Every adult asks the children they know the same thing: “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
Depending on the age of the kid, the answers usually vary from adorable to delusional. I’m almost 40 and I still don’t know! If a grown adult with actual agency and control over his life can’t be certain of where it’s going to lead – no matter how certain one may be of where s/he wants it to go – how can a young kid’s parents?
“My son loves to argue! He’s such a little lawyer!”
“My kid loves animals so much, I bet he’s gonna be a veterinarian.”
“My daughter is such a ham! She has actress written all over her.”
I believe the children are our future, but I have no idea what my children’s futures will be when they grow up. And neither do you.
There are some people who grow up with purpose, who know from an early age exactly what they want to be when they grow up and then actually manage to see it through and become that thing. I was not one of those people, nor, I imagine, were most of you. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out who and what you want to be. Most of the time, talent and aptitude and passion don’t match up with opportunity and timing and chance well enough for things to pan out the way you dreamed. It’s called life.
When I was a little kid I wanted to be, at different times: a lawyer like my Dad; an archaeologist like Indiana Jones; an astronomer like… no famous people ever; and a writer like Piers Anthony. Today, I’m unemployed! So let’s calm down with predicting our kids’ futures based on the earliest years of their lives and instead focus on encouraging the activities they have an aptitude for and an interest in.
Life is unpredictable, fate is a fickle mistress, best laid plans, etc. Some people do manage to accomplish their childhood dreams, by sheer force of will or incredible luck or some combination of the two, but it’s the exception not the rule – both that those dreams actually persist into adulthood and that they come true. And as a parent, unless you’re raising Mozart or you are Earl Woods, you can’t predict a person’s future based on his childhood, let alone his first five years.
I don’t know what my son will want to be when he grows up. And I certainly don’t assume that his current childish interest in childish things will translate into a lifelong calling. Nor would I want it to.
Every parent views their kids through the perception-clouding prism of “unconditional love” at least some of the time, and every parent occasionally lets this get the best of them in public, resulting in moments of embarrassing gushing and wishful thinking.
“Look at that arm!”
“He really loves music!”
“He always wants to know how something works!”
The self-aware parent realizes what they’re doing, probably gets a little embarrassed after vocalizing such thoughts, and tries to temper those moments with some damage control: a little bitching about the kid; an admission that pobody’s nerfect; a blog dedicated to how terrible parenting is; and a general acceptance that it’s impossible to tell if their little prodigy will ever actually be good at playing the guitar, or just likes holding it.
The obnoxious, clueless parent says things like the stuff at the start of this post. They say it boastfully, and, most maddeningly, they believe it. So they repeat it, over and over. Most of the time it’s harmless; annoying enough that you stop hanging around and listening to it, but nothing more. The problem is that it can curdle into something sour, something dark, especially if it’s repeated at home, in front of the kid, and eventually stops being a wish and becomes an expectation.
Sometimes, expectations can turn into cages.
Enjoy your kids for who they are, enjoy watching their personalities and abilities blossom, and hope they hit the lottery of having passions that are compatible with their abilities. Guide and encourage them, obviously, but let them become who they’re going to become, not who you want them to be, or someone based on your dreams instead of theirs.
Or make your kid miserable by trying to manufacture the result you want and trying to force him to become something he may not be suited to nor have any interest in becoming. Your call! But it’s a lot more fun the first way. For everyone.
There’s no point in predicting something that’s inherently unpredictable, in trying to perfect a process that’s inherently imperfect, and if you don’t accept that pretty early on in your parenting career, hobody’s gonna be nappy.
10 thoughts on “When You Grow Up”
I think it’s because of people like Earl Woods that parents get so het up about their young kids’ potential futures. As if the earlier we start determining our children are going to be good at something, the better chance they’ll have at being the Next Tiger Woods.
Of course, how many former child prodigies actually want their own kids to be the same? I actually think the lesson to be gleaned from this is not that Earl Woods had Tiger swinging a putter at 18 months, but that Tiger made sure his own kids were nowhere near the golf course at that age.
Sometimes you just have to shrug. My husband’s been talking about our firstborn’s “accomplishments” in these terms since the day he was born. I get that it’s just a manifestation of his excitement and love. I also know that he’s not the type to push anything on our sons, that we’ll let them decide what they want to be. In the meantime, I see no harm in letting their dad gush about their future football careers.
There’s a big difference between entertaining thoughts, or even seeing potential, and boxing your kid in to a specific category of life before he even has a chance to form an opinion of his own. Which is why I made a distinction between wish and expectation.
There’s a larger discussion to be had, and one that’s being had, about the phenomenon of red-shirting your toddler, which parents due for a variety of reasons, not all of which are to improve their athletic chances, but some of which ARE. And I just think those parents, who are programming their kids live so far in advance, are doing themselves – and their kids – a disservice.
Life’s a journey, not a destination, and devoting the journey TO the destination is a dicey proposition, especially before the kid has any real say in it.
Could not have said it better myself! My SIL is appalled at the fact her son likes cars “Just my luck! I don’t want a mechanic as a son!” Um, he’s 3. Lay off him, eh? And your 8 year old probably won’t end up being a professional Star Wars Lego maker either.
Piers Anthony ROCKS! That is all.
Oh. Nice article too. Love the tweets as well.
I find grandparents are the worst for this. They are always trying to pigeonhole my sons…drives me nuts! They are 3 and 1!
I have to admit, though, my husband and I joke all the time that because our parents encouraged us to ‘follow our dreams’, and now we’re broke, we will encourage our kids to become Radiologists…and then they can follow their dreams with all the money they make.
Love your blog. Love your tweets.
I couldn’t agree more with you statements. To often kids are given a false sense of accomplishment from parents that boast on mediocrity. That’s not to say of course they may not have any talent or ability but parents should strive for children to explore what they want. It’s good to encourage passion I believe, but don’t let them walk around feeling they are the greatest thing since slice bread. Reason being, when reality hits, it will hit hard and they could be really confused when life doesn’t unfold like they believed it would.
I agree! Hubby n i click pics of our lil one doing/with a bunch of stuff. When she grows up and decides to certain something (of which we have a pic) we’ll tell her… We always knew!!! Lol
Spot on. I addressed this in a post as well.
The other day I was at a practice talking to the Dad of a kid that was on my one twins’ soccer team and the other twins’ baseball team. I noted that that must be tough, four practices a week, two or three games a week. He told me that he wanted to expose his kid to as many sports as possible so he could “find his gift.”
I told him I thought his kid might be good at curling… he didn’t get it.
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Only read it now, but wanted to say it’s one of your best posts. Also: no famous astronomer? What about Sagan?