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Parenting: guiding vs pushing and more


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A very interesting article, one thing I (mother of a high school freshman) am concerned about is whether a passion for ballet and excellent grade are enough to get my child into a good college. Given her committment to dancing and our committment to doing well in school and the school's requirement for community sevice, which I support, there isn't much time to do anything else. And my daughter is some one who needs and loves a lot of time to read for pleasure.


I don't know if she'll be a professional dancer but she certainly cann't study ballet seriously and still be editor of the school paper or captain of the soccer team. Nut we've determined that the choices must be her's. Her dad and I will offer support in any way we can but the motivation must come from her - she has to learn to make decisions now with our advice, of course, or she'll never learn to make them as an adult.


And in NYC private schools such as she attends, everyone wants to go to an Ivy League or highly prestigious college. It's a conundrum.

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What a relief! We don't fall into the study's 100k or more income bracket!!:cool:


I liked the article, and it made me think of a boss I once had, who always used to say: "There's no shame in failing forward."


My favorite part of this article is the last sentence. ;)

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As an imperfect parent of a high achieving, self-displined, movitated etc. child with potential in dance, academics, etc. etc., when the occasion presented, I considered it part my parental duties to emphatically train her to the reasonable acceptance of occasional mediocrity.


Example: I think it was in third grade that an irresponsible nutcracker director returned my young child to me unconsionably late (ooh - subject for a new thread) from a rehearsal. So there she is at 10 p.m. + melting down in tears over a homework assignment due the next day, with some extra grading value to it, that if she stayed up another hour she could do a perfect job and ace! Here's where I stepped in to say "no way, jose! Sleep and health are more important. Too late now. Time to learn that an occasional C or D will NOT stop the earth from rotating, the sun from rising the next day, or be a true impediment to your future success." She went to school the next day with some serious trepidation, an unfinished assignment, and a note from me to teacher explaining circumstances and requesting that if it were within the normal routine, could she have an extension, and if not, my hope was that this "failure" could be used for her to learn that an occasional low grade was not the most horrible thing in the world.


The nice thing was that either the teacher or the teacher's aide was really terrific; daughter got her not-an-"A" and they had some tears, and some laughs, and a little ballet too, as one of them used to dance. And she found out everyone liked her just as much even when she couldn't keep every single ball up in the air as high as the next one.


Every kid is different, but this kid's self imposed standards are SO high, that she still continues to give 100% + to all as time and energy allow, but she has put dance emphatically first, and on occasion, especially during that last week of rehearsals for something, if something HAS to give - it simply does.

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Hoo, boy. It makes ME think of a father I still have, who was more than a bit taken aback when I announced, mid-college, that I was not going to be a doctor after all.


"What do you want to be?" he asked.


"I'm not sure," I said, "but I want to be happy."


"Happy?" he asked. "What kind of a goal is that?"


(Okay -- I'll try not to trash my dad any more this week. I really do love him, and even with all the baggage he packed for me, I still turned out okay.)


So .... I sympathize a lot with the viewpoint that pushy parents don't always know they are pushing their kids. As the author says, sometimes that's just who we are. We have high standards.


I've worked really, really hard to be able to say to my kids, "Hey, a bad Algebra test isn't the end of the world." I've worked hard not to cast the impression that they have to go to Harvard (and you don't want to know how many people in our family actually HAVE gone to Harvard). I want them to know that it IS enough to be happy -- but they might have to work really hard to figure out how to achieve that.


The listening part is so important. Kids of parents with high expectations aren't likely to come out and say, "I'm done, I don't want to do this anymore," until it is WAY past the time they should have quit. You have to look for the signs -- skipping practice or class to do homework, not feeling well, not wanting to audition for the prestigious SIs, etc. You have to listen with your eyes and your heart as well as your ears.

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Sometimes I think being a parent is like being forever on a teeter totter - "Should I urge him to work harder?" "Should I tell her not to do any more schoolworkbut just go to bed?" "Should I remind her that she can quit ballet any time she likes and it would be fine by me?" "Should I write a note to her teacher?" "Should I just plain not say ANYTHING all to him but rather leave him alone to sort it all out by himself?"


The last choice is what my parents did. I faltered badly till I matured enough to straighten myself out. As an adult, I've looked back and wished my folks were more involved in my life. I wanted to strike a balance with my kids.


To this day, I don't know where that balance is. I've spent a lot of time these last 3 years (my daughter's first experience with grades - her previous Montessori school doesn't have them) telling my daughter I don't care whether or not she makes honors. "I care!" she storms. I spent a good number of years telling her that she could quit ballet any time she wanted. I didn't want her to feel pressure about it - "Don't feel you have to do it for Dad or me". She finally told me about a year ago that I hurt her feelings when I say that. "I WANT to be in ballet. When you say I don't have to do it, it makes me feel as though you don't care."


Quite the opposite. I want her to do what she loves most. But without pressure from her parents.


The good thing I see in both my kids is that they're level-headed. They DO want to do well, get high grades, be at the top of whatever pursuit they're involved with, but neither one will stay up late cramming for tests. They think that's stupid and they just go to bed.


I'll confess to a sinking feeling in my stomach when my son left college after his sophomore year, saying he needed a break. I didn't head off to college till after I had kids. I was afraid he'd never return, afraid he'd repeat my pattern. I've frequently regretted not going to school early on. It took everything in me to keep quiet and let him be. But I did. He returned eventually.


In Montessori, we're trained to not congratulate or reward the final product, but to celebrate the process. "I see how interested you are in researching the Paleozoic Era - your eyes are shining". But there's a fine line between doing that and appearing uncaring about the product. Kids DO care about their final product and I think the level of care is hard-wired into their personalities. Some obviously care more than others.


So we parents teeter totter our way through child-rearing, trying to get it right. For some kids, much of our time is spent urging them to care less, for other kids we urge them to care more. Much of the time, we don't know which way we should shift our weight. Maybe that's what's called balance.


Overall, I do think most parents get it right. As a teacher, I've seen what I call "mismatches" of parent/children all the time. A perfectionist parent with a who-cares child. A laid-back parent with a highstrung kid. It takes a bit of time for these parents to adjust to the child but most eventually do. Having been in a classroom for about two decades now, I've seen many of these kids grow up. They've become fine young women and men. I think they realize, as they mature, that although they might wish their parents pulled back a little or pushed them harder, their parents loved them.

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I have often wondered if child-rearing were walking the razor's edge, or its back, where there is slightly more wiggle room!


I'm reminded of a line from Mark Twain: "When I was fifteen years old, I thought my father was the stupidest man in all of creation. When I was twenty-five, I was amazed at how much the Old Man had learned about life in only ten years!":D

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I think that being a parent is one of the hardest jobs in the world that is underpaid and under-appreciated. You get pregnant...you have 9 months of pregnancy...you go to the hospital and you walk out of that door with this precious bundle in your arms...a human life. No one has asked if you know how to take care of this precious life and raise it to be a self sufficient well balanced adult...you just walk out that door with a baby.


Parenting is hard...you feel competent at being a parent and then wham...they hit another threshold of development and you are back to being a rookie parent again. It is a constant balancing act knowing if you are pushing too hard...pushing not enough or striking that right balance. That is from day one let alone when they become teenagers...then like I mentioned earlier on another thread it feels like you are negotiating a mine field and trying to find the right path.


What makes it even more complicated is that I don't think there is one right path. Every child is different. Every family is different. The trick is finding what is right for that child. What is pushy depends on the child. What the child needs depends on the child. It is not as easy as drawing a generalization and saying we are pushy because our kids take dance 6 days a week. She found that within herself not from me. I have asked...you don't have to do this...you can quit you know...but there is this child who is happiest dancing in class or on stage. That isn't from me pushing. I often worry like Vagansmom that she will take it the wrong way... like I am not supporting her passion in life enough if I keep telling her she can quit whenever she wants. But maybe that is healthy. It is a struggle finding that balance and knowing when to say something and when to be quiet.


Yes there are pushy parents out there. But at the same time I don't think you can generalize and say everyone in this generation and this income bracket is pushing their child too hard. We are all trying our darndest to do a job no one trained us for. If we can get to the end and raise an adult who is self sufficient and happy with themselves that is all that matters. It is walking a razor's edge...and there isn't all that much wiggle room.

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Vagansmom, what you said struck a chord with me.


One also has to factor in the mood of the child at a given moment.


Sometimes it doesn't matter what you say (or don't say), it will be the wrong thing!

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Guest info junkie

I feel that my parents did not "push" me enough. Overall, I really didn't need it since I was somewhat self-motivated and bright. In retrospect I learned awful procrastination habits since I could do my work at the last minute and still get my A's. I stayed up all night many times in high school because I had put off doing a paper until the end. My parents didn't need to push about grades but about work habits :)


I remember two times when my dad strongly encouraged me to do something--apply for my first summer job and join the school newspaper. He knew I really wanted to do both, but my natural shyness was holding me back. I am SO appreciative of his encouragement there.


This is a topic I have put a lot of thought into for my own children. So far I feel I have walked the tightrope. I tend to bit pushy in theory but not in practice. Luckily, I have two wonderful sisters who would tell me if I started leaning too much one way on that tightrope :) I'm sure this issue will come up often with my naturally reticent daughter.



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Knock, knock...


Just out of interest I wondered what parents would do if their dancers wanted to give it up? I ask because I wasn't allowed to give the activities my parents had chosen for me up until I was 15.


(At the time I resented them making me go to piano lessons, and swimming training but now I am obviously glad that I can play the piano - although I have hardly done it since my final lesson - and swim well.)


It didn't really do me much harm is what I mean. But I do think about when I have kids, I would like them to do ballet classes and because I like it, I wonder how strict I would be about not letting them give it up until they could make a rational decision about whether they wanted to carry on.




(Moderator's note - Kate asked for permission to post on Moms and Dads, and I think she's got a good question! What think? - Mel)

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Guest hermom

Dear Kate,


Good question.


My husband and I have seen all three of our children through many "trial and error" changes. They have all chosen their activities, and stopped when they realized it wasn't for them. (Of course, they finished what they started, just chose not to continue for another year, season, etc.)


Now, they're all teens, and participating in the activities they have chosen to stick with. However, should they decide they don't want to continue, that's okay.


Recently, our high school junior approached us regarding his guitar lessons. He doesn't have time to practice because of homework loads and soccer season, and feels he's not doing well with guitar. He said he wanted to quit entirely, but once we talked it out, he decided to stop for the duration of soccer season, and then go back, to a new teacher.


If my daughter were to stop studying ballet, I would be very sad, but I would never let her know that. She was drawn to the art, but if she no longer feels that pull, how could anyone ask her to continue working so hard?


In summary, we have always let our kids decide what they wanted to try, when they wanted to stop, and what they wanted to commit to.

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