See Your Children For Who They Are, Not Who You Want Them To Be
July 20, 2020
As parents, we naturally want the best for our children. We have made our own mistakes and don’t want our children to repeat them. However, in helping them to better prepare for the future, we might impose a specific action plan on them without considering their interests and desires, which can have unintended consequences.
We probably all know someone (or someone’s child) who devotes hours to doing things that they don’t really like just to please their parents. This problem is prevalent in sports. A common example is when kids spend hours practicing a certain sport just because their parents want them too. There are other examples, which are probably a bit dramatized. The movie “Love the Coopers” tells the story of a girl who fakes being in a relationship, just to please her parents on Christmas. Another movie that shows the same concept is called “Farewell” where a grandson stages a fake wedding ceremony just to meet the expectation of his dying grandmother.
Psychologists believe that when children grow up with parents who impose prescriptive expectations, they often struggle with inner conflict and angst.
These struggles will affect their work and relationships for many years to come. Some are eventually able to work through the disconnect and live an authentic life, but some may live a continuous struggle.
I have a personal experience with this struggle. I grew up with two conservative Chinese parents who also set prescriptive expectations, especially in school. Neither of my parents went to college, but somehow they believed that I needed a Ph.D. to be successful. I believe this expectation was derived from Confucian culture, which placed a strong emphasis on education. At the time, I was too young or inexperienced to question that expectation so I put my head down and followed what my parents expected of me. After graduating from college, I got a scholarship to study economics for a Ph.D. at a prestigious school in the United States, however, I found myself lacking the motivation. One year later, I dropped out of the program. After that, I had to figure out what I really wanted to do and how I would pursue that. Luckily, I figured it out. I went on to pursue a successful business career after getting an MBA, but the transition to do so took nearly ten years.
I don’t want my children to go through the same experience.
When I became a mother, I promised myself that I would not impose any prescriptive expectations on my children. I wanted them to try different things, develop their own interests, and find a path to pursue what they wanted. When they were growing up, I listened to what they liked and didn’t like. Most of the time, I supported their decisions. Sometimes, I would urge them to give certain activities a bit more time, but in the end; I accepted their choices.
For example, when my daughters were 4 and 6 years old, I enrolled them in a Chinese school. Every Sunday afternoon, they spent 3 hours studying Chinese, with more homework for the weekdays. They hated it, and refused to do their homework. I wanted them to learn Chinese because not only is it part of their cultural heritage, but also speaking another language will give them advantages in their future careers. I asked them to give it one year. After one year, they still didn’t like it, so I dropped them from the Chinese school. Now, they regret that decision. They sometimes jokingly say, “Mom, I wish you would’ve forced us to learn Chinese”. But, knowing that I wouldn’t impose my own expectations, they always felt safe to speak their truth. To me, that is more important than a particular skill they could have learned when they were young.
By seeing our children for who they are, not what we want them to be, we are helping our children understand themselves early on. They learn to trust themselves and feel safe for being themselves. These are critical foundations for their personal growth.
“From the center of your being you have the answer. You know who you are and what you want.” – Lao Tzu