(This article is part of our series on self awareness)
Recently, my daughter and I were at a party at her friend’s place. There must have been 8 or 10 girls, all of the same age there. Many of us parents were meeting each other for the first time. We all wanted our kids to behave the best and make us proud.
You’ve been in such a situation before, right? You’re at a party, or a get together, or some kind of gathering and you desperately want your kids to behave so everyone can see what a great parent you are. Your chest swells with pride when your kids behave appropriately, and you feel sad for the poor parent whose kids are acting out.
Here’s the thing though. Life is not all black or white. If you did a good job as a parent, yes, perhaps your child(ren) will behave well. If you’re a lousy parent, yes, they might misbehave.
Between these two black-and-white cases though lies the fact that your kids are human. No matter how well you parent, or how much they would like to behave, unless you raise a robot with no emotions and feelings, there will be cases where they’ll just not behave the way you want them to.
The Bigger Picture
Now broaden that expectation a little more. We all want our kids to succeed. Yes, we want them to succeed for their own sakes. But we also want them to succeed for our sakes. Because their success validates what good parents we’ve been.
We want them to score the highest in the tests. We want them to be the class toppers. We want them to win medals in sports. We want them to gain recognition in extra curriculars.
If they fail, somehow we fail.
So we prod them on. To be successful. At all costs.
To be a topper, a gold medalist and be recognized by certificates and accolades.
Here’s the thing. If a classroom has 25 students, and if every parent pushed their kids to be a topper, there will be 24 students who believe they are failures. Even if they tried very hard. Even if they came to within inches of being at the top. Even if they would have made it given a slightly different set of circumstances.
And that’s true with life in general as well.
No matter how much money they make when they grow up, they will never be the richest… there will always be someone who has more money.
No matter how smart they are, they will never be the smartest… there will always be someone who knows more.
No matter how good they are in any area for that matter, there will always be someone better.
How many of you remember Ryan Lochte? Ryan has won 11 Olympic medals in swimming. Unfortunately, his swimming career spanned across the same time period as Michael Phelps, and his great accomplishments were overshadowed by Phelps’s 22 Olympic medal haul. Can you imagine winning, not 1, not 2, but 11 Olympic medals, and still not being at the top?
No matter how much your kids accomplish, or what lofty heights they reach, they will end up severely lacking in something far more important – inner peace, satisfaction and contentment – if all they chase after is success as a means to validate themselves.
Breaking the Cycle
We need to snap out of this culture of seeking validation. We need to stop pushing our children to succeed at all costs and let those successes define their sense of self worth. We need to encourage them to take pride in their effort rather than the results. The honor must come from working hard instead of earning rewards, and in persevering in the face of obstacles.
But…. we can’t.
How can we possibly teach our kids not to seek validation in the results, if we constantly expect them to validate us as parents? Without first being able to detach ourselves from the results of our actions ie., an expectation of how our kids turn out, how can we teach them to focus on their actions instead of the rewards?
Which brings us a full circle — our tendency to seek validation from our kids behavior is just a reflection of our tendency to seek results instead of focusing on the effort in general. And with that tendency, consciously or not, we teach our children to seek success as a means of validating their self-worth, and cripple their ability to find joy in their hardwork and effort.
Both for the sakes of our children’s and our own happiness, it is time to break out of this validation cycle, and focus on just being the best parent you can be, under any given circumstance. Sometimes, things work out. Sometimes, they don’t. As long as you put in the effort, take pride in what you are doing, and commit to keep doing your best day in and day out.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Take the next 2 minutes to just pay attention to how often you snap at your kids or discipline them not because the situation calls for it (e.g., they are about to run into a busy street) but because they behaved in a way that does not validate you as a good parent (e.g., they back answered you in front of your friends)?
What are your expectations of what your kids will be like when they grow up? Does that question invoke images of a big house and fancy cars, or a happy, content and well-adjusted person?
Share it in the comments below. Use an anonymous name if you must, but write it down anyway – there is nothing like putting things in written words to realize what you think deep down!
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
It’s not easy, but start to detach yourself from your expectations of what you want your child(ren) to be like – now and in the future. It is hard. Harder than anything you will probably do in your life. Close to impossible, if you ask me, going by how I’ve been faring in this exercise so far.
It’s worth striving for, nevertheless. Just the attempt to stay focused on being a great parent, without expectations of raising a great child, can do a whole lot of wonders to the way you approach parenting, and your relationship with your child. That, I can attest to!
[NOTE: I am out for a vacation with my family till Dec 8th with no Internet access. I value all your comments, and promise to respond to every single one of them when I get back. Surprise me with tons of them? ]