If you are a parent, or talk to parents, one of the first things you ask about or talk about is how your kids are doing. This makes sense. Our children are often at the forefront of our minds, and our happiness and satisfaction with life are impacted by how our kids are doing. We enjoy talking about them and appreciate the interest of others. However, these conversations can often be a window into our values as parents. Because lately, and as our children get older, it seems to become farther and farther away from who their children are and closer to their resume of accomplishments.
When someone asks how a child is doing, we often hear what grade they are in, what school, and what other accomplishments they can claim…good at the piano, on a travel soccer team…etc. As they get older, it continues, school clubs, awards, and even if they have a girlfriend or boyfriend. To be fair, all of these are indicators of how they are faring in life, and their interests. And it's interesting. And conversely, upon seeing someone in the grocery store, it's not appropriate to share your child’s personal struggles….with forming friends, poor grades, power struggles at home, or other more serious issues. So, what can you say?
As a director of a preschool for 13 years, I see in person and on social media children that I knew when they were little. When I see parents of children that I know or care about, I do like to know if they are happy in their school, and what they are doing. And yet, I think what is more interesting to me is who are they? Are they funny? Do they still love to draw? Are they someone who likes to hike in the woods and enjoy nature? Is your child someone who shares all of their feelings openly, or do they only share when the moment is right? Do they like game nights? Movies? Do they sing in the house when they are happy? Can they build for hours? I wonder if when we talk about our children or ask about others, what it could mean if we stopped asking what colleges they applied to and started asking what they like to do? What are they like and how are they enjoying themselves?
It's one of the conflicts I have always felt as a parent. We say that we just want them to play sports for fun, and then we make a big deal when they score the goal. It's confusing. And, we tell them we just want them to be happy, but when we talk about our kids, we focus on their accomplishments. It's not that we can’t be proud of their achievements. Of course we are, but we have to admit, that when we share how well our kids are doing in grades or otherwise, we are likely feeling a little validated that maybe we are good parents after all. Maybe our choices worked out. Given how judged we often feel as parents, that is justified. But what if we started to talk about the things we truly value and enjoy in our children just as they are and not just what they accomplished. What if we focused on the things that actually make our child feel happy and well.
So, how are your children? Who are they? Are they feeling happy these days? What do they like to do? Who do they like to be with? What makes them smile? What are some qualities that just amaze you about them? I would love to hear.