Great Expectations

One thing I always try to do, as a parent, is not put too many expectations on my kids, in terms of their interests and what they might want to be in life. I mean, I do expect them to be kind people, and helpful around the house, and to work their hardest at school. But I also try not to assume that they will be doctors or lawyers or Prime Minister, or to dream that they will dedicate their lives to building schools in Africa before winning the Nobel Peace Prize, or to fantasize about them winning an Olympic gold medal (total fail on that last one, BTW). They have their own hopes and dreams and I want to encourage that, and support them, and watch them earn their own happiness.

Well – that’s the idea, anyway. Over March Break we went down to visit our extended family and there I saw my teenaged nephews, who are just at the age where they’re trying to figure out what to do with their lives. One of them is in Grade 11, and I asked him if he had started to give some thought to what he wanted to do, and he said he definitely wants to go into business. Which totally makes sense, because both his parents are in business-type fields, and he has a knack for it, and a real flair for entrepreneurship.

But my immediate reaction was: HMMMM.

Both Sir Monkeypants and I are engineers by training and it was in that very moment that I realized, with crystal clarity, that I have actually been assuming that my kids will do something technical. The Captain is good at math and really, really loves it, and his analytical mind makes him a natural for something like computer programming. Gal Smiley is all about the science – a few days ago at bedtime she spent a half hour excitedly telling me all the things they had learned that day in school about The Human Eye – and I picture her going into research, or maybe something medical. Little Miss Sunshine doesn’t have a clear cut preference yet but she enjoys school and works hard at it and I’m sure she will be able to pick and choose her future.

As long as it involves math, of course.

I’ve often pictured myself as being the gentle, benevolent parent, softly encouraging my kids as they pursue acting (and then thank me profusely at the Oscars) or supporting them through art school (where they respond by doing an acclaimed series of works entitled “Mother”) or cheering from the sidelines as they take gold in Olympic Freestyle Skiing. But it turns out, in the end, what I really want is for them to be just like me and Sir Monkeypants, to do what we do, to think like us and value the things we value.

Is it for validation, so we know they love and respect us? Is it because I really can’t put value on interests that don’t match my own?

I’m not super stressed about it – it’s just something to think about. And now that I’m aware of my own expectations – maybe I’ll be able to manage them a bit better.

18 thoughts on “Great Expectations

  1. I’m reading Divergent right now, and this, somehow, reminds me of Divergent (the factions, the Choosing Ceremony).

    Then again, everything reminds me of Divergent right now! Must. Put. Book. Down.

  2. Tudor, I just finished Divergent!! Are you enjoying it?? I was up til 1am reading and reading…

    This post is a bit of a funny subject for me. I studied poli-sci just like my Dad, went into high tech just like him, and hated it for a good three, four years. When wanted to go back to school for web design, he tried to convince me to get a government job.
    But, we made it through a year of my being in school and not working (with a musician husband being the breadwinner to boot!) and now I am SO MUCH happier. So worth it.

    Your kids probably are a lot like you two, and there is a good chance they’ll pick something similar. Hopefully they’ll like it too! And if not at least you’re aware so you can try to support them either way.

    1. I AM liking it – actually much more than I expected. At first I thought it would just be a Hunger Games rip-off but I’m liking it better than the Hunger Games (to be clear; I also really liked the Hunger Games).

      I think, for me, the two main factors are the writing (very good) and the romance, which I’m really enjoying. I never quite “got” Katniss and / or Peeta and / or Gale, but I think Tris and Tobias are great (so far).

      1. I thought the same thing at first re: Hunger Games (which I also really liked, and somewhat like The Giver, if you’ve read that one) but I enjoyed it too! Couldn’t put it down! Enough to want to read #2 and probably see the movie, too which I just realized came out this month!

        1. It took me several years after the big fuss to get over myself and read The Hunger Games, and then I was Super! Obsesssed! with it, while everyone else was like, “Lynn, that was so THREE YEARS AGO.” So it’s quite likely I will be blogging about the AWESOME NEW FIND, Divergent, about three or four years in the future. Looking forward to chatting with you ladies about it then! 🙂

          I have read The Giver, though (on Melanie’s recommendation) and it’s lovely. I am very nervous about the movie version. They’ve changed a lot – I hope it turns out for the better.

  3. Can I recommend a book to you? I read this despite I have no knowledge of chess. But the guy who wrote the book had an internal passion and pursued it and the way he went about it was awesome. Also it makes recommendations to the parents (from his childhood perspective: he is an adult now but remembered how it was when he was a child). For example, if you have a kid who wants to compete in something (doesn’t have to be hockey, in his case it was chess, but it could be gymnastics, dance, a science project that’s entered into a regional competition) and you have a parent who tells the child when he loses “it doesn’t matter” what kind of interpretation the child will get from that comment. If you have a kid with a keen interest in something and they don’t receive the recognition they expect, telling them that it doesn’t matter isn’t the right way to help him or make him feel better. I can’t explain it right…read the book if you can, I think in terms of how we read our kids and their interests it’s a really educational piece, particularly as our children grow and develop and figure out their own paths of interest.

    Joshua Waitzkin The Art of Learning

  4. Great post, Lynn. It made me realize that I’m subconsciously doing the same thing. Of course I take every opportunity to slip math and science facts and fun into their lives, and they are developing well (ahead of the curve, although admittedly that doesn’t mean a whole lot at their ages). (And BTW, everyone’s kids should play Monopoly – we played obsessively for no more than a month or two and boy, can my kids do addition and subtraction in their heads now. Totally amazing.)

    OTOH neither of my parents were technically-minded, and both my brother and I eventually got graduate degrees in engineering and math. What did your parents do?

    In any case, I do believe that the two most important “academic” skills you can give your kids are reading and numerical literacy, and I think if my kids at least are not afraid of math as they go through life they will do well career-wise. Going from there to a technical career – that’s much harder, because kids are all so different.

    Oh, and I imagine you’re already well aware of this, but the Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson is _awesome_. We are watching it as a family and I think he does such a great job – he is a worth successor to Carl Sagain IMHO. So the more ways you find to (subconsciously maybe) communicate to your kids that the world is a rational place and that math (and critical thinking) are some of the most important tools needed to conquer it, the better.

    1. We also do that – have fun (at least, I think it’s fun) dinner conversations about things like binary, or matrices, or shortcuts to two-digit multiplication. Man, we are really not helping our kids to grow up to be non-geeks, are we? 🙂 So maybe we are showing them that math and problem solving and the things we find fun and interesting actually *are* fun and interesting, and that will lead them down the path.

      I was thinking that I would actually be much better at supporting them through a wildly different career choice – like say, artist or musician – than I would through something I see as a “soft science,” like psychology or sociology, or something less well defined, like a general arts degree. If they have a dream they want to pursue, I get that – it’s the not really having direction, and then sort of backwards falling into something they aren’t sold on, that would bug me, I think.

      Thanks for the tip on Cosmos! I had heard about it but we haven’t been watching it. Am off to set the PVR.

      1. We’ve been watching Cosmos with the kids too…totally worth tuning in!

        As for expectations, when the girl was 4 and the boy was 6, she announced that she wanted to be a garbage man and he chimed in that he wanted to stay at home with his kids. We could go just about anywhere from there…!

  5. “Friends don’t let friends take arts.” But do engineers let their kids take arts? I hope I’m open-minded enough to let my kids follow their hearts, but I also worry. There seem to be a lot of influences pushing my 5yo girl away from “boy things”. But how do you balance that without pushing back??

    1. We absolutely do. Mom & I are both good musicians, but (well, speaking for myself anyway) hopeless at the visual arts. But our older son was pretty seriously into drawing for a while (that has since passed) and our younger is pretty creative and is taking an art class. The older also likes to draw comics. I feel like anything that they show a real interest in should be encouraged as much as possible. Being well-rounded is important (and that’s why, incidentally, despite both of us also being sports-challenged, we are thrilled that our older seems to be natural athlete).

      It’s one thing to have an interest in the arts and another altogether when they’re old enough to start thinking about turning that into a career. I have first-hand experience with this – I was a top student in high school but was very much into music at the time, so while all my friends went off to college I tried my hand at being a professional musician. I was at least good enough to support myself and lasted for eight years until I finally came to the realization that I could do much better with my abilities than just survive, and went back to college and eventually got a PhD.

      I’m sure my parents must have breathed a huge sigh of relief when I went back to school; looking back on it now with the perspective of a parent, it must have taken an incredible amount of restraint for them to let me do that against all common sense. I’m really not sure I could do the same for my kids.

      But the truth is, I have no regrets about taking an 8-year detour on the way to where I am now, which I think is where I belong. I might not retire as soon as I would have, and I might have wasted what would have been the best years of my life in technology, but having the chance to follow my passion and come to my own realization about the practicalities of non-traditional lines of work is an irreplaceable experience. I only hope my kids can have as fulfilling an experience as that was for me, and I hope I have the good sense to let them try.

      1. Funny, I had totally forgotten about your pre-university years. I love this story – will be using it as my personal parenting guide when my kids hit 18 :).

  6. My husband is known for saying that he will support the kids in whatever they want to do – unless it deviates from business or engineering. Then he says he’s spending all their education funds on an Aston Martin.

  7. While I’m curious to see where my kids land in the job market arena I really truly have zero expectations. My expectations lie more with how they will form their charitable lives and even them my only expectation is that they are active volunteers somewhere, doing something for the greater good. That’s it. On the employment front though…. Abby has always said she wants to be an artist which panics Mike to no end even with me pointing out that there are many ways to be an artist as a career choice that doesn’t include her living with us forever – art therapist, graphic designer and such. Right now she is absolutely fascinated by the idea of physio therapy for babies. Our friends’ son is in physio, he just turned one, and Abby begs my friend to send her updates and pictures of his appointments. And since my friend is a rockstar she obliges. I can totally see her in a profession that helps babies/young kids. Maya…. well who knows. She is a total riddle.

    1. This is a good sentiment. I have a similar credo: fundamentally there are just two things that I’d like my children to be able to say at the end of their lives – that they were happy, and that they made a net positive contribution to the world.

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