Inspiration for Aspirations

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?

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  1. says

    Loved this post. My parents managed this balancing act. They supported us in whatever we wanted to do – mine was leaving (private, funded) education at 16 and working with horses. Their only stipulation was that we must get a qualification in our chosen field (fine by me).

    They never insisted we shoot for the stars (which would have intimidated me into never trying), just gently encouraged us just to try and do our best, in a reasuring, low-key kind of way. They never pointed out the unrealistic nature of our dreams – that we’ve never be a prima ballerina/astronaut/the queen.

    But – and this is the thing for which I really valued my mum and still do – she always told the truth. She’d never volunteer an opinion but if I asked her, she’d say what she thought. So it might be – hmm, your leg was screwing again so your breaststroke legs were a bit off. And if it was – that was the best I’ve ever see you swim (or whatever it was) you’d KNOW that it was so.

    My mum showed me you can be kind, supportive, helpful, restful, encouraging AND truthful, and that it is AWESOME. And it’s a gift I’ve always sought to give my kids too.

    • says

      Mamacrow, Joyce, Em – exactly, more of less, the parent I want to be. I’d rather be proud of them achieving, or even choosing not to pursue further, a goal than wish they’d done something I wanted for them.

      Tech – have read it – excellent :)

      Michelle – bugger it; tell her you’ve found a company that will arrange it for her. That’ll larn her.

      Debbie – hahahahaahahahahaah!

  2. Michelle says

    C wants to go to Mars. D’you know how long a trip that is? And that’s a long, long way away. I’d quite like to redirect her expectations into something nearer to home.

    having a werd dejevu feeling about this post.

  3. says

    I asked eldest what he wanted to do when he grew up. Observe:

    1. Lay on the sofa all day (yes he said that – I said NO) then,
    2. Be a bus driver (I said how about a scientist and he said NO, then after nagging and nagging him he finally told me that what he REALLY wanted to be when he grew up was…)
    3. A crocodile.

    Proudly homeschooling since 2002

  4. Joyce says

    So agree. Hannah decided about a year ago that she wanted to work in outdoor education and she has applied herself to working towards that in a way I never did. She may well change her mind but ATM I hope she feels supported. My bil on the other hand, said ‘fat lot of good home education has done you if that’s all you turn out to be. Argh.

  5. says

    “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.”

    Ha – this article is about Matthew Syed who is the same age as C, and the street in the article is about the street that C grew up on (where his mother still lives. C went to a different primary school though, down at the bottom of the road, not the one in the story at the top end.

  6. Em says

    Should read Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell about what makes someone a resounding succsess and it is amazing just how much is down to your situation. I agree with mamacrow about being supportive and truthful and kind. Which is just what my mum was too. Never detered me from wanting only to be a professional musician, and didnt once show any dissapointment when I decided not to go to music college and get a full time office job instead. But would also give an honest opinion if asked.

  7. Maggie says

    Faith has wanted “to be an olympic” for as long as I can remember. The fact that she does no sport whatsoever doesn’t seem to have affected this dream in the slightest………

    I think that if we can get them to appreciate that it’s the things we didn’t do or try that we come to regret in later life, not the things we did do or try, then that will stand them in good stead :)

  8. Rich says

    Ooh, wow. i do like this post a lot and makes me think of
    lots of things. Its interesting looking at the school as something
    that went wrong, when on the list of things you wanted to do you’ve
    ended up doing them all. While you might say that thats in spite of
    the school, you are still a product of it. Probably the most
    important thing is ending up smart enough to know you didnt like
    the way that kind of place goes about things and there must be a
    better way. Bizarrely the last thing the school did for me was make
    me want to do anything academic, but after failing to keep my knees
    working long enough to become a sports star or soldier, ended up
    being academic kind of by accident. I do like the examples at the
    end though, Einstein was in fact quite the child genius (reading
    Kant and Euclid before reaching double figures and publishing a
    paper at 15). Newton was far more fun, getting removed from school
    as a teenager, only to return and become top of the class to get
    back at the kid who bullied him – bravo! my knowledge of Beth
    Tweddle is sadly lacking however! I dont think i remember many at
    school who definitely knew what they wanted to do. i guess you just
    have to hope they will be smart enough not to miss out on any
    opportunities. Annoyingly, this would have been a very good month
    to have made it as an England cricketer ten years ago, though i
    think someone might have mentioned that that was actually
    unrealistic. anywho, my boss just glared at me, back to

    • says

      I like that both my siblings comment – one explodes and the other goes on about cricket 😉

      Rich – while I know what you mean about having done the things I want to, I have to say that I think that to attribute that to being because school made me into something rather suggests, as a concept, that I’d have been nothing without school. Whereas I think, and to some extent the experience of HE backs it up, that I would have achieved those things just because I am who I am. I was not unformed arriving school, in fact I think our parents would say the opposite. I think school knocked quite a lot out of me. Only part of me is a product of school and I’d be inclined to say it isn’t the good bits. School didn’t make me creative, on an entrepreneur, or an avid reader, or have an eye for a good seller. It just didn’t. Mum taught me to read, I did my creative things and learning about sales all out of school, largely with Nana. if anything, school stopped me pursuing those things and absolutely, without doubt, there was no room in school time for creative writing, except in a few short ‘prepare for exam’ slots, beyond about age 12. School knocked my desire to learn out of me and made me want to work for my living out of me. That might be a good thing, but it wasn’t their intention.

      The parts of me I most attribute to my schooling are lack of confidence, lack of belief that I can be a top person at anything, lack of social confidence and lack of attention span or ability to retain facts beyond the moment I need them for.

      As for Einstein. Yes, I guess that is my point. Regardless of how clever you are, how brilliant you are (or otherwise, plenty of people, like Newton, are late bloomers) that doesn’t make ‘cleverest man in the universe’ a realistic goal!

  9. says

    I think this is a super post Merry and not just pertinent
    to HE children. I think the whole idea of following your dreams and
    allowing your children to try at something and letting them know it
    is OK to fail as long as they have really tried is a wonderful gift
    to give them. O also think that luck plays a large part in what we
    become in life too. I would rather see my children fulfilled in a
    lower paid job than stuck with a high paid career that they didn’t
    like. Life is too short to not live it and enjoy living it. Money
    isn’t everything nor is status

  10. says

    Great post – I think about this a lot – not just in regard
    to what I say to the stepkids, but also in regard to my own career.
    I think it is good to encourage kids to do the things they love
    (sing, gym etc) but to put your focus on the enjoyment and their
    developing skill and achievements rather than them having to be
    “the best”, or Olympic level etc. The harsh reality is that very
    few people make a living out of singing / doing backflips, but that
    doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it and devote a good amount of energy
    towards it. And who knows, maybe your kids will be some of those
    people who can make a living from it. Or maybe they will enjoy it
    as a hobby, and find some other way to make money. When I was a
    teenager and obsessed with doing art, my dad got very concerned and
    I felt a real pressure to use my marks to do a more ‘academic’
    (read, likely to make a living) course. But my cousin who did
    pursue art has made a good living from it, and travels the world
    having her works shown in exhibitions all over the place. Mind you,
    she hasn’t had kids, and I’m not sure that kids would have been
    possible in her life. But that was never something she wanted. I
    made a pragmatic decision when I was young to do a course which
    would give me a profession so that I could be financially
    independent enough to have kids without relying on anyone – even
    though we’re still trying to get pregnant again, I think that was
    probably the right decision for me.

  11. Tech says

    Re Einstein… I’ve been reading a book called the Einstein Factor (very interesting, highly rec. etc) and it would seem that Einstein was actually written off as a *dunce* as a young child – he didn’t speak properly until he was 7 – obviously today he would have been given some kind of SEN statement. What the book suggests (it quotes Einstein a lot) is that it was because he was pretty much left to it, didn’t have overwhelming academic input from an early age etc, and because of the speech difficulties, that his brain developed in such a way as to be incredibly creative – he *saw* problems, and worked them through in his head before committing them to paper. Genius absolutely, but certainly wasn’t always viewed that way, and he was pretty scathing of school IIRC :)

  12. says

    My daughter wants to be a dog groomer. It’s not the most highly paid or respected profession but if it’s what she wants then that’s fine because if you are happy that’s the most important thing. I think that it’s worth encouraging children by allowing them the opportunities to have a go and get hands-on experience or observation in the jobs or careers they may want. She may end up not doing that but unlike my parents, who were negative about everything I wanted to do (and who put me off or who pushed me in directions that I didn’t want to go in), I hope it will be better for her.

  13. Kirsty says

    fab post Merry :) A wants to be a zoo keeper too atm. I wasn’t hugely impressed at M’s desire to be in the SAS though 😉

  14. says

    I liked this post a lot too; very well put. My daughter
    wants to be prime minister at the moment (having previously
    desperately wanted to be a vet, a fashion designer and a ballerina,
    in descending order of age!) and she’s spent a lot of time looking
    at ways to get into politics – whilst her ending up as prime
    minister is, statistically, extremely unlikely (!), when the
    subject of future careers comes up we’ve always tried to be age
    appropriately both truthful/realistic and supportive. Along the
    lines of – well, you know that only a tiny handful of people who
    want to be X will succeed, but *some* will and there’s no reason
    why you couldn’t strive to be one of them.

  15. says

    Great post ~ inspirational! 😀 Hey, all I wanted when I was 12 (or so) was to grow up, be supported by a loving husband and have lots of beautiful kids..! Things changed a bit here and there as school tried to impose the belief that I should ‘have a career’ and ‘do something’ with my life! But at the end of the day, whilst I was training to be a nurse I was still hankering after that loving husband and houseful of children! So here I am, exactly where I always wanted to be and I don’t think anyone would argue that I am NOT ‘doing’ something with my life! I am with you on this one. I want my children to shape their own future. My job is to equip them to choose ~ that’s all! I want them to have every door open to them, but I don’t want to push them through any. Jake wants to be a photographer atm. I actually think he could do well at it, so we are exploring that route full steam, but meanwhile I want him to be aware that it’s a field where ‘exceptional’ earns the keep (and photography is expensive at pro’ level), so it might be wise to have a ‘back-up’ plan to bring some money in while he builds his kit and his experience. I guess that’s the stance I take (maybe more with my boys tbh) ~ be realistic, because you have to earn some money, but DREAM big and work for the dream!

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