Like everyone else, we wanted to give our kids a competitive advantage, so in the race to do so, we were pulling the strings, plotting their every move, filling their every spare moment with after school classes and activities, hoping to turn them into uber-achievers.
Which future blue chip company could afford to turn down my little treasures?
Just look at their CVs for heaven’s sake- qualifications coming out of their ears, volunteer work every summer, well travelled global citizens, oh did I mention the internships at the bank, plus they are multi-lingual with grade 10 ballet, and piano.
Or at least, that was the plan!
The poor sods!
Where’s the fun?
Where was their childhood?
So what did we do?
It’s difficult to think differently, particularly when everybody else is playing one-upmanship armageddon.
Help Take the Pressure off of Parenting and Your Kids
We decided to take the pressure off, to slow down a bit. We are less worried about them achieving academic excellence. We don’t feel the need to be scheduling every waking second, to plot their every move.
Instead, we have and continue to take the time to explore their passions, to try new things. We want to help develop the skills and attitudes that actually make a difference in their lives. We want them to develop their character, to have space to fail, to learn how to deal with life and not feel the need to chase someone else’s idea of what success looks like.
That doesn’t mean that we are taking school lightly, we still want them to do as well as they can academically, but that’s no longer our only priority. We want them to develop all aspects of what it takes to be a successful adult, in a more deliberate and purposeful way.
Is it the right thing to do? Only time will tell.
When It’s More About Me Than Them
It seems that the lines between parenting as a role and as a function have become blurred. Parent as a verb it seems, only entered popular usage in the 70’s and since then there’s been a seismic shift towards the role end of the spectrum, and I was no different (I’m still working on this one).
Being a parent was and is so much a part of my identity, that the danger is that I end up, to some extent, living my life through my kids.
Simple things like their achievements and behaviour, how they compare with other kids at school and sports. If they do well, I naturally feel proud, but there’s a part of it which is about me, it’s almost like ‘I want you to do well because it reflects well on me’, it makes me look good.
This is the thin end of the wedge, at the thicker (more dangerous) end, we are into approval territory. Think about the decisions you have made in your life, how many were made for the benefit of your parents, the school you went to, whether you went to college, the degree you took, the career you follow, the partner you chose, where you live etc…
So what did I do here?
I didn’t want my kids to make choices for MY benefit, I don’t want to be disappointed in them for not meeting my exacting standards, they should be making decisions for THEIR benefit, it’s their life, not mine.
Sometimes I forget that even though they are small, they are humans in their own right.
So we gave up worrying about and trying to control outcomes and instead we focused further upstream: on values.
We looked at the sorts of values that are important to us individuals and as a family, as well as the values that we believe our kids will need in the modern world and we work on ways to develop these in the safe learning environment of the home.
We want to help them prepare for life as adults and we still have high expectations and push them when needed, but the outcome is not the be all and end all, it’s what they do along way. For us it’s the effort they put in, how they react when it goes wrong, can they think of a better way next time?
In doing this we hope to give them their own tool set, one that allows them to live their life in the way that they see fit.
I appreciate that it’s a different way of looking at things and not everyone will agree. But I made a commitment to improve, and that’s where we ended up.
Your story will be different, but hopefully I’ve inspired you to do at least one thing. Even adjusting the present course by just one degree, will result in an entirely new direction of travel, a new journey, which over time, will end up at an altogether different destination.
I’m still going to screw up, and no doubt in the months and years to come, I’ll look back and will have made different mistakes. However, I’ll change, adapt, improve, and at least I will look back and I won’t have to lie to myself, I will know that I actually did my best.