When my son was little, I had it all figured out. He was going to be an A student, so I put him in an expensive day care that guaranteed all the cognitive abilities to be the next Einstein. I signed him up for dance, Hapkido and every sport imaginable because he was the most athletic kid ever and, who knows, he may be the next Olympic star too, right?
The moment my son showed an interest in something, I signed him up! Guitar? Sure. Soccer? Yes. Acting? Of course. But school? I could not do anything to make him love it. My son, whose personality is full of life, mosied his way to class and just flat-lined. Every teacher told me how articulate and bright he was, but they could not get him excited about schoolwork. There were a few teachers who made their mark on him, but it wasn't enough to pull those A's I thought he would have.
By the time he got into middle school, he forgot everything. Homework? What is that you speak of? Test? What test? Oh yeah, I forgot to study.
My agony grew greater with each red mark on his papers. Why could he not apply that amazing brain of his in school? I decided to take him out of a regular school setting and homeschooled him for a year. I noticed that he did much better with one-on-one sessions. But life circumstances changed my workload, and I was no longer able to do it. He went back to school, which was fine. He missed his friends and I felt that a more social environment was more fitted for his personality.
For 15 years, I've been putting much of my own expectations on my son. Instead of parenting him as the individual he is, I approached it as though he were an extension of me that needed to continue this imaginary journey of greatness. When an expectation was not met, I agonized over his future, my parenting, the world. If he fails classes, does that make me a failure? If he doesn't go to college, did I go wrong somewhere?
High school began and my teenage son signed up for wrestling and started his classes. I let him figure out his own way and trusted that he was getting work done. About two months in, when the progress reports came in, I realized that he had been "forgetting" assignments (again). The agony came back. It became a full family affair to get him back on track. We spoke. We lectured. We took things away. I turned into the kangaroo episode of Family Ties where the dad could no longer speak. Face-palms and brow-furling were pretty much it.
Then it hit me. Well, it hit me after I saw Marie Forleo's interview with clinical psychologist and author Dr. Shefali about conscious parenting. For 15 years, I've been putting much of my own expectations on my son. Instead of parenting him as the individual he is, I approached it as though he were an extension of me that needed to continue this imaginary journey of greatness. When an expectation was not met, I agonized over his future, my parenting, the world. If he fails classes, does that make me a failure? If he doesn't go to college, did I go wrong somewhere?
Blow the whistle! What was happening to me? I knew better. I know for a fact that transcripts are not the only way to get into college (if that's what he chooses as his path after high school). I work in social media and see first-hand the cultural shift in our world every day and the new definitions of success — sometimes they don't include an academic background full of letters that follow a name. I am fully aware that schools today have not caught up to the multi-faceted minds of millennials. And, as a society, we are nowhere near ready for what Generation Z is going to bring to the table. I totally agree with Gary Vee's take on education that schools are teaching using an old model that doesn't work today, causing kids to be bored and sometimes failing, and yet here I am sounding like an old stuffy professor at a podium, who only places value on academia as self-worth.
When I witnessed him being lectured by a family member about school, I hated the way it looked. I made a conscious decision to let go of the expectations I set up so long ago. When report card time came around again, I simply asked him how he felt about the grades he received and how he would like to change things moving forward. Sure, I still had a mild Steven Keaton moment, but I was able to accept what is instead of harp on what could be, based on my unrealistic expectation.
My son dreams of being a film director and is currently working on a documentary. He wants to go to college to study film direction. My reply? Take it day by day. Do what you love, and the doors will open. In today's world, it can be just about anything.
It feels great to finally surrender expectations and be part of the journey.