Be realistic about a child’s abilitiesMy children’s school will soon host the annual “variety show.” An infinitely better name for the program than the more common “talent show,” since most of the kids participating are not displaying any real “talent,” and so what?
By: Betsy Hart, The Dickinson Press
My children’s school will soon host the annual “variety show.” An infinitely better name for the program than the more common “talent show,” since most of the kids participating are not displaying any real “talent,” and so what? They are having fun putting on various acts and that’s as it should be.
I thought of this a few weeks ago when my youngest daughter, age 7, asked me if I thought she should sing a song for the show. She demonstrated for me. I soon let her know I didn’t think she was ready for “prime time,” whatever the show was called. She told me I was a “dream crusher” and stalked out. But, she seemed fully recovered a few minutes later and was looking for something else to do for the show.
If only the parents and friends of so many of those poor folks tragically trying out for “American Idol” in this season’s inaugural shows had had someone to tell them, “you shouldn’t be doing this!” how much better off they would be. But in an effort to build a child’s self-esteem how often do we tell kids how fabulous everything they do is, even when they have put no thought or work into it, forget whether or not raw talent or passion (and aren’t those things intertwined?) are present.
We’ve often heard “you can be anything you want to be” and we feel compelled to share that sentiment with our kids, but that’s just silly. We’re designed with certain gifts, talents, inclinations and passions, and not with others. Our task as parents, it seems to me, is to help our kids find what they are built for.
And so in looking at my kids — and I suppose in recently being honest with one about her singing ability — I’ve been drawn again to the wisdom in a book from the late 1990s, “Why You Can’t Be Anything You Want to Be” by Arthur Miller (Zondervan).
We’ve all seen in friends, or heard from our loved ones, how gifts and abilities displayed at the earliest ages became a passion and if the person is fortunate, even a profession as an adult. (Me? My mother never stopped being amazed that I was actually able to get people to pay me to tell them what I think about things.)
Miller says this isn’t about fatalism, but about design, and he goes to great lengths in his book to help us uncover what our design is, largely based on discovering what our passions are, with “passion” meaning a lot more than just “wanting” something. But his point, which I appreciate most, and which I try to remind myself of as a parent, is that we must resist the idea that “success” means “greatness” in this world, ala many of the bestselling personal and business success handbooks out today. Most particularly Miller argues that to believe that for us or our children to be successful means to choose what the world values “is as misguided as the alchemists’ ancient promise to transmute lead into gold.”
He writes, “If we really want the fullness, the richness, and the joy of life, if we want genuine significance and true success, if we want to find our meaning and purpose ... then we have to ask, ‘what has been given to me? What endowments do I possess?’”
Or, as a parent, “how are my children wired? What passions and abilities do they have?” By the way, some of the things that annoy us most now, i.e. willfulness, might in other contexts serve them well. And conversely, “what passions and abilities do they not possess?” (We can cross singing off several of my children’s lists.) Because, well, they can’t be anything they want to be.
I don’t think that view is to “crush” a dream. Viewed rightly, I think it’s to wisely direct our children toward finding and living their dreams.
— Hart hosts the “It Takes a Parent” radio show in Chicago.