Super People, Super Problems
In this era of super kids, it’s easy to want to your child to be superstar, a famous athlete, musical prodigy, or whatever kind of top-level person you want them to be. Our news feeds are flooded with examples of three-year-old skateboarders, 5-year-old piano masters, or 9-year-olds with the pipes of Aretha Franklin, and this gives us the idea that our own children should be up to that level. What is being forgotten is that most of us are average, our children included, and being average is exactly what our children should be. We all make mistakes and have a chance at forgiveness, but driving our kids to be outliers shouldn’t be their inherited mistake.
With the massive increase in levels of depression and anxiety in American adults since 2010, is it possible we are priming our children for the same? Social media has driven us all to believe that being an exception is normal. That having millions of followers, or making six figures on Instagram and Youtube, is thought of as realistic is downright insane. There is a reason that these people are the exception to the rule: being average is the best that most of us will attain. If it wasn’t, then the average would be exceptional and the exceptional would be average. Can you see why this causes problems? The current idea is that if you aren’t special, then you aren’t loved.
Comparing Ourselves to Outliers
We’ve already set the goal posts for ourselves in relation to the freaks we see on social media. We think that we aren’t good enough, don’t have enough friends or enough likes, or that we always must be happy and prove it by posting pictures of us having an amazing day, every day. Please, hold my beer while I vomit.
Be honest with yourself, most of your days are average. You get up, you commute for hours to work, you work, you commute back, then maybe you get to have a pleasant Saturday where your child gets you full-time (pending your face isn’t buried into your phone). So why are you expecting your child to be a professional baseball player when they have the exact same child-care schedule as every other kid on your block?
The Ugliness of American Ideals
I’m a lucky S.O.B. and have spent the last four years since graduating college traveling and working on three different continents. This is partly because I love to travel, but also because I completely reject the American ideals of getting a ‘good’ job, working your life away, and having no time to yourself and your family while burying yourself in debt to fill your life with material. Instead, my 3-year-old daughter has gone to school and made friends in 5 different countries and has picked up at least a few words in as many languages. She isn’t going to be a superstar or high-earning athlete, as much as I’d like her to be, because she, like me, is average. And frankly, that’s when she is at her best.
I’ve been teaching her to swim and snorkel recently because it’s something I enjoy. One of her most recent challenges is floating on her back and it’s been a true pain in the ass to get her to keep her ears in the water for longer than a few seconds. I push, she resists. I see 2-year-olds on Youtube diving and snorkeling easily, and I get frustrated that Auburn isn’t progressing more rapidly. We’re all prone to this type of behavior because American ideals tell us we are all special. Again, hold my beer, more vomit coming up.
Toddlers Are Excellent Teachers
So why am I ranting about this? Because my daughter recently taught me a valuable lesson. I’ve been showing her videos of other kids snorkeling and swimming, tempting her to try it more and more, and even getting angry at myself when we go a whole session without her dipping her head in the water. So what lesson did she teach me? To just let her float.
I had given up. We were headed to the pool and I had zero intention of trying to get her to do anything with her snorkel or mask on. I just wanted to swim, let her swim, and enjoy the sunshine in one of our last days in Thailand. A few minutes into the pool and I was floating on my back, staring up at a half-moon in a blue sky circled by palm trees. I could hear the muffled sounds of people chatting and others splashing. After a few minutes, I picked my head up out of the water and saw my daughter doing exactly the same thing I was. Floating on her back, ears in the water. I hadn’t once asked her, pushed her, or even insinuated that she needs to practice any skills that day.
Let Them Float
Instead of pushing your children to learn how to swing a bat or sing like Aretha or float on their back, I’ve discovered the best thing you can do is just let them float. Show them what they can do, then let them do it. Drilling and repeating can have a positive impact on your child’s physical abilities, but take a moment to consider what telling a 3-year-old that they will be a professional athlete will do to their psyche. What happens to that psyche when they don’t become a professional athlete? Unfortunately, this type of social media-driven behavior hasn’t been around long enough to give us a clear indication of what happens, but we can look at what is happening to us adults as a clue.
If you’ve ever felt pressured that you have to post something that gets your opinion across in a flashy way, or that an Instagram photo with the perfect filter must be shown each day, imagine what that mentality does to a toddler’s brain. Imagine what kind of influence your toddler is undergoing when you are propping them up as a ‘future Chicago Bulls’ star’ in your Facebook feed. Imagine having the standards set so high for you that you constantly feel inadequate. I’m sure you don’t need to imagine, all you have to do is see how you feel when you look at all the social media icons and compare yourself to them. You’re average. Just floating.
But there isn’t anything wrong with just floating, just being average. My daughter is at her best when I let her do what she can do on her own. I can show her a few times how to do it, but no amount of pressure from her father is going to make her love to snorkel with me or want to improve her off-foot striking skills in soccer.
Letting her be average, letting her float on her own, is the best thing I can do for her. It’s when she improves her quickest and enjoys her activities the most. My daughter likely won’t grow up to be a pro soccer player and possibly won’t ever enjoy snorkeling with me, but that isn’t my goal. My goal is to raise a healthy, well-rounded, competent individual who knows that she can do her best, fail, and still be loved. I can’t see a reason to have any other goals than that.