I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think that most parents want to be proud of their kids. And on the flip side, I think that most kids want their parents to be proud of them. Where this all gets messed up is when there are expectations set by parents that children cannot live up to.
I was into a lot of sports growing up, both playing and watching. I don’t recall starting that young, which has always made me wonder if I would have been better at them if I would have started earlier. I still enjoy being active and competitive. The sports that I participate in now have changed, but I’m not less competitive than I was before. Now as a dad, I definitely pass on those competitive expectations onto my boys, and I was about to have a big reality check on the ramifications of that.
My older son D, is five years old, and has taken some interest in the sports that I like, most recently Spartan Race. And I know that it’s partly because he’s interested and partly because he knows that I’m very interested in it. Preparing for the Spartan Race requires a good amount of cardio training, and so I go running often. D has shown a genuine interesting in running, and I love it. When we were in Maryland during our summer vacation he ran a mile with me when it was 82 degrees and humid. I thought the same enthusiasm that he had for running would translate to bike riding, but I was wrong.
D enjoys riding his bike, and right now we have him using training wheels. He’s also a cautious kid, so it’s taken him a while to build up his speed. But after successfully running the mile in Maryland, and at a decent pace too, I thought that he would be more willing to go faster on his bike. I can’t explain the logic of that, but it’s what I thought. So when our family went to the park for a walk around a lake near our house (about 2.6 miles), I figured that D would ride his bike and I would run while he does that and my wife would push our younger son L, who is two and a half, in a stroller. As you can gather, it didn’t go as I had planned.
From the beginning, D didn’t want to go very fast. The speed he felt comfortable with was equivalent to a fast walk for me, and I wasn’t too happy about that. He actually ran faster in Maryland than he was biking, and I couldn’t understand why. I did try to encourage him to go faster, telling him he could do it and there was nothing to be worried about, but it didn’t work. He wouldn’t go faster. So I ended up taking the stroller and running around the lake while pushing L, and my wife walked with D the rest of the way.
When we all finally met up at the end my wife told me that D started to ride faster as the ride progressed, and at one point said, “I bet that daddy would be proud of me now”. The words hit me like a ton of bricks. My son was doing his best to make me proud and I caused him to think that I wasn’t proud of him. My wife has told me before, D wants validation from me because I’m his father.
I’ve realized that I have to change my thinking. The problem with me putting certain expectations on my children is that they aren’t me. For better or for worse, they are not me. Don’t get me wrong, I expect them to be good people, and if they do bad things it is not acceptable. But while they might have the same interests as me, they also might not. And they will adopt and learn things at a different pace than I have, most likely faster. I have to remember that my kids will make the effort to make me proud of them, and that I should validate that effort.
I recently had a chance to take D biking again, and this time I stayed at his pace. And as the ride progressed, he went faster and faster. I’m super proud of him and I let him know it.