Happy, Independent, and Legal

Remember how you were when your first born arrived on this planet. You peered into their amazing newborn blue eyes and you adored and stared at them, musing over your endless dreams and expectations. You just knew that they were going to be an astronaut, a doctor, a professional musician, and a pro-athlete. They were going to go to the most prestigious Ivy-League universities in the world. They were going to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. They were going to be President some day. They were going to be perfect. The sky was the limit and nothing less would do! They were going to be the best at everything and entitle you to infinite bragging rights. A little often unacknowledged voice inside of you also pointed out that there were opportunities to live vicariously through them and that they would be able to accomplish all the things that you couldn’t. Anything seemed possible. Ah how times change!

Ok now let’s fast forward into the toddler years(3-4) when you get the brilliant idea to enroll them in some kind of activity for self-enrichment. Then you realize that what you really signed up for is struggling to get them into a uniform or costume, trying to observe what they are doing without disrupting the whole activity or class as they press their nose against the window to look at you instead or run off the field because they wanted a snack…..or just sit down on the field and pick their nose. That is a personal favorite. Of course NONE of my kids did ANY of those things…lol. Ok they did, my now amazing tapper actually got kicked out of her first dance class at 3 for being “disruptive.” I remember at first being upset at the time that she was going to miss out on something great. I thought her dance career was over for sure. Then I also wondered how the hell the instructors expected 3 year olds to pay attention for 45 minutes when the average attention span of a 3 year old is more like 10 minutes? And by the way, her “disruptive” behavior consisted of occasionally running to the window to look at my husband. It’s not like she was inciting a revolution or anything. I felt a little gypped to tell you the truth. I was ready for her to be a star and they just “didn’t get it.”

But, life churned ahead to the elementary school years. Now sports started to get a little more interesting for my one daughter and soccer games became something to cheer about. Dance found its way back into my other daughter’s life and there were actual performances to attend! Whoo! I had them at exclusive private schools and they were getting the best education. Now we were really getting somewhere! Those Harvard and high profile job dreams could once again lift off and take flight. At that age, both girls were still somewhat receptive to guidance. This is when I first began to struggle against my inner “stage mom” nature. I was determined not to over push and make sure that whatever they were involved in was something for them and not for me. I was by no means perfect in that regard, but I think i did a reasonably good job. I tried to be involved but not control everything that they did. While my friends were forcing their kids to continue playing an instrument or never letting them see their friends in lieu of studying, I was trying to let my kids be kids. Did they sometimes bring home less than desirable grades? Yes. Were there consequences? Yes. I also still objected when activities ended or they lost interest in something. We had minimum participation requirements( finish out the season at least, etc), but I did not force them to continue any particular activity just for me. I allowed them to own the consequences and regrets of their actions, within reason. I mean, I wasn’t allowing them to commit crimes, run the streets at all hours and swear at adults or anything, but i did allow them their own mistakes.

Then, we took a turn in the middle and high school years. By the time both my girls were in their teen years, they had transferred to large, public schools with a whole different universe of social groups and influences. There were a lot of potentially unsavory elements in their daily lives, but i felt that it was necessary to break them out of their small private school bubble in order to give them a social education as well. I felt that they needed to be able to handle themselves in a more realistic environment. There were sporting events and dance competitions and increasingly intense pressures on all sides. There were exciting things to cheer for and just as many things to be disappointed about. It’s a weird double edged sword scenario the older your kids get isn’t it? They have more opportunities for competition in a variety of areas, but then you also have more opportunities to potentially behave badly and get out of focus when they don’t perform like you hoped. They didn’t always get the grades that I was hoping for or win the scholarships that I thought that they should. But sometimes they did. I finally had to ask myself the big question: How much did that really matter? They were trying to adjust to their new environment while adjusting to fluctuating hormones and evaluating just what they expected of themselves, much less what i expected.

This was a difficult time. Their moods changed and they became intermittently sullen and argumentative. Their confidence wavered, social anxiety soared and I had to adjust my expectations about performance to what was actually going on around me. Both of my girls went on very different journeys toward their own happiness and health. Their paths were not what I thought they would be. They both went through significant traumatic experiences that affected how they dealt with the world around them. I had to decide if it was worth it to battle it out about grades and scholarships and contests and risk the communication going to zero, or embrace them for who they are and support them as they went forward into their own future. I decided that, as fun as it was banging my head against the wall and being frustrated over what I thought my kids should be doing, I needed to put it all back into perspective. I did have plenty of stuff to brag about, even if it wasn’t the stuff I thought it would be. But, was that the whole point? Wasn’t their life supposed to be about them?

I kept using the argument that grades and scholarships were the key to a bright future, and that is true, but it all depends on which future you have in mind. Also, who is to say that the future they are choosing for themselves is better or worse than the one i would chose? I had to realize that, believe it or not, the world wasn’t going to end if my daughter did not head off to an Ivy League school on a full scholarship if she wasn’t ready or that wasn’t her path? In fact, I am fortunate enough that she has decided to work full time at our office, pays her own bills, and manages all of our large animals at the barn. She is productive, happy and using parts of her brain that I think she forgot existed when she was in high school. That is downright fantastic! I have seen her take tremendous strides just in these last 6 months, figuring out who she is and what she wants to do. This is a much better option than me trying to decide for her and forcing her to go to college. That would have been a disaster. I mean, I am all for flushing money down the proverbial toilet but why? I guess what I am really saying is that I have had to take a step back and alter my expectations over the years with regard to my kids. I have let go of all the crazy expectations that potentially set both myself and my kids up for a failed social relationship. Don’t let me fool you, my stage mom side has not been completely exorcised from my body or anything. I am still me. I just finally realize that the ultimate future goal for my kid is for them to be happy. They also need to be independent, because they can’t live in my house forever! Oh yes, and I would prefer that they do not do anything illegal. Beyond that, it’s all gravy. Have a fantastic day folks!

Dr. Katz

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