Since most of us are, our kids should know that it’s OK

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - KEDRIC FRAN­CIS The Orange County Reg­is­ter

”I want to be a cham­pion when I grow up,” our 4-year-old daugh­ter said re­cently. “A cham­pion at what?” I asked. “I don’t care, I just want to be great,” she replied.

Part of me thinks “bravo” at the idea. We want our chil­dren to be am­bi­tious and hard­work­ing. They have to be if they’re to ex­cel and suc­ceed at some­thing ... any­thing. But the truth is most won’t end up cham­pi­ons of the world. Or even their school.

Which, of course, is no rea­son for them not to try, or for us not to en­cour­age our kids to strive for great­ness. But we also have to find a way to let them know that end­ing up a good per­son, rea­son­ably well ad­justed, do­ing some­thing they en­joy, with a nice life and a strong fam­ily may be as great as it gets, and that’s enough.

Av­er­age is what most of us re­ally are, if we’re hon­est with our­selves. Sta­tis­ti­cally speak­ing, most of us are in the mid­dle of the curve most all of the time, in al­most ev­ery­thing we do. And there’s noth­ing wrong with that.

Any­one who has read the bi­ogra­phies of the world’s most suc­cess­ful artists, ath­letes, in­ven­tors and world-chang­ing entrepreneurs re­al­izes they were bro­ken in some way, and their ob­ses­sion to be the best was born out of try­ing to fix the break.

Bad dads are of­ten at the heart of great in­di­vid­ual suc­cess, it seems to me. The fa­ther for whom good was never good enough; the taskmas­ter liv­ing vi­car­i­ously through his chil­dren’s suc­cess; the emo­tion­ally un­avail­able dad who never praised or said “I love you.”

That’s a gross sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, cer­tainly. Many supremely suc­cess­ful peo­ple came from sta­ble fam­i­lies and kind, car­ing fa­thers.

Earn­ing great wealth or be­ing a world-fa­mous ath­lete doesn’t make you a good per­son. There are end­less ex­am­ples of bril­liant busi­ness­peo­ple and gen­er­a­tion-defin­ing ge­niuses who were aw­ful to their fam­i­lies and friends. And don’t for­get the evil ge­niuses among us, those who were bril­liant at be­ing bad — dic­ta­tors, au­to­crats and oth­ers whose suc­cess came at the ex­pense of other peo­ple.

Per­haps it’s per­fectly OK to be av­er­age if you’re do­ing some­thing good in the world. And yet so much of our me­dia fo­cus on the ex­cep­tional. Tele­vised sports, awards shows, YouTube videos of peo­ple do­ing re­mark­able things and the bios of youth­ful bil­lion­aires are so ubiq­ui­tous, it’s easy to feel like a fail­ure if one is not in­cred­i­bly ac­com­plished by the age of 12. Or 20.

How do we as par­ents pass on the knowl­edge that we’re not all born to be ge­niuses or cham­pi­ons, and that hard work of­ten tri­umphs over pure in­tel­li­gence, looks and skill?

Prais­ing the ef­fort and not the in­nate, and tak­ing on the dif­fi­cult task of ask­ing those around us to do the same is a good start. It’s hard to nip the “you’re so smart, you’re so cute” prais­ing in the bud, es­pe­cially when it comes from a lov­ing rel­a­tive or sup­port­ive friend. But nu­mer­ous stud­ies, and much per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, say we must.

Then there’s the co­nun­drum of ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties: art classes, vi­olin lessons and soc­cer leagues.

I’m go­ing to ad­mit to not look­ing for­ward to the next decade and a half of week­ends spent at ath­letic fields and courts, or at recitals, re­hearsals and such. Maybe I’m a bad dad, plus I’m sure the parental in­stinct will kick in, where ev­ery per­for­mance by our prog­eny will be­come im­por­tant.

But we’ve also seen the dis­ap­point­ment of par­ents who spend some of the best week­ends of their lives ob­sess­ing over their off­spring’s ac­tiv­i­ties only to have the kid quit, burn out or end their high school ca­reers with­out so much as a schol­ar­ship of­fer to ease their par­ents’ pain and out-of-pocket ex­pense.

As a fa­ther, I re­al­ize that we can’t raise kids who are lazy and un­chal­lenged. It’s through rigor and hard work that we un­cover our best selves. But we also want our kids to re­al­ize the tremen­dous ac­com­plish­ment that comes from cre­at­ing some­thing, the plea­sures of read­ing a good book, the im­por­tance of en­joy­ing a close friend­ship and the joy of laugh­ing with some­one you love.

If we do well at rais­ing kids who are whizzes at these as­pects of life, we’ll grade our par­ent­ing as wellabove av­er­age. If one or more of our chil­dren go on to ob­tain such fi­nan­cial suc­cess that they can help sup­port this old dad in his dotage, well, all the bet­ter.


The writer ar­gues that we have to find a way to let kids know that end­ing up a good per­son, rea­son­ably well ad­justed, do­ing some­thing they en­joy, with a nice life and a strong fam­ily may be as great as it gets, and that’s enough.

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