A thing or two about expectationsby Lee Seow Ser email@example.com 04:45 AM Mar 25, 2012
I was quite intrigued by two rather contrasting experiences involving my children recently.
What appeared initially to be encounters on opposite ends of the spectrum turned out, quite interestingly, not so dissimilar after all, after I came to better appreciate what they shared in common.
I had registered my children in an on-the-spot art competition organised for young children as part of the fringe activities of a school's fund-raising carnival.
The buzzing atmosphere at the fun fair that day, however, made my husband and I contemplate forgoing our kids' participation in the competition (held in a mundane classroom setting). We'd rather they partake of the "marketplace" activities, play at the game booths, enjoy popcorn and climb the impressive military tanks on display.
Nevertheless, not wanting to appear fickle, we decided to let the children colour and draw in the competition anyway. As soon as they finished, we whisked them quickly outdoors to enjoy the carnival activities.
Later on, as we prepared to head home - we had not quite bothered with the contest results - I sought to retrieve our children's art pieces for keepsake but could not locate my five-year-old's drawing.
We were told that his work could have been shortlisted as a winning entry and moved to the prize-winning display board.
We gushed; he blushed. To the whole family's utmost surprise, the little lad won the third prize in the kindergarten category.
My husband and I kicked ourselves hard for underestimating our kids' abilities, even almost unwittingly denying the boy the joy and pride of receiving a bronze medal.
There was ... shall I say, something almost heroic, and quintessentially sweet, about that unexpected win.
He had just affirmed for himself the "I too can do it" spirit, and I sensed a budding excitement of his own potential building up, tugging at the boy's heartstrings. The boost to his self-confidence was priceless.
Contrast that with a totally different experience I had some weeks later with my elder son.
I had taken leave from work specially to participate in a mass run with him, organised by his school. I looked forward to spending an exciting early morning in the park, running alongside and cheering him.
He started off well and ran ahead of me. However, after a short distance, he suddenly stopped in his tracks and broke down in tears.
Concerned that he might be having difficulty breathing (he may be mildly asthmatic), I asked anxiously if he was in any discomfort. He was visibly stressed, complained of a stomach ache, and desperately needed the toilet.
Poor boy - how my heart went out to him! (You can imagine how he and his tummy and Mummy were all badly upset.)
I encouraged him to take small steps or walk if necessary to get to the finish line. And after what seemed like a long time - during which many of his schoolmates, including the girls who started the race later, caught up with and overtook him - he did, to my relief, complete the race; then bolted off instantly to the toilet.
The actual race experience, admittedly, was starkly different from what I had envisioned the night before when I gave him a pep talk, stressing the importance of good sportsmanship and having the will to finish the race.
I was thus slightly annoyed and a little let down by his remark - made, understandably, in a moment of great distress during the race - that he wanted to give up!
That night, as I reflected on the two separate encounters with my sons, I realised that the older boy's race finish, though far from being at the top of the pack, was no less heroic than his brother's "podium" finish.
I became conscious of the "mischief" at work: My own expectations had unfairly distorted the sense of pride that ought to have flowed from my six-year-old's feat in finishing the race in spite of the challenging circumstances. Conversely, my five-year-old's win was perceived to have tasted sweeter, simply because there was no expectation of any prize-winning achievement to begin with.
I really should be more mindful of the way I manage the expectations I have of my children, and not let parental anticipation overshadow or derail the sweet, joyful sentiments and experiential journey of a child's genuine exertions and endeavour.
The day after the run, my son's form teacher shared with the parents an insightful article, "I want my kids to fail", by Joshua Raymond. He believes parents should allow, even desire, their kids to fail; for that is how they will learn the skills needed to succeed in life.
The teacher felt the mass run had taught a valuable lesson and presented itself as a teachable moment.
Her sharing could not have been more apt.
And she could not have been more right - I, for sure, have learnt a thing or two about expectations, and from my children, no less.
Lee Seow Ser is a mother of two young boys