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My Two Friends
In the past two years, I have two friends who fell into the abyss of mental disorder (depression, schizophrenia) and their stories concluded quite tragically (please don’t ask me to elaborate on the “how it has concluded” aspect).
The thing is that both stories have similar background: Their lives were so perfect. At least it seemed so on the outside. They’re both very good looking, very extroverted. They’re both over-achievers ever since they were little kids, top ranks in schools, getting scholarships, all the way up to adulthood, successful in their careers.
They appeared to be free of problems. Or at least, in my eyes, they do not seem to have enough reason to be unhappy. But then, looking back into the conversations I’ve had with both of them, now I realize, that very subtly, amongst the words that had glorified their great achievements, there is this fear of failure, and there is this regret over a particular situation which they couldn’t overcome and wanted to run away from.
I couldn’t help but wanting to look back on how their parents raised them. No, I really do not want to blame their mental disorder problem onto the parents. But I assume that their mental disorder is due to their inability to cope with a particular situation. I'm just curious on how my two friends perceive such a situation, and I couldn’t help to think that a large part of it is their upbringing.
The parents of one of these two friends have a tendency to boast their child’s (my friend) achievements in front of many other people. This explains that this friend has a great showmanship. But I assume that my friend has perceived the parents’ treatment as, “The most important thing in life is to achieve great things” and on the flipside, “The most embarrassing thing in life is to fail”. And true enough, once my friend hit a wall that he/she couldn’t run away from, he/she thinks it is failure, and couldn’t cope with it.
I do not know about my other friend’s parents. But seeing how he/she always longed for his/her past achievements, and that he/she always wanted to run away from his/her current life (which is different from the more successful past), I guess he/she have received the same message from his/her upbringing that it is not OK to fail.
(You see, I’m trying to obscure the identity of my two friends by making the gender obscure)
Their tragic stories had me thinking. It seems that emphasizing on successful achievements in raising children could be dangerous. On top of that, it seems that it’s more important to teach kids that , “It’s OK to fail, try again!” and that, “It’s the effort that counts, the achievement is just a bonus”, emphasizing on the effort, not the result. Instead of raising a successful child, it’s more important to raise a child that can cope with failure.
As A Parent
The question is that, “have I, as a parent, done the right thing?”
Being a parent is more difficult than only reading the parenting handbook / theories, because the child rearing process is not limited to tutoring the child. Those theories are useless unless it is being internalized.
One thing about being a parent is to be an example for the child. It is amazing to see how fast my children imitate my daily action and habits, but that means, my bad action and habits are prone to be imitated as well.
Another thing about being a parent is how a message is implied further than what is actually said. This means a sentence that was not meant to impose certain value becomes loaded when it is posed in a certain way. Or a sentence becomes loaded when it is not in sync with the actual action of the parents.
For example (from Half Full blog), when your kid had just came back from soccer practice, you intend to ask how the game was. So you ask, “How was the game, did you win?”. This implies that it is more important for the child to win the game.
Instead, it could be better to ask, “How was the game, did you learn something new? Did you have fun?”, emphasizes that it is more important to learn something and have fun instead of winning. This allows the child himself to set and measure his own successes, instead of imposed from the outside.
Coping With Failure
Now how does this have to do with allowing the child to learn to cope with failure? In a nutshell, we as parents need to internalize that effort and allowing failure is more important than achievement and success, through our words and also our actions.
But how to deal with failure? Perhaps many parents are afraid that this means celebrating or praising failures. Well, actually, no. When we say, “It’s OK to fail”, it means that we do not put too much negativity on the failure (just as we shouldn’t put too much praise on achievements too). We shouldn’t demonize and mock failure as embarrassment. Deal with failure rationally; show the child cause and effect. Show the child the logical consequences. For example, instead of mocking, “You stupid child, why do you spill your food?”, we can sufficiently say “When you spill the food, you should clean it up”.
Further, the cause and effect should be framed rationally and logically, not emotionally. For example, we shouldn't say “I’m not pleased that you didn’t pass the test” because this could be perceived by the child that the parent’s happiness is the ultimate goal. Instead, perhaps the parent could say, “When you don’t pass the test, you could spend the vacation period doing remedial test. Or we could still go on vacation, but you could stay one more year in the same class. Which one do you want to do?”. There’s no need to show any negativity. Again, this allows the child himself to set and measure his own successes, instead of imposed from the outside. We as parents should only show him the various ways and options that the child could pursue.
Gosh, really, I’m not yet a good parent. I’m very new in this, and still learning. Even for me it is difficult to internalize the theories that I wrote up there. Why do I write all this in the blog? Not because I know better about parenting, but because I hope to remember the lesson for the future, and perhaps to share with you guys too.
From Randy Pausch: Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want things. Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.
From Christine Carter: The thing we need to protect our kids from is not failure but a life void of failure.