I don’t mind, so long as they’re happy. And an Olympic Athlete of course.

I often hear pregnant women and expectant fathers discussing what their new arrival might be like in personality and appearance. The conversation always seems to end the same way. “Of course, all I care about is that they are happy and healthy.”

I used to say the same thing myself for the most part, and to be honest, I think it’s time for all us parents to admit to the world that we are lying. I don’t deny that without our medical well being, we have nothing, and that the most important thing for us all is that our children are healthy. I can’t imagine for one minute what parents with truly sick children must be going through, and not for one second do I mean to belittle that in any way.

But even when my baby couldn’t see, and we were concerned about the possibility of fairly serious issues behind his lack of vision, I would not say that “all I cared about” was his health.

Because even if I am only speaking for myself, I want my son to be happy and healthy-sure. But I also wan’t him to be clever. And funny. And popular, and to find love. And to say that the only important thing which contributes to happiness is our health is frankly naive at best.

Perhaps you could say that it’s the happiness part that is the main thing then. All I care about is that my children are happy. After all, plenty of people live with medical issues and health problems and live long happy fulfilled lives as well.

Also nonsense. If someone told me that my son would grow up happily, but unmarried, not interested in Judiasm, and living off unemployment benefits, perfectly content with his lot in life, you would have to peel me off the bathroom floor. I would be entirely miserable, despite his happiness. Because we all want certain things for our offspring. This is the same issue as arguing that you don’t care about your child’s gender. Because you do care. You’re allowed to have an opinion. We all care and we all have expectations about what our children will do or will not do. The best we can do is to manage these expectations and be honest about them.

There is a rumour going around that all parents think their children are beautiful, and clever, and hilarious. I’m yet to find out if this is the case, (as my son really is clever and beautiful and hilarious ;)) but if as I suspect, that when honest we can see our own kids flaws as well as the annoying neighbours ones, I think we could all benefit from being honest about our fears and expressing them as positively as possible.

I am not going to deny that I’ve always worried that I will find it difficult if my children were to end up unintelligent. It’s not something a mother is supposed to admit, that they worry about spawning a dunce, but there we go. I don’t see it as the worst thing in the world. I suppose I feel that the responsibility lies mainly with me. Everything being equal, most children have talents and abilities. Most kids shine at something, as long as they are given the tools. Bringing your kids up with confidence and independence gives them the ability to find their own intelligence. After all, it’s not like I’m dictating that I will be devastated unless they becomes one exact thing, a Brain Surgeon or a Professor of the Fine Arts. After all, I believe it is just as damaging to tell your children “I don’t care about how clever you are” as it is to say “you must get all A’s.” I see so many people, adults and children alike, who are stifled by the wrong expectations, either high or low from their parents, and who I’m sure under a different upbringing could have been just as ‘clever’ or ‘capable’ as someone at the top of their field.

I can’t pretend I don’t want R to be happy in my way as well as his. I can’t tell him I’d be over the moon if he married out of our religion, or decided his vocation was to be a starving artist. Maybe that will change as I watch him grow into his own person not just our baby. But while he is young, all I can do is try to give him the space and encouragement to find out what I’m sure is there. What makes him clever, or funny, or socially capable, and then help him shine. And brag about it of course. After all, I am still his mother.

As an added treat, here’s Rachel and Ross on this issue, 🙂

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How to teach our kids to be average

Nobody wants to be seen as incompetent. We all know that we have strengths and weaknesses. No one is good at everything. But if we cant be good at something, then I dont think being bad at it is appropriate second place. In my opinion, shockingly bad is the next best thing.

For example. I am so bad at ice skating that I literally cannot let go of the side. It takes me about twenty mins to pluck up the courage to step onto the ice itself, and all I do for the entire time I spend at the rink is go round and round the edge holding on with both hands and glaring at anyone in the same predicament who is in my way and stopping me getting past. A really good day is if I can let go with one hand. But this doesnt bother me. I am not embarassed to be awful at this or anything else. Awful is not really humiliating, because it generally connotes “I’ve never done this before.” In the cases where it doesnt, it is normally laughable enough to get you through the experience relatively unscathed.

Being awful, means I can look on in awe at the people who are actually better on ice than on land, exchange sympathetic glances at the equally inept visitors to the rink, and shake my head in companiable mirth at the newcomers who enter with excitement, thinking they’ll be swishing along in no time. If I were merely ‘bad’ at this particular sport, I’d just feel like everyone was looking at me wondering why on earth I’m there. Needless to say, I dont go that much, but when I do, I am truly safe in the knowledge that it looks just like it’s my first time.

Unless you are on the way up towards good, bad is not the place to be.

R is on the way to good. In pretty much everything. Where he has been inept at something, it is an obvious matter of time before the necessary wheels are clicked into place. For example, I embraced baby led weaning wholeheartedly when my son was about 7 months. Until then I basically spent twenty two out of every twenty four hour period worrying that he wasnt eating. The other two hours were spent feeling guilty that I was currently giving him milk when he wasnt eating food. (Shouldnt I be starving him so that he eats orange mush?)

The first time I gave him a piece of broccoli, he opened his mouth wide, and mashed the vegetable against the side of his face. Shockingly bad. Within a few weeks it had improved to ‘on the way to good’ where the food would enter his mouth and promptly fall out again. By 8 or 9 months, he had cracked it, and was eating 3 meals a day, plus various amouns of my own 3 meals a day.

This is his life as a baby. He is introduced to something new, and jumps in with both feet, no inhibitions. He is normally abysmal at it, but quickly progresses, with a swift pause at bad, straight onto good and then normally great. At the moment for example, he is inept at walking. He started off by taking one shaky step, grinning, and falling flat on his tush. Shockingly bad. He now takes lots of steps, but not quickly, and with his whole body shaking, looking to all the world like he is under the influence. I have no doubt that by the time is is 18 months in a few weeks, he will be running around faster than his parents.

But what are we supposed to do when they, or we, dont get to the good part?

One day, he will be awful at something, and then get slightly better. But that’s where it will stop. Whether it’s drawing or dancing or maths or public speaking, he will find a challenge that cant be overcome by repetition or us holding his hand while he does it. And there is nothing I can do about it.

There are plenty of things that I am bad at. I dont mean to the skating extent, just generally not very good. Art, Tact, Patience.. the list goes on. And my answer, probably the same as many adults, is to avoid it entirely. Just stop doing things you find really hard. For most, once school is over, this is a pretty acheivable choice. Choose a career that plays to your strengths, choose a partner and friends who bring out the best in you. No one is going to force you to mix test tubes of liquids if you arent good at chemistry, no one is going to make you lead a group when you would rather be the wallflower. Normally by the end of school, we have all developed the skills to deal with doing subjects and tasks we dont want to do, and while obviously happy to be leaving those things behind, we then carry with us the ability to get on with something we are below average at when the time arises.

Not me. Unlike most people, I made my choice to ignore my mediocre side when I was far too young. And no one really stopped me. If I didnt like maths, I just didnt go. If I didnt like authority, I just didnt listen. And so now, I hate being average at anything in grown up life, because I’ve always been able to ignore it. When something comes up, in my career, or my relationships, that I can’t laugh away by being shockingly awful at, and I cant push past the ‘okay’ and keep climbing towards great, I just dont know how to react.

But then there will be plenty more times in my life where I have to do things I dont want to do, and as I havent really built up an ability to deal with that, I dont know how to teach R either. I dont know what to say to him when he says “Why do I have to?” because I never listened to or agreed with the “Because I said so” reply.

I dont want to force my son to keep doing things that he will never be good at. Personally I dont think it’s fair, or that it does him any good. But I know that a lot of parents would say differently, would say pushing your kids builds character, and teaches them invaluable life skills.

I dont know. What I do know is that when my son is terrible at something, I will remind him of his strengths and abilities elsewhere, and where possible teach him to laugh at his own weaknesses. When he is great at something, I will be the proudest mum ever, while trying to make sure it doesnt go to his head.

It’s when he is mediocre I am worried about.

Thoughts?