Jennifer Ginsberg: There is nothing more boring than hearing some parent talk about how "gifted" their child is. It is no longer good enough for your kid to be sweet and kind; he now must be off-the-charts smart as well.
I, for one, am much more concerned about raising children who are empathic rather than smart. Look at Nazi Germany -- one of the most academically gifted and intelligent cultures in history, yet arguably the most morally evil.
When I worked as a psychotherapist at a Jewish treatment center for alcoholics and addicts, I heard common themes from the residents, who often felt that their parent's expectation of success was so pronounced, they simply couldn't live up to it. When a child doesn't feel good enough, a cognitive dissonance develops. On the one hand, a child intuitively knows what he enjoys doing, but when this is devalued by the most powerful people in his world, he comes to believe that he is defective. This disconnect can set the stage for addictions to flourish.
This phenomena is markedly pronounced in the Jewish culture, where material success and academic achievements are highly valued. I remember one patient telling me how angry his parents were when he told them he didn't want to go to college: "I hated school. Yes -- my dad was a doctor and my older brother was a doctor. But I always loved building things, even as a little boy. When I told my parents I wanted to be a construction worker, they laughed at me. I was never good enough."
I asked my rabbi what his thoughts were about this. "The question isn't whether your child is gifted," he said. "The question is: do you see your child's gifts?"
I love this. Am I able to see and value my own children's gifts, or am I covertly trying to mold them into an image of myself (or who I wish I was)? How many parents project their own feelings of disappointment over what they didn't accomplish in an effort to give their kids what they never had? Am I able to appreciate Haley's introspective qualities, rather than criticize her for not being more expressive and "bubbly" like me? Can I help Shane find ways to appropriately channel his tenacity instead of simply telling him to stop being so demanding?
Most importantly, am I able to reframe my expectations of my children and stop judging them based on some bulls*** standard that they may or may not want to live up to? Can I see them as truly successful if they are able to contribute to the world in a positive way, without harming themselves or others?