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Q: When my daughter was growing up she said she wanted to be an astronaut. I told her she better have a backup plan. She got so angry at me for not completely supporting her dream. I tried to explain to her that being something like an astronaut or president was not completely up to her like wanting to be something like a teacher. Her anger seemed to be coming from social media messages that a parent’s roll should be to support and encourage whatever the child wanted. Now mind you I didn’t discourage her from trying for something like astronaut, even sent her to NASA summer camp, just tried to make her see the realism in making that come to fruition. She is now 29 with two master’s degrees and is a successful senior press officer at a renown public institution (nothing to do with astronauts), but even to this day whenever I don’t 100% support her on something, and try to have a rational discussion, there is still this underlying expectation on her part that I am not being a “good” parent because I am not giving her 100% encouragement as she believes I should from this message of the past couple decades that excessive praise and support is what is expected from parents to build their child’s self esteem.
So my question is, what is a parent supposed to do to combat that over the top social media driven expectation of a parent’s roll in their child’s eye? Even 15 years later, with my daughter a very successful adult in her field, this perception still seems to affect the expectations my daughter has about my roll as her parent, and therefore affects our relationship when ever my perception differs from hers on a subject and I dare express it.
A: What a provocative and familiar theme. We’ve all been under such pressure to “tell” our kids that they can be or do anything–that you are quite right–they may be are accustomed to that message–if not from you, from the world in general.
Katty and I both have kids and have talked a lot about our tendency to over parent and over praise–so we can relate.
One thing we’ve learned–the best way to let kids discover all they are capable of is to let them actually do things–let them risk and fail and master things. And we were surprised to learn that–when they are young–it doesn’t much matter what they take on–it’s the act of learning how to be resilient that is critical–becAuse they will take that knowledge into other arenas.
So–I agree–saying–yes–you can be an astronaut over and over may make a kid feel good–it’s like candy. But with no other guidance, or push toward learning life-skills, that message could eventually become problematic. Because the long hard road to being an astronaut just won’t square with that cheerful promise.
It’s the other lessons you are teaching them that allow them to make the tough decisions later on about what they really want to do.
Say –how wonderful you want to be an astronaut. And then–be sure you are providing a lot of opportunity to learn to fail. Praise progress and even failure. Notice when she picks herself back up. And discuss the sorts of challenges that sort of career might have.
For your grown-up daughter–try some of the same! Perhaps notice when she’s been resilient and strong. When she’s taken chances in her career. That might encourage her, subtly, to do more of the same and be less focused on standard-issue praise.
Mind you–none of this is easy! I know first hand how fraught (and incredible) mother daughter relationships can be.
Thanks for your question. It made me think about what to say to my own kids.