I guess my book, You’re Not the Boss of Me, came out too late for the mom who wrote in the Two Cents Worth column of my local newspaper:
I think the [delete name] Pony Baseball Association should consider eliminating playoffs for the younger players (Pintos). My Pinto player’s team has already lost and it was devastating for him and me. Age 7, 8, and 9 is too early for that kind of serious competition.
There are so many parts to this letter on which I could and should comment. However, for now I just want to focus on the phrase “…it was devastating for him and me.” Was this child’s team’s loss in a Little League play-off game really devastating to the mother? Wow. That was a big investment she must have been putting in her child’s extracurricular activity.
It is no coincidence that when a couple is pregnant, it is said that they are “expecting.” Your child is born loaded with all your expectations. You expect him to be an artist or an athlete or a math whiz. You expect him to be friendly, well mannered, and appropriate. You expect him to go to Harvard (just like you did.) It’s a wonder that he even able to pass through the birth canal, he is so laden with all your expectations! And then he is born. Voila! Your child is his own person. You are outgoing; he is slow-to-warm up. You are an athlete; he prefers more cerebral, sedentary activities. You love reading; he would rather toss baskets hour after hour. Do you love him any less? Of course not. Sooner or later you discover that your job is to raise your child to be who he is, not what you expect him to be. The former just won’t work anyway.
I am reminded of a relative who bounced from focus to focus in her schooling, each new field reflecting what she thought her parents wanted her to do. First she was pre med, then environmental studies, then English. It took her forever, long after college, to figure out what she wanted to do.
And then there are the children who are saddled with fulfilling their parents’ dreams. Maybe your child will be the writer you weren’t, the tennis player you aren’t, the piano player you always wanted to be. It is hard enough to live your own dreams without having to live those of your parents, too.
Growing up is supposed to be seasoned with myriad experiences— happy, sad, thrilling, disappointing, and yes, devastating. That’s how a child learns to survive those experiences, by having and getting through them. It is a necessary part of growing up. And yes, sometimes 7, 8, and 9 year olds lose in the first game of the play-offs. Every year brings a new season, just ask the Phoenix Suns.
A parent’s job is to love and support her child through it all, to be a container for his feelings, but not add to his load with her own devastation. Likely he had enough just on his own and he would have weathered the reality just fine had his mother not added her own disappointment to his load.