Watching the recent series of MasterChef I got to thinking about the expectations we put on our children. Over and over again the same theme kept coming through from the contestants when they were asked about why they were there. They wanted to make someone proud. It sounds nice at first. The judges and other contestants would commend them and encourage them, telling them that their family would indeed be proud of them. A lot of them especially wanted to impress their parents. To give them something to be proud of. I didn’t have the same reaction. I found it sad. One woman in particular was very upset when she left the show, commenting that she felt like she had disappointed her parents.
I hope my children never feel like this. That their life should be lived to impress me. I want them to feel pride in themselves when they accomplish something because they worked hard and it was meaningful to them. Not because I have evaluated it and deemed it worthy. I don’t want their self worth wrapped up in other people’s perceptions of them. I want it to come from within.
‘When children feel they must keep doing impressive things so their parents will be proud of them, their acceptance of themselves may become equally conditional’
– Alfie Kohn
We do so many things as parents that we don’t even consider the impact of. And I am guilty of them too! Encouraging children to perform for a ‘good job’ from us. Praising them when they are quiet, amicable, and obedient. Punishing them when they are disruptive and can’t control their emotions. Things we would never consider doing to an adult. I mean, if I was crying and my husband said to me ‘ok, that’s enough now, stop crying, it’s not that bad, you’re being silly’ he could expect a less than impressed reaction. We encourage this dependence on our praise. Even when you go out strangers ask your children ‘have you been a good girl/boy for Mummy today?’ They are sent off to school where the focus is increasingly on standardized testing. They have to compete and perform better than their peers to be deemed ‘good’. They are bombarded with this pressure from everywhere! It’s really no wonder that they then grow up feeling their job is to make their parents proud, and feeling as though they have failed if they don’t live up to others expectations. That’s what we have taught them!
I am so grateful that we have discovered this homeschooling life. Where education is not standardized and we have the freedom to let them learn in their own time, without competing with anyone or being constantly tested. Where I can show them respect and trust in their learning, instead of pressuring them to learn what I think is important. But what good is that if I am still treating them differently in other areas? That needs to change too.
And it’s really hard to change! ‘Good job’ comes so naturally to me. It slips out of my mouth like an impulse at the most unnecessary times. When my child is struggling with a big emotion, a disapproving expression comes over my face before I realize. But if you change your perspective, if you realize that children are people and deserve the same respect as anyone else, it gets easier. Would I give a patronizing ‘good job’ to an adult in an effort to shape their behavior? No. And my child deserves the same respect.
It is a hard habit to break but I am trying, and practice makes perfect. I will keep trying because it is so important to me. I want to raise strong girls who know themselves and their worth. Who don’t need to look to others to find acceptance. I want them to find what makes them happy, not what will make others happy with them. I want them to know that I accept them for who they are now. That I will guide them through life but I won’t try to change them. I want them never to doubt that I love them unconditionally.