A while back I read something about it being unkind to give a child unrealistic expectations. It was just a thought, one I was not privy to the background of, but I’ve thought and thought and pondered and pondered about it.
I’ve wondered if it’s true?
I’ve wondered if it is right?
I’ve wondered how I’d know?
I’ve wondered, with our educational and parenting approach, what on earth you do to guard against living through your children while encouraging your children to explore opportunities and aspiring to do as well as they can in all things that interest them.
This one thought, chucked into the ether from someone else’s head, has made me pause for thought for hours at a time.
I went to the kind of school that made much of building us into people who could aspire to anything. By default, I think the parents of the girls who went there either had great expectations for their daughters, or a lot of money and couldn’t care less. As schools go, it got great exam results but I don’t remember more than a tiny handful of the people in my year knowing WHAT they wanted to do with all that education. One sticks in my head, and she did exactly that thing and has only just stopped; a few others became doctors, a few more seemed to do okay. Mostly I think we must have drifted off into things that we fell into, or occurred later.
As a school, I think it really only cared about good exam results. So more girls would go. So more money would come in. So more exams would happen. All of us who flipped through exams as if they actually mattered in their own right, did so without much thought of why we did them, or for what end.
My school failed to inspire me. It failed to encourage me to aspire to anything. That, perhaps, was my fault, a character fault, a flaw in my desire to do well and make something of myself. Or perhaps, if you conveyor belt children, you simply stop them from experiencing the longing to ‘be’ something. *I* wanted to be on stage, have kids, have my own business, preferably a craft business and write.
They did their best to knock it out of me (evidently they largely failed!) and when I did come up with career ideas, my parents normally thought them unworthy of my education.
“I’d like to be a nurse.”
“Don’t be a nurse, they don’t get paid enough; be a doctor.”
It’s a mistake I sincerely hope I won’t fall into; I don’t think I will. Fran has it in mind to be a zoo keeper. I think that’s brilliant, completely her and best of all, the desire has inclined her to look up courses, careers, job descriptions, places and training and decide she needs some GCSEs and perhaps a course at agricultural college and plenty of hands on experience. We’re working on it all.
I could say: “Don’t do that; be a vet” but I do think that would knock all the joy out of it for her. It might, honestly, be beyond her. I’d hate for her to feel she had to live up to my proving HEd kids can be vets, fail spectacularly, get disillusioned and end up working in a shop or office. I’d rather support her, despite the fact that I think there is every chance she’ll alter her aim at some point. It thrills me to see her driven to something. I’ve NEVER had that desire about a job. Ever.
Or I could say… “hm… you know Fran, everyone wants to do things like that. It’s one of those dream jobs, all kids think working with animals will be brilliant but hardly anyone gets the chance. Better to aim at something you can achieve.”
Knock it on the head. Don’t go thinking you can be something.
I find myself thinking this a lot. Maddy wants to be a writer, singer, actress, designer and *insert various other things* I think she can be all of those. She might be more of less successful but the only effect telling me I would never be a famous actress had on me was ensuring I never tried. Where’s the thrill and life in that?
Amelie wants to be an Olympic Gymnast. This is, really, highly unlikely. She’s quite good, got potential, loves it and works hard (but has weak shoulders) but well, millions of little girls have this as a dream, work hard, try hard, put in the hours and don’t succeed. But then, you know… Beth Tweddle walked into a gym aged 7 and did pretty well and look at her. The biggest difference between her and Amelie on their first day at gym was probably the gym they walked in to, not how good they were.
What’s the fairest thing to do? Do I say “don’t expect much from life, hope to do okay, try not to get your hopes up?” or do I say “You go for it, aim for the stars and the worst that can happen is you get airborne?” Do I tell Fran, aged 12 and an average gymnast who has done amazingly in 3 years but will never be brilliant to give up and do something else? Do I tell Maddy to forget being an actress and work hard enough to be able to get an office job?
I don’t think so. Realism is one thing, but no one has ever been extra-ordinary by being realistic and not trying to outdo themselves. Better to know you tried, better I hope to have a cheerleader who will move mountains for you to get opportunities. Better to have some expectations than no expectations. Better to know you gave it a great, well support shot than look back regretfully and say “if only mum had helped me…”
Presumably it was unrealistic to expect Einstein, Newton or Beth Tweddle to be brilliant when they were 5. Didn’t stop them though, did it?