So I want you to imagine my dismay when the next day after coming home from school and spending a 1/2 hour in his bedroom Captain E brought me the 2nd can from the right for inspection. He'd asked some of the kids in his class for their used soda cans after lunch, had brought them home and when he couldn't find any green paper (mainly because he hadn't asked where it was) he set to making his own by coloring lined paper with a colored pencil. Over the following week he completed the rest of the pigs using a couple of tin cans he got out of recycling, some more soda cans, and a milk carton.
I want you to know that this was honestly one of the hardest moments in my parenting. I wanted beautiful, perfect, uniform, Martha Stewart Pigs. My OCD REQUIRED IT! But instead he was producing mismatched paper and tape covered child created piggies. I had to bit my tongue, HARD. I had to recognize the value of my son planning his own project, solving how to get his own materials, going through the effort of putting them together himself, and then being proud of his own work and accomplishments. It was a hard lesson. I wanted to put together the perfect project, to send it in and have all the other PTA moms and teachers in awe over my/I mean my son's creativity and artistic abilities (ie ability to copy off Pinterest ;). I wanted to have a picture perfect blog moment, Pinterest moment, school moment, mom moment. I want to be prideful. I wanted to be the best.
One of the things I've noticed about myself as a mother is that the temptation to compete through our children is almost irresistible. From their earliest moments we compare their percentiles, their head size, who is the first to sit, crawl, walk. Who has the most words. Who has the most friends. Who the best dancer. Who learns to read the earliest. Who gets on the team. Who climbs the monkey bars first. Who gets the best grades. Who goes to the best college. Who picks the best career. In our competitiveness we turn our children into an extension of our own self worth and by doing so we often stifle their own opportunities for growth and their own dreams. I remember one day being on Facebook and a friend mentioned that a mother on a blog she'd been reading had said that if her son wanted to dance she would kill herself.
What is wrong with us as parents? We get so obsessed with the outcomes of our children, the product that we want them to be and how it reflects on us that we devalue their actual potential, their actual self and we often through our competitiveness and our requirement for them to perform at the highest level so that we can feel good about it will even rob them of their opportunity to learn.
A few years ago a good friend of mine sort of embarrassingly mentioned that she had been in a study at the University of Illinois that had shown that when American parents praise their children for being smart it actually keeps children from taking risk and learning more as opposed to Chinese parents who say to their children, "Here's where you need to improve, let me teach you." I think it is important to know that this women is an AMAZING MOTHER, seriously one of the best people I've ever met. Her children are outstanding. They are GIFTED. They ARE what you would call SMART. They are talented in sports, school, music, and theater. They are popular in their spheres. They are good. They are trustworthy. They are the kind of children that any parent would be proud to have. I think a big thing she took from the study was that rather then praising your children's intelligence we should praise effort.
Here is the key on this though, the problem I found when I was watching the production of these birds was sometimes I didn't like his efforts. I wanted it my way because I wanted the pride of having it perfect. But the truth is, the second I would have taken the project away from him, it would have been my effort and not his. So I had to sit back. I had to let him make the decisions, and while I didn't have my picture perfect Pintrest moment his efforts worked out great for him. The kids liked his project. His teacher was pleased. He keep these birds around for months.
Our job as parents is to love our children. It is to nurture them by providing them with a safe and happy environment in which they can learn the value of work, of ingenuity, and of persistence and apply those qualities toward living out their own dreams. A lot of times when we talk about the negative value of the "self esteem" movement we like to worry over the rising generation and forget that much of what is going on comes from us as we try to use our children to bolster our own self esteem. I find it to be the trickiest part of parenthood. But I think if we can detach our own value from seeing our children as a product that we can take pride in we really open up a lot of opportunity for them to take pride in their own selves, in their own efforts, in their work. Our children are not pets to be trained, but instead are small people growing into big people.
When we separate ourselves from our children we also open ourselves up to take pride in accomplishments outside of our children. Just because we are parents doesn't mean the rest of our lives is only that fact. We can still produce. There are races to be run, intramural sports to join, book groups, work accomplishments, art projects, the whole sphere of home improvements, pets to train, yards to beautify, food to create, trips to take, photographs to be taken, blogs/books/articles that need to be written, political campaigns and movements to contribute to. These are the spheres in which we can take pride out of competition because these efforts we own. We still have the opportunity to live out dreams and if we are not satisfied with where we are we still can still learn and grow, shift and even do something else.