather wide margin for error if we think about how we relate our child’s individuality to an abstract benchmark.
What’s so wrong with wanting my child’s development to coincide with the benchmark?
Well, all pedagogical theory is based on “stage theories “of human development*. All stage theories reference children in averages. No specific child represents that average benchmark.
That benchmark is an amalgamation of individual milestones, personal successes and setbacks, reduced to a singular, quantitative metric. There is a lot of nuance and individualization that gets swept away in an average representation. Which I would argue is problematic when evaluating human growth and development.
Our lives are stories unwritten and personal. While society might try and enforce expectations that pressure us to strive towards collective milestones, lived experiences are individual, not collective; personal and unswayed by the societal standards with which you may be judging yourself.
If nothing else, striving towards the benchmark, or finding yourself way beyond it, is a great recipe to trigger inferiority and superiority complexes rife with anxiety and insecurity. All the while, you are competing with a figment of the collective’s imagination, since average Joe & Jane never existed.
If you don’t agree with the benchmark, what’s your measure for success?
Myself. Who I am today in comparison to who I was yesterday.
I’m not sure what I would make of my life were it not for my personal struggles and growing pains. If life was void of such experiences, how would I derive its value? I’m not sure. I believe that our experiences and personal histories etch into the uniqueness of self, as much as our fingerprints. If there was nothing personal about my story, I’m not sure that I would feel compelled to share it with others.
The evidence in my lived experience has demonstrated that average people, adults and children, don’t actually exist. The tragedy is that the “average individual” still remains the basis of social theory*.
The artificial and abstract constructs that are the average, “Joe & Jane,” don’t tell you anything valuable about your own irrevocably non-abstract child. People exist, each with their own stories, their own triumphs and tribulations, their own milestones and setbacks. All deeply personal and intimate.
While the sum of our individualities form the cultural fabric of our collective societal identity, who we are, as we are, is truly enough. If we believe that, we can impart that on the children that we are supporting, protecting and empowering.
There is beauty and value in each of our personal journeys that the benchmark fails to communicate.
Don’t blend to the benchmark, shine on your path.
(*) Excerpts taken from John Gatto's, The Underground History of American Education, 2000.