With parenting, there’s a fine line between deciding to support or to guide as your kids get older and start to decide which roads to take in their lives. You want to give them space to figure out their own path (because we all know the futility of trying to force our kids on the road that we think is right for them) but you also want to help guide them with your learned experience and wisdom.
And most of the time you can probably see where making the OTHER choice could be better because that’s how parenting works…WE ARE ALWAYS SECOND GUESSING OURSELVES. So you just try your best and hope you do no permanent damage. And if you’re like me, you also have friends/family who have examples of successes AND failures going in both directions. “Well, Lucy let her daughter go to an art college and get a BFA and she’s now leading a graphic design firm in Chicago, but then there’s Sue who let her son major in music and he’s still living at home at 32.”
Those are cheesy generic examples, but you get my point.
My daughter has been trying to decide whether to stay in the magnet programs in our public school system and if so – which ones to prioritize in her applications for high school. The problem is, the only ones that intrigue her have focused areas of study (Art or STEM) and she’s not sure she wants to be hyper-focused in high school. And y’all? Of COURSE I wanted her to go to the STEM school, on paper it looks the best in terms of college applications and college credits. But she was leaning more towards the Art school so I just allowed her to consider that as well, knowing she could still stay on her advanced track.
And of course then she decided to do neither and just go to the public high school she’s zoned for.
And honestly? I have no idea what decision was right for her OR right for me because – truth of the matter – do we ever really know for sure how our decisions pan out until decades later?
There are other smaller-level decisions my daughter struggles with (she feels like every decision she makes could affect whether or not she gets a scholarship to college) and last night I took a deep breath, thought for a minute and then I told her, “In all honesty, where you go to college is not going to make a huge difference on your opportunity for happiness. Happiness will end up being more about who you surround yourself with, your relationships and your fulfillment which you may find in work but you may find in art or friends or community. All of those things are in your power wherever you go to school and wherever you live no matter what your career.”
And as I was saying it I realized I needed to tell it to myself too. My daughter has the dreaded “potential” everyone talks about and we get ourselves wrapped up in trying to focus that into ways that society deems “productive” or “successful” – but if we dig under all of that programming…there’s other – more honest goals we have as parents. I really just want my kids to be happy and trying to make the world better in whatever way they can. Scratch that…not even “happy” is necessary…maybe content in their lives? I’d like them to find happiness if that’s something they want. But really I guess I’d like them to find a purpose which does not require productivity or success in the way we are told we should strive for. Purpose can be found creating art, or caring for children, or being a doctor or a teacher or a writer.
We see messages of productivity and success in children as our “goals” as parents every day. A few months ago there was an article going around that said something like, “This Mom raised 2 Silicon Valley CEOs and a doctor and here are her tips for how to raise successful kids.” And the basic premise was let them fail but what irritated me was that having kids with those titles was some sort of sign of success as parent. So as much as we say, “Let them fail! Don’t help them with their homework! Don’t fill out their applications for them!” we’re still saying, “And then your kids will be doctors!” as some sort of point of achievement.
We want our kids to be able to provide for themselves so that when we die they’ll be fine. But beyond that…do we really care if they’re a C-level figure in a big company if they hate their lives? Do we want them to be doctors just because they can when maybe they want to paint? And if it’s hard to shake that “success” and “productivity” programming from our heads as a parent…imagine how hard it is as a kid.
So we’re both working on it. On trying to shake loose some of the crap society tells both of us and trying to dig into decisions that actually help our daughter find joy amidst the chaos, and fulfillment, and experience and exposure.
And I hope to lean more to support and let her ask for the guidance, and when she does? I hope I offer it from under the level of “HOW TO RAISE SUCCESSFUL KIDS” nonsense that’s all over my feed now and find a way to guide her towards peace and purpose and maybe she’ll stumble upon success and productivity in that quest.