I am often intrigued by the precise focus, non negotiable vision and meticulous planning of parents to make their children successful. The creativity and sheer volume of ways in which one guides their child to be “more”, to be the “best”, emphatically rejecting “ordinary” fascinates me. The time and energy that is combusted to not only ace it in life but also to avoid being average at anything leaves me nearly impressed.
I must be honest, I do get inspired by the drive and ambitions but also can't help but wonder why is it that we fear ordinary so much. Imagine a safe place for children to grow up where there was no fear of what is, who they are and what they will become. Where ordinary was understood as powerful because it is their ordinary. How extraordinary would that be?
I often hear mothers tell me, “I won’t have my child make the same mistakes as me” as well as “My mother pushed me so much to be the best that today I can't take criticism over the soup I made."
Fathers exclaim, “So, should I not push my child to achieve and accept mediocrity for my child?” Or, “ If only I had the opportunities I can give my child, I would have been in another place today. This makes me want to guide my kids to push harder to succeed." These are honest, genuine and understandable statements and, believe me, when I quote, I am not being hostile towards the idea of encouraging and supporting our kids to achieve.
My concern is not the love for more, it is the non-acceptance of the most powerful, simple, authentic and ordinary things, acts and emotions that make our days and those of others around us complete. This foundation that shakes up the self esteem of our children everyday, because daily life is not seen as extraordinary.
Parents wish for their children to work hard and succeed. There is nothing wrong with that except that the defining criteria of hard work and success alters into vivid forms and features with every home, school, culture, even between the two parents of a child. While we insist on creating a love for achievements, we also instil a fear of not being enough if they do not emerge at the top, a resistance towards trying and anxiety over failing.
In our quests to make our children the best, even when we claim we are not “those parents”, we often leave our children confused, anxious, judgemental of themselves and their parent's duality in behaviour. They become conditioned to judge those who take time to blossom or do so in different and “ordinary” areas, and try to exhaust themselves in such conquests that are but mirages of their parent's imagination.
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Needless to say the origins of this expectation for parents lies in their perception of themselves. If their internal dialogue and view of their own life is “it should have been different”, “I could have been someone else”, “if only my parents did their part better”, “my school ought to have helped me better”, “now that I am an adult, life won’t change and the success I dreamed of won’t come to me," and more. I hope to bring to your notice some of these monologues we have in our heads, irrationally polarising, catastrophising, judging and generalising the happenings in our lives.
This leads to difficult emotions that we blame on the incidents or people around us. And the most logical and comforting solution we find is to overcompensate and push our children hard to fill up these pot holes and craters for us.
While parents need to do a lot of self-work internally, cognitively and spiritually to change their perception to be able to identify, appreciate and encourage ordinary strengths, I would like to leave you today with some to dos to initiate a culture that respects the power of ordinary:
Seek joy in simple moments rather than extravagant plans, parties or travel.
Appreciate value in efforts rather than results.
Talk about unconditional love and acceptance with your children, providing them solid roots to belong irrespective of performance.
Demonstrate unconditional and consistent hard work. Practicing the value will teach far more than verbalising.
Allow time to exploring unique talents instead of trying to inculcate what you believe should be the preference.
Make time to listen and talk about emotions and acceptance of the same without rejection.
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Encouraging is best received when gentle, consistent, with levity and anecdotes or stories. Do not make it a lecture, a desperate expectation or “the only thing I ask in return” kind of a statement, a condition and certainly never a demand.
An extraordinary teaching for children will be to help them see themselves as ordinary and value that. What they choose to do can be ordinary or extraordinary. Separating actions, achievements and results from the self is a tool that can give our children an extraordinary secure sense of self, one that does not crash upon facing ordinary consequences.
Shwetambara Sabharwal is a Mumbai based psychologist, psychotherapist and a mother of two.