We live in a suburb of Sydney that is jammed full of successful people; people who have risen to the top of their game, in sporting or professional fields.
As a result, it’s a competitive place to live. While no one outwardly says these things, you know people are quietly eyeing each other to work out who drives the most expensive car, who lives in the biggest and best house, who has the most powerful job, who has the smartest kids.
Inevitably it rubs off on the kids. I remember the first time I heard a young boy lecture my son about the cool cars and not-so-cool cars. This kid knew his BMWs from his Mercedes and could rattle off whatever ‘series’ happened to be driving past us. They were only six at the time. My son didn’t know what the hell this kid was going on about. I’m sure he does now though.
It’s hard to know what I should say to my kids when all they see and hear around them are messages about why it’s good to be the best. And if I’m perfectly honest it’s hard for us adults to make sense of this too.
But the truth of the matter is, my kids will never be the ones who are dropped off to school in the most expensive car or have their birthday parties in the biggest and best house. And it’s likely they will never be the smartest either.
I admit for someone who has always been driven (and I don’t know where this came from because I’m blessed with parents who have never pushed me) second best isn’t always a comfortable place for me. But there is such a fine and dangerous line between gently encouraging your child to do their best and telling them they must be the best.
Today I caught a glimpse of how damaging crossing that line can be for little minds. It was a simple sentence uttered by my son, but it sent shock waves through my body. At the tender age of seven he already felt the pressure to be the best, and it made me feel sick.
As parents it’s our job to help our children make sense of the world around them. To filter messages so they have context within their own lives. It’s not always easy to get right, especially when there are many other things influencing our own thoughts – be they subtle or blatant. In my books, this is the hardest thing about parenting.
I remember my dad once gave me this advice:
“Don’t compare yourself to others. It will never make you happy.”
At the time I didn’t really get it. But as I grow older and hopefully wiser, these words echo through my head now more often and with much more meaning.
I will probably still struggle to find the right words to help my kids make sense of the pressure in life to ‘do well’ and the distorted sense of ‘reality’ in the suburb where we live. But what I can do is put more focus on celebrating the things that make us laugh and smile, whatever they may be.
I will tell them that while it’s good to try, they won’t always win. In fact, in life they will face many disappointments. And that’s ok, because we’ll get through the disappointments together. But who knows, maybe these so-called disappointments will send us down a path to a place that turns out to be better than we expected.
But most importantly, they must know that winning or losing will not change who they are. It will not change the amount of sheer joy and happiness they bring to us, and so many other people in our lives, every single day.
And from that place only good things can come.