It’s a natural instinct to push our kids to succeed. We only want the best for them, after all. But are we damaging our children by teaching them that their choices are limited to either success or failure?
Our children grow up under the crushing weight of all our hopes and dreams for them. As they master crawling, walking and talking, we plan their futures. We imagine ourselves standing gracefully on the White House lawn, in the front row at the Academy Awards, waiting in the wings in Stockholm, courtside at the NBA finals. The child who absently bangs a few notes on the piano as he passes by is nurtured with lessons, his innate talent praised. The girl who twirls joyfully in the park is signed up for ballet and gymnastics lessons the next afternoon.
All over the world, parents push their children to succeed, to be the best, to excel. And that’s fantastic, except that the reality is that most of our children will not be world-famous whatevers or the greatest fill-in-the-blanks of all time. Most of us, after all, are fairly ordinary. Oh, sure, we’re really good at something or other, and we enjoy relative success in our chosen fields, but are we world-renowned? Are we turning down endorsement opportunities or juggling our schedules to give back-to-back keynotes at conferences on different continents or inspiring unauthorized autobiographies? Are we even writing unauthorized biographies? Most of us are not.
What’s critical is that our kids understand that even though we want the best for them, “the best” is relative. We want them to try, to dream, to reach, but we also need to ensure that they understand that normal does not necessarily mean mediocre, and that mediocre does not define their character, even if they can’t cure cancer or play in the NFL — or even make the JV team in high school.
People can be ordinary and still make a difference in the world. People can be average and still be extraordinary. And before you brush away that word disdainfully, before you discount average, consider this: Average is what you pray for during pregnancy. If you don’t believe it, just ask any parent of a child with special needs.
Dream — and do
Dreams matter. Of course they matter. Of course we want greatness for our children. But we don’t want them to be so paralyzed by the thought of greatness that they fail to do anything meaningful with their lives. Life, in general, is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Our children deserve the chance to experiment, to dabble, to be free to aspire to normalcy. To do, without worrying about success or failure. To do. To be.
It’s not, “I’ll love you even if you can’t be the best or no matter what you do.” It’s, “I love you.” That intrinsic, essential, fundamental thing that makes your son your son is why you love him. Unconditional love means you don’t put conditions on it. It sounds obvious, but it’s something that’s easy to forget.
Hopes and dreams are a good thing. They’re an important part of parenting. But an equally important part is to remind yourself — and your child — that those hopes and dreams are there to inspire, not to crush. The only weight your child should feel on his shoulders is his head held high with pride in who he is now, at this moment.