As parents today, we are inundated with messages about how we should be parenting our children. We are told about all the things that our children need to be doing to get the best start in life. There’s so much information and so many opportunities that it’s overwhelming. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of parental aspirations.We want our children to excel. We want them to have a better life than we did. And anything less is a step back and a failure – right? Click To Tweet
Not in my opinion.
Maybe dreaming big for our kids isn’t actually our job as parents…
But if having aspirations for our children to conquer the world isn’t our job, what is?
I have three kids – two are six and the third is 23 – and it might shock you to know that I don’t have a life plan for them.I don’t have aspirations for what they SHOULD achieve in life. Click To Tweet
First of all, ‘should’ is a very dangerous word; it carries a lot of societal beliefs about what a person OUGHT to be doing along with a boatload of guilt, if that person just happens to WANT to be doing something different.
Second of all, it’s their life. It’s their path to follow. They have potential and realizing that potential is part of their journey, not mine. I have my own journey to complete. I’m certainly hoping that they’ll invite me along for the ride; I’m ready to be their personal cheerleader. But, I’m not their dictator or even the leader of the expedition.
Don’t get me wrong.
I want my children to be successful in life. But, that success needs to be defined in their terms; because, when I say I want them to be successful, I really mean I want them to be HAPPY – whatever happiness looks like for THEM.
But I’m their parent – isn’t it my job?
I fully realize that while my kids are still children, it IS my job to guide them towards becoming fully actualized and productive members of our society. But, I’m also fully aware that this is going to mean something different for every child. I have three kids, and so I’m expecting to witness three completely different journeys.
It’s my job to teach my kids what it means by our societal standards to be thoughtful, kind and polite. It’s my job to help them explore their potential, guide them in finding the things that fulfill them, and facilitate them participating in opportunities that will help them grow into happy adults. Adults who are content in the path they’ve chosen – whether this is in academics, sports, the arts or something completely different.
It ISN’T my job to set out a ridged path of academics and extra-curricular activities where they must perform at a high level, dictated by me, in order to be considered worthy by myself and the greater society.
Does this mean my kids can just run amok?
Not in the least.Let me remind you that aspirations and expectations are very different things. Click To Tweet
As much as it’s important for kids to have the freedom to discover their true essence, it’s also critical that they learn how to express that essence within the broader framework of our society. Because, they aren’t solitary creatures – even if they turn out to be loners – they live in a society, and so there are rules to follow; rules that it IS my job to teach them.
There are many communities that my kids are a part of just as a result of being born. They have a country, province, city and a family – to name just a few. And being a member of a community means that there are expectations for your behavior. Every society and community within that society has written or unwritten rules that members must follow – think of these as the guidelines for how to get along with each other. And as much as rules and laws can be limiting, they’re an essential part of keeping a society running, and as a member of a society, I’m obliged to follow them (or work to change them); otherwise, I’m an interloper.
So, you see, I do have expectations for my kids. I expect that they will use their manners. I expect that they will show respect to people of authority, like their teachers, employers and ‘gasp’ their parents. I expect that they will help others when they can – just to name a few of my extensive expectations.
Within our home, I have other expectations. I expect that they will lend a hand. Even the little ones have responsibilities and jobs, like getting themselves ready for school, emptying the dishwasher, and helping me fold the laundry.
What I DON’T have is expectations for what kind of activities they should take part in. I try to model a healthy, active, outdoor lifestyle, but I don’t force them to love what I love or do what I wish had done in my life.
What I DON’T have is expectations for how well they do at school. Now this is a bit tricky. Education is important to me. And, I do expect that they will attend school, and I expect that they will do their school work. However, their achievement should be reflection of their own ability and their own hard work – NOT my belief in what they should be able to accomplish.
Of course, I will be there, every step of the way, to help them in whatever way that they need.
So what’s wrong with having aspirations for your kids?
At its very essence, there’s nothing wrong with having aspirations for our children. And deep down, of course, I have feelings about how I’d like to see their lives turn out.
Parental aspirations become a problem when they don’t match up with their children’s aptitudes AND passions, because this leads to stress.
All around me I see evidence of stressed kids. Our school is putting a workshop on for parents who have anxious kids, social media is filled with advice on dealing with your child’s anxiety, and I see kids with hair-trigger emotions.
Where is it all coming from?
I’m not an expert, so I can only guess. But some of it has to be from all the pressures on our kids today. Of course, I’m sure some of the anxiety can be traced back to a neurotransmitter problem – just like my own anxiety disorder, but I’d bet the farm (not that I actually have a farm to bet) that some of it is just pressure from society and parents to be something that maybe they aren’t.
I think maybe it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate.
There are endless opportunities for kids these days, but at what cost? What are they NOT experiencing because they’re being shuttled from one activity to another with little down time to be kids?
Our kids’ lives are so chocked full of ‘opportunities’ that they’re missing out on just being kids.
I’m not saying that providing our kids with opportunities to learn and grow is a bad thing; I’m saying too much of it is. Just like with anything there has to be some moderation (you know like eat one chocolate, not the whole box 😉 ) – and I think that maybe our society has lost touch with what exactly moderation means.
Is this just one more thing for parents to worry about?
Being a parent today is stressful. There is so much conflicting information about what we need to be doing to make sure that our kids have every advantage that it’s hard to know what to do; the result is endless guilt and worry about how we’re not measuring up.
But, maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe, parents are just under too much pressure to get it right – and by get it right, what I really mean is living up to our society’s standard of what we should be doing as parents.Maybe, it’s time for us, as the parents of these kids, to re-evaluate what’s really important. What exactly is our job? Click To Tweet
WHAT EXACTLY IS OUR JOB?
For me, it’s raising kids who are happy and well-adjusted.
And I’m certainly learning that in order for them to not be anxious and overwhelmed, I, as their mother, need to NOT be anxious and overwhelmed. So, I’m taking the time to figure out what is really important to them, what really makes them happy.
And I’m learning that for my kids snuggles on the couch for hours while we read a book together generates more smile than mad dashes from activity to activity.
I’m learning that for my kids playdates with their friends after school and on the weekends generate more laughter and imagination than being shuffled around to multiple events around town.
So, I’m working on being okay with doing less. And, I’m working on recognizing that I’m not robbing my kids of an enriched childhood by reducing the amount of activities we participate in. Seriously, they don’t need to go to three Christmas parades just because there are three available to go to.
But, the key, of course, is to tune into what your kids like. Just because the above scenario will work for mine, doesn’t mean it will work for yours. Maybe, your kids thrive on being busy – but, as their parents I would still caution that moderation is important.
MY OWN HISTORY
When I was in high school, I had a jam packed schedule, but it was by choice. Nobody was telling me that I had to do all the things I was doing – I loved it all. I wasn’t feeling dread before each event. I wasn’t trying to get out of going while my parents insisted that I do. In fact, they might have cautioned me that I was spreading myself too thin; advice I probably should’ve headed just a little bit closer.
Sometimes we need to force our kids to choose between activities – we need to help them learn moderation because they’re receiving the same societal messages that we are. And even though they may want to, they can’t do everything. It’s actually a life skill to learn to identify the things that are actually important to you. It’s taken me quite a while and a good deal of burnout to learn that particular lesson.
Following your kids’ lead
We’re all so used to living in a society that promotes busyness and most of us are out of tune with what makes us happy. So, how are we supposed to know what is right for our kids? We don’t even what’s right for us?
If not easy.
We simply learn to read their cues.
If they get a mysterious stomach ache right before an activity or you have to cajole them to get moving to be on time, even if when they get there, they’re having a great time, it’s a warning sign that it isn’t the right fit for them. If they’re so exhausted that you have to drag them out of bed in the morning, it’s a sign that maybe they’re doing too much.
It’s so tricky to find the right balance for our kids. We don’t want to be accused later of not providing them with the opportunities that they need. But, if you look at people who have achieved amazing things in our world you’ll find they did it no matter their start in life – so cut yourself a little slack.
And you may also find that these super high achievers aren’t necessarily the happiest people around.
And above all else, I want my kids to be happy.
So, when I’m feeling guilty because we’ve spent another Saturday in our pajamas reading books or playing Lego while the rest of the city is scampering from one activity to the next, I’m going to take in their smiles and remind myself that we’re doing just fine, and there’ll be lots of activities for them to get involved in next Saturday.
Or maybe we’ll just have a playdate…
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