I don’t get the obsession with parents wanting their kids to be better than their peers- pushing them to be the best athlete, best dancer, best grades in class, etc.
OK, maybe I get it. I mean we all want our kids to do great things — become famous musicians, super heroes or pro sports players. But these fantasies are a bit unrealistic.
I guess what I really don’t get is the pushing that we are sometimes guilty of. When did “do your best” get replaced with “be the best”? I am not saying kids shouldn’t try new things or practice hard at something. Sports, music or good grades are all positive and rewarding things, when it’s the child’s goal and not just the parent’s.
Can we address the elephant in the room when it comes to competitiveness? We simply can’t all be winners! It should be OK to be just OK. Average is not a bad place — it just means you aren’t the best, and you aren’t the worst. When did that become a bad thing?
As I had these thoughts on the forefront of my mind, I noticed a Facebook post from Epic Parenting. It’s a sign on the fence of a baseball field to remind little league parents that this is just a game, and to let their kid’s have fun. It is hard to believe that anyone needs a sign to remind them of this. I guess some of us get lost somewhere between cheerleading and obsessing.
My theory about pushy parenting is that it’s an extension of the parent’s own self esteem and the need to feel he or she has succeeded as a parent. Many say it is unfinished business from the parent’s own childhood. Maybe it was an unfulfilled dream they once had for themselves, or maybe it is partly reality but they want to continue onto their offspring.
This air of competitiveness has rubbed off on my 9 year old daughter. Either she already had a perfectionistic personality, or it has brought it out in her. She doesn’t need anyone to push her, as she usually feels she needs to be the best at everything already. Often if it isn’t something she can master easily, she feels she has failed. She has tried soccer and gymnastics and playing the recorder. All of which she quickly felt pressure to be better or wasn’t able to feel comfortable with being new and/or less advanced than the other kids.
This makes me sad because I just want her to try things and be OK with being just alright at something. Heck, I would be happy even if she sucks, as long as she enjoys it.
She started taking an Introduction to Track this spring for kids 8-12 years old. She loves this class and is having… FUN. Would I like her to be super fast and get into competitions and win races? Sure! After watching her practice the other day, I even gave her some pointers on her stride. Then it happened. I caught myself asking her if she “won” any of the practice races. She told me that she was not the fastest runner, but she was not the slowest. She seemed to be OK with this. She certainly checked me there. I have never been more proud of her.
And what about pushing kids to be able to master certain milestones based on their age? Can we please stop making our kids milestones into a race to see whose kid can walk first, talk first, read first? I know I have been guilty of feeling proud of my children’s growth or vocabulary, or equally frustrated or anxious for my children’s various milestones when it took longer than it was “supposed to.” But the fact of the matter is it really doesn’t mean anything in the long run. For those that love to brag about their kids beating the curve, trust me, your toddler is not a genius just because she learned to read at 3 (although that is pretty cool). Perhaps she will turn out to be above average in intelligence, or will do well in school, perhaps it won’t. Perhaps it just means she likes books.
The same is true in the opposite direction. All three of my children took a while to walk, yet only one is mildly autistic. In fact, my autistic daughter walked a month sooner than my typically developing daughter. I would be lying if I told you it didn’t frustrate me to have a child so behind the curve for this milestone. It felt like forever, and grew more and more embarrassing at 17 months when all the other kids in her playgroup were walking. Yet, as fate would have it, she has turned out to be my most active child so far, and as I mentioned, her favorite activity is track. She is a bit cautious by nature, which makes sense as to why she was slow to walk.
Of course, these issues should not be completely ignored, and when there are more than just one delay you should consider assessments. I am just saying that not every slow or late to arrive milestone means a severe mental or physical delay, especially if it is in isolation. It is more likely that the child is working on other skills, or simply a matter of personality, rather than a fatal flaw.
This same cautious daughter who is nearing on 10, still had not learned to ride a bike before this spring. We tried to encourage her to let us remove her training wheels when she was 7 or 8 – the average age for riding a bike – but she refused. Last summer I accidentally rode over one of the training wheels with my Jeep and I decided not to replace it. I told her she could try riding, but that whole summer she wouldn’t even touch her bike. I didn’t push it, but I did fear she would never learn. I feared I had failed her as a parent. I felt sad that she missing out on one of my favorite parts of childhood.
This spring she told me she wanted to learn and asked us to get her bike out and remove the one remaining training wheel. I started off teaching her by holding on to her seat, and her dad gave her some pointers about balancing. After a few days (and a few meltdowns), she was riding – completely riding her bike. Even though she was older than most kids learn to ride – this was the right time for her to learn. While some parents would have kept pushing her at 8, I was happy that when it was time for her to learn she didn’t give up, period.
I hadn’t failed as a parent, I just had a late bloomer. After three children, I am letting go of their childhood being a competition or a race.
Don’t get me wrong, it would be amazing if any of my children excel at something enough to be the best, are top in their class at school, or learn to do something earlier than most of their peers – but I will never push them into it, and I will try not to feel like a failure if they don’t. If it happens to be their passion and they want to pursue it, I will stand beside them and help them succeed. But it will be their doing, not mine.
The hard truth is that our kids are not going to be the best at everything — or maybe not at anything. We need to be OK with that, so that our children can be OK with it. We need them to move on to become adults who want to work with others, rather than just be out for themselves. Don’t we want our children to view others with lesser skills as needing help, rather than trample over them? If we want a future society for our children that places more emphasis on teamwork and building each other up, then it starts with us showing them good sportsmanship now, not just incessant competitiveness.
It also starts with us accepting that average is a fine place to be.