A primary school principal once confessed to me she could rarely tell which kids would do well and which would struggle in life.
“Sometimes you can tell when a kid has got something special, but you never know,” she said.
It made me laugh in a ‘ha-ha-ha, gulp’ kind of way.
Because I’m part of a generation that cultivates our kids like rare mushrooms. We invest heavily so they spore success.
Instead of babysitters, parents hire governesses who speak three languages. Instead of roaming the neighbourhood, kids are locked in Kumon maths training.
We rode our Malvern Star bikes for exercise, our kids train for a sport like they are training for an Olympic event. We went to parties with running games in the garden, our kids go to educational ‘science parties’. Our school holidays were for watching old Elvis movies and being bored out of our brains, our kids go to ‘French immersion’ or acting classes or touch typing.
Search the web for 'kids and success' and you'll have tens of thousands of posts telling you things like '20 things to do to make them successful', look in a book shop and you can drown in paper on resilience, intelligence and how to get kids to succeed in school, sport and life.
It's exhausting, it's expensive and it's impossible to keep up with. Yet it's also difficult to completely resist.
Even lazy people like me often feel guilt that my kids will spend hours playing Minecraft rather than doing maths coaching, and have not yet mastered complex computer coding.
So why do we do it?
We do it because we fear the future. This sounds rude and racist, but I cannot tell you how many parents worry that our kids will be the cleaners in the homes of wealthy foreigners who are buying our real estate and increasingly dominating the world's wealth. We fear our kids can't keep up with kids who are coached and those who buy their essays online. So we worry just a bit more than we trust.
We work, so they need to be busier for longer. Chess club teaches logical thinking, so we figure it's more of an investment than boring old afterschool care. Our time is precious - so their time becomes precious.
We are the most monitored and judged generation of parents in recent history. We are accused of helicoptering, free-ranging, neglecting, hovering, Tiger Mothering, spoiling, neglecting.
It's a feeding frenzy on parents.
Parental pride is a wonderful thing. I swell when I see my son play the drums. While his technique is akin to Animal from the Muppets he certainly has style, rhythm and natural talent. But should I be proud? After all, it's his talent and it certainly didn't come from me.
I recognised his love of music when he was a baby - he'd dance on his knees before he could stand up and I chose drums because he's the loudest kid in the world and I figured they'd drown out his mouth.
But really any accomplishments he has on the kit are probably not mine to claim.
And that brings me to:
Notice how I said 'I recognised his talents as a baby'. My ego. I did this. He's my creation. From my loins.
But as we know DNA is a funny thing that combines in strange and wonderful ways. Besides, environment, upbringing, experiences, luck and random magic play a huge part.
Perhaps we need to work out how much is about our own stuff: Do we strive for them out of our own unmet needs, desires and plans? I regret quitting piano so I pushed my daughter to learn. Both of us had to let that go.
Perhaps we overparent because we were so underparented. We children of the '70s were told to just get on with things, to be free, be expressive, watch as much TV as we wanted. We were expected to self regulate our time. Now we overregulate in reaction to our overfreedom. We are like Alex on Family Ties, who becomes conservative because his parents are so liberal.
So what's the answer? I don't know I'm as guitly as any of us. But I do believe in a bit of benign neglect. I like to remember the freedom of my childhood and allow it within my parenting.
Last week my son was so bored he was catatonic. He was on the edge of getting sick and wanted to stay well to go to music camp. So I encouraged him to do nothing all weekend.
At about 5pm on Sunday he found a box of chalk and he ran onto the road and he began to draw. Other kids came out of their homes and sat with him. Within an hour the black asphalt had transformed into an open air art gallery of kids' creativity.
They felt so naughty ('is this graffiti?'), so free and so engaged. An older neighbour came out and I thought he was going to complain, but he said "I usually like the rain but now I'm hoping it doesn't rain for a long time. This is wonderful."
It did rain. The drawings have gone. But the lesson remained.
It doesn't take therapy to know why I felt comforted by their work. It was familiar, it was free it was fun. I will think of those drawings whenever I feel the rising panic that my children are not being pushed enough and are being left behind and I will try to question my motivations for what they do.
And I will try not to worry that the drawings do not look anything like this:
And there's the rub.
It's a constant battle because the world is getting bigger and smaller. The bars are set higher. We have to evolve our parenting to meet the times. It helps to identify our fears, our ego, our push-back and our pride and the role they play in our parenting.
But what we replace them with is up to us.
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