A few days ago, I asked my 10-year-old son what would make him infinitely happy. His response melted my heart. “A pencil. A pencil and a paper,” he said after a moment of thought.
My little guy loves losing himself in the world of art. He spends his evenings sketching minions and gnomes and Godzilla and Jughead. Of course, given the chance, he would love to watch a cartoon or play on the Wii. But, considering he’s not “given the chance” by his oh-so-boring parents, he gravitates toward solo pursuits of drawing or reading. He hates the spotlight. His dreams are quiet and completely bereft of any element of shine or glitz. And that’s wonderful.
Yet, somehow, in today’s “go big or go home” world, we’re told that only the extravagant and the extraordinary are worth anything.
We teach our kids that anything is possible. That they should aim high and dream big. We tell them to reach for the stars. But what if by repeating this narrow narrative about future goals, we’re telling them that true contentment is won through achievements and accolades? Is our emphasis on striving for tomorrow stealing their appreciation of today? Are we steadily feed them an “only if” diet – one that says they can find happiness only if they bring home the prize?
What if we taught our children to embrace today and love where they’re at right now? What if we didn’t just teach them that, but we modelled it for them in daily living?
Sometimes, children take a while to discover what they’re truly passionate about. As parents, we're often pushing them to discover their personal eureka moment. But what if we help them find the Aha! in the ordinary?
Like, the joy of biting into a juicy mango? Or the fun of family game night? What if we together discovered the simple pleasures of blanket forts and Saturday morning snuggles?
I think back to when as a new immigrant, I gleefully appreciated the ordinary. I couldn’t get enough of the flower-lined sidewalks or the colours of Fall or the sticky sweetness of s’mores or the abundantly stocked aisles of grocery stores. Every moment was special, extraordinary even. I want my kids to view their world through “immigrant” eyes - where they recognize the beauty of each moment.
The bottom line is we all want our kids to be happy. But sometimes we associate future success with happiness. We think accomplishment and accolades equate with joy.
We compliment our kids for standing out, for winning the prize, for outsmarting their peers, for outrunning the competition. We’re inadvertently passing on to them this message: go after the next big thing if you want to be happy. Are we unconsciously telling them that they’re not “good enough” if they don’t make the goal? Is there a subtext of selfishness that we’re promoting in our children?
Sure, if your child wants to be the next John Glenn or Elon Musk, by no means am I suggesting you discourage him or her. But tell them that even if they don’t get there it doesn’t discount who they are.
Celebrate their little achievements. Go out for ice-cream when he learns to tie his shoelaces. Tell her you are proud of her for kicking that ball with all her might – even when she misses the goal.
Show them by example that you love and appreciate the ordinary life. Show them that your joy doesn’t depend on the “almost finished” novel becoming a runaway bestseller or you finally making the veep position at your company.
There’s nothing wrong with expectations and dreams – as long as they don’t hold the key to our happiness. We want our kids to know that. We need our lives to reflect that.
Show them that it’s not about striving for perfection or the spotlight. Show them that there’s extraordinary joy in embracing the ordinary.
Teach them to love those pencil-and-paper moments. Those ambitions that don’t make Goalcast videos that are viewed seven million times. Show them that there is wonder and beauty in living quietly for an Audience of One.
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