As we watch Michael Jackson’s family walk into the courthouse, we are again reminded that our hopes and dreams are often wrapped up in our children…all they will do and all they will achieve. How proud we’ll be. The problem is that we’ve gotten so wrapped up in the infinite “checklist” of what they are doing, or should be doing, that we don’t really know HOW they are doing today, let alone who they’ll be and what they’ll be doing tomorrow. “My kids are great. Jack is getting all A’s, he is the captain of the football team, he is very popular, he’s working on a cure for cancer and…oh, did I tell you about Sophie, she’s really something…?” Check. Check. Check. The reality is that our kids are stressed out and we need to be there to help them figure out how to balance the pressures of childhood with realistic expectations. Because when we tell them we’ll build our world of dreams around you, it freaks them out a little.
The King of Pop grew up in a fishbowl, for all of us to judge from the time he hit his first high “C.” MJ and his siblings were children competing in an adult world…the expectations were unfair. Subjected to total parental control and exploitation, Michael never really had a childhood. I’ll be there to protect you, with an unselfish love that respects you did not happen for him. He recognized that his childhood was taken from him and he endured a kind of stress that no child should have to bear. His parents let it happen. Seemingly, Michael spent his entire adult life on a quest to recapture the innocence of his youth. Our kids will not likely deal with that kind of pressure, but heavy expectations nonetheless.
In fact, it seems to be mounting with each generation. The bar keeps changing. A 4.0 GPA is not the gold standard anymore, there are AP classes and only a 4.3+ will do. Today, some parents have traded dinner table conversation about the day’s events to food on the go dashing between tutors, sports and everything else on the check list. Our kids are over-scheduled and it is our fault. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that more is better. More stuff. More programs. More trophies. Why does every kid need a participation trophy, by the way? For them? No. They understand the difference between the courtesy trophy and the ones they win. The trophies are for us. To validate all the things on the check list. There isn’t time for playing outside after school with the neighborhood kids. Hardly anything is unscheduled. Nothing is left up to the child…to chance, to fate, to whim, to experimentation, to choice. All is a means to and end. Check. Togetherness, well that’s all I’m after.
We need to think about letting our kids be kids if we are to raise confident, well-rounded, whole human beings. Let them get dirty. Let them make a fort out of the living room pillows. Let them climb the tree. Let them have time to just be. You and I must make a pact, to bring salvation back. Otherwise, we might raise the next King of Pop on the outside, but on the inside, he’ll likely be a lonely, one-dimensional person, who has not been allowed to stop and smell the roses once in a while. Someone who doesn’t know how cope without being the center of attention…without an award, constant praise and someone else’s definition of “success.” Someone who is unable to adapt to life in the real world…constantly trying to achieve the elusive trophy. Great IQ, no EQ. All the checks in place, but still something will be missing. Our kids need to try, err, get roughed up, take a look around, know themselves. More from experimenting, than watching. Our job is to tell them, it’s o.k. give it a try…and I’ll have faith in all you do, but our kids cannot do everything to perfection and we shouldn’t expect them to. Sometimes, they will learn more from their failures than they will from their successes. We need to accept that they are going to fall down sometimes. And, we need to take a deep breath and let it happen, so they learn how to “pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again.” Otherwise, it’s like getting the courtesy trophy.
Our job is to teach them resilience and perseverance, but they need to do the hard work. If they know that it is o.k. to fail sometimes, that it is part of the learning process, that they just have to put themselves out there sometimes…then maybe they will work harder for themselves, not for us. The pressure might be less intense. Let me fill your heart with joy and laughter is our role…cheering them on…easing the pressure a bit by letting them know that no matter what happens I’ll be there. Maybe then, we’ll raise flexible, multi-dimensional, well-adjusted people who will be good friends, neighbors and citizens that can look at the Man In The Mirror and like who they see. Sadly though, Michael Jackson’s mom and dad bought into the successful, one-dimensional caricature parenting philosophy and his life turned out a little spooky…more like the Thriller video than the lyrics of I’ll Be There.
Change begins at home…and it starts with YOU!
-Michelle & Debbie