By Shelby Leiding
The second myth Shefali Tsabury discusses in her book The Awakened Family, is that that “a successful child is ahead of the curve”. As competition for educational opportunities and financial resources has increased, so too has the pressure parents feel to ensure their child has the best chances of success. Indeed, we have so bought into this myth that it’s not uncommon for parents to put their children on prestigious preschool waiting lists before they’ve even been born- as though the rate at which they learn their ABC’s will determine their financial future. And it doesn’t stop there. As children grow, the pressure extends not only to their academic success, but to their extracurricular involvement as well – the most horrifying thing about the show “Dance Moms” wasn’t how outrageous it was, but how close it hit to home. As Tsabury so poignantly states:
The pressure to produce a child prodigy is so contagious that we are all drowning in it. Parents are anxious, teachers are stressed, and the children we are raising are moving further and further away from their authentic nature. (The Awakened Family)
In a world where words like “exceptional” and “gifted” are being tossed around like never before, it can be hard to be content with “average”. This isn’t to say that there aren’t children who are truly “gifted”, but rather that we need to stop allowing such labels to determine our children’s, and therefore our own, identities and worth. Just because “gifted” is a more socially desirable label doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the same limiting effects as all labels in general. When we label someone, we use the expectations associated with that label to confine them to a narrow definition of who they are and how they are supposed to show up in the world. This applies to both ends of the spectrum when it comes to labeling our kids based on their abilities. When there is no room for failure, there is no room for curiosity, play, or self-discovery – the very things our children need if they are to grow into the self-aware, resilient, and responsible adults we hope them to be.
Tsabury ties the power of this myth not only to our desire to see our children be successful, but also to our desire to be seen as successful. Thus, it’s not just our children’s worth that is determined by their performance, it’s our worth as parents and teachers as well. After all, how many times have you looked at a child’s behaviour or performance on a particular task and made a judgment about their parents? Or, if it’s your child that is being evaluated, how often have you felt the desire to either take credit or shift the blame for your child’s performance? Yes, parenting makes a difference – a big one in fact. But that doesn’t mean our children’s behaviour, personality, successes, or challenges are always a direct reflection of how well we are doing as parents as teachers. At the end of the day, our kids are still unique human beings who have an identity that is connected to, but ultimately separate, from our own. Thus, the greatest gift we can give them is permission to just be themselves -knowing that they will be accepted and loved wherever they fall on the curve.