I love watching the Olympics, but somehow, it pushes my parenting buttons. “Oohing and ahhing” at young, elite athletes makes me question my own parenting. I wonder (though not voice out loud), Should I have pushed my own kids more and helped them get to the Olympics? I never verbalize this because it reveals the embarrassing belief that I had the power to get my kids there.
I, like many of you, will continue to question the decisions I made as a parent until I die; but in the meantime, I must contend with my insecurities. Here’s the bigger issue: Why do we parents constantly wonder if we should have gotten our kids to a different place than where they already are? It doesn’t matter if our kids are 9 or 29, we all doubt our decisions. I think we do this because we feel peer pressure and deep down, we make parenting a whole lot more complicated (really) than it needs to be.
First, we assume that we have the power to make our children into people that they aren’t.
I see this all the time with parents in my practice. They tell their kids that they’re smart, capable, and stellar athletes, able to accomplish “anything and everything” that they want. They do this because they are trying to be really good, encouraging parents. The problem is, it hurts kids.
Madeline Levine, author of Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success recently wrote a New York Times article about studies showing that when kids are told they are smart over and over, they lose their motivation. I haven’t seen studies, but I’ll bet the same is true for athletes who are constantly told that they are outstanding. They simply don’t work as hard. By “encouraging” kids in this manner, in fact we may be taking away their motivation.
So why do we do this? Because we believe that we have the power to make our kids into elite athletes, scholars, musicians, etc. Of course we have influence, but it is limited. Our job as parents is to encourage kids to work hard at whatever the endeavor they’re in. If they become outstanding, our encouragement will help them get there, but it will only help.