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Are we putting too much pressure on our kids?

February 18, 2013

Dreams.  Hopes.  Wishes.

When I was younger, I wanted to be a counselor. I wanted to be a wife and a mom. I also wanted to be a princess and a ballerina, but I guess you can’t have everything. Besides my dashed princess and ballerina dreams, I’ve been very fortunate. I’m so grateful, and I’m still dreaming for more.  Although, since my dream of being a mom was realized, nothing has been the same since. All of those past dreams and wishes were about me. Nowadays, every dream that I have is about my son.

I want happiness, success, and security for him. I have daydreamed about good report cards and college and graduation parties. I’ve hoped that he would travel the world and make a difference in people’s lives. I have imagined being the mother of the groom at a beautiful wedding some day, and I think about being a grandma to a bunch of little cuties one day. I, essentially, have figured it all out.

But, I’m trying to keep my mouth shut.

Will the apple fall far from the tree?

These are my dreams, not necessarily his. These are ideals that have brought me happiness, so it is what I know. I want my son to be happy, and I can’t help but think of the things in my own life that have brought me happiness. It doesn’t mean it will be the same for him.

That’s a tough pill to swallow, but it is reality. Just the other day, we were noticing how different our son is, in so many ways, than either my husband or myself. He may look like my mini-me, but he is not really a mini-me.  He may say, “Forget college,” or maybe he won’t have kids. I will, of course, freak out, but ultimately, it’s his life and his choices. I’m not saying that we, as parents, should just throw our hands up in the air!  I am still going to encourage my son to take the paths that I feel are in his best interest. For example: We have set the norm in our house that after high school, you go to college. No questions asked. That is the expected next step- no different than every day you are expected to brush your teeth.  That’s the expectation. That’s the plan. We’ll see how that works out in ten years!

When parents push too hard

I recently watched an episode of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” In it, Sunny, a 16-year-old high school student, met with her trainer, Jillian Michaels, to discuss her barriers to weight loss. During their discussion, Sunny reveals to Jillian that her weight issues are directly linked to the pressure that she feels from her parents to achieve their dreams of her becoming a doctor. Sunny talks about the stress that she feels from her intensive classes, studying, and multitude of activities, all of which she is doing because Mom and Dad say she must. Sunny’s ways of dealing with this stress is what has gotten her into trouble with her health.

I empathize with Sunny’s parents. I, too, want everything under the sun for my kid. However, in that episode, it looked like the “encouragement”, (or pressure!), that Sunny was being given, was causing her problems.  She talked about her tendency to eat when she is stressed, which she attributed as a major factor regarding her weight issue. 

I empathize with Sunny, too. Too much stress, pressure, or worry about disappointing people (especially when you’re a kid and those people are your parents) can cause people to engage in unhealthy coping skills. Overeating is just one example of something that people do to deal with stress, anxiety, and worry.  A healthy amount of pressure can be good… It can motivate us and encourage us.  However, in Sunny’s case, she did not seem to have the skills in place to manage all the demands that were put upon her.

Letting your child be his own person

Something I try to remember is that as much as he is me, my little guy is his own person. My son has shown a love for reading (all me!) and a passion for soccer (not me!).  He is all about Science, both Social Science (all me!) and Physics (uh, whaaaat?).

Sometimes, parents think of all the things that they didn’t have while growing up, and the opportunities that they didn’t get, and can’t seem to help but to push their kids in the direction that they think is best.  I get that, especially if a family is dealing with extreme circumstances, like, for example, they’ve left their home country to make a new life in the U.S., or they are trying to break out of old cycles and patterns.  I’ve had the same urges to push, push, push.

However, I already had my turn. I’ve already made my choices. If I’m not happy with where I ended up, that’s on me to change for myself.  It wouldn’t be fair for me to set my expectations for my son based on what I have or haven’t done in my own life. It is difficult, and there is no easy step-by-step guide to follow to guarantee happiness and success in our children.

How do you see it?  How does a parent effectively walk the line of encouraging, supporting, guiding, and expecting the best for their child, without being too restrictive?  How do we encourage our kids to be their own person, but still be who we want them to be?

Click here to watch the episode of “The Biggest Loser” that was mentioned above: Pay it Forward