Watching the Olympics this past week, I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the athletes’ personal stories. One in particular stuck with me. The athlete was an alpine skier and as the story went, his parents had him on his first set of skis before he could walk. They of course had been professional skiers and wanted their son to have every chance to become one as well.
It is said we live vicariously through our children. In some cases this means having them grow up just like us, same goals, same passions. In some cases, we want them to succeed where we failed. In either case, the parent is projecting their expectations unto the child. Don’t misread this, I will be the first to tell you that without expectations, their is no roadmap to success. Expectations create our goals. The question is whose expectations should they be?
When we realize we are about to have a child, we hope for three very basic things. We hope that our child will be born with ten toes and ten fingers, meaning healthy. Good health will give them that head start. The second hope is that they will grow up to be independent, free thinking individuals, able to make the important life decisions they will inevitably face. Our third hope is that they will be successful, and here the seed of expectations is planted. Every parent describes success in their terms. One parent will hope that their child will some day become President of the United States, another the next Warren Buffet, yet another a professional athlete, maybe even an Olympian. Whether it is the arts, athletics, business, or politics, we can’t help but start to set expectations. The problem here is that these expectations are ours when they need to be theirs.
I am as guilty as the next person. The minute my daughter picked up a golf club,
I expected to one day see her in the US Open. The second my youngest daughter grabbed a microphone, I just knew she would be the next Shania Twain. I couldn’t even wait to buy her that first guitar. It is next to impossible to not set these expectations for our children. After all, it is born out of our love for them. But if we truly love them, is it living up to our expectations that matters.
Let’s go back to my Olympians. I don’t believe that when that toddler was set upon his first set of skis that he expected to be one day screaming down a mountain in China seeking a gold medal. I suspect that somewhere along the way, it might have become a dream of his. Somewhere that dream developed into a dedication to improving his skills as a skier. Through hard work and determination, his dream became an expectation. But that expectation was the product of a dream and it was his expectation. He earned the right to that expectation.
As parents we need to understand the difference between expectation and a dream. Our expectations for our children, if improperly placed may just be the worst thing we can do for them. We need to let them discover their passions independently and then we need to let them dream. Let their dreams become their expectations. Only then will we get to watch them have the success we had hoped for.
We have a role in our child’s future, and that role is to be their supporter, their nurturer, their biggest fan. If we let them dream their dreams, if we let them soar, who knows, they just may become an Olympian.