I screwed up. I screw up all the time, but I especially hate when I make a regrettable, possibly long-lasting parent decision.
As a way of background, I was more academic than athletic when I was a kid. This can be attributed to: 1) I’m not a natural athlete except for being a little bit more limber than the average person, 2) my mom wasn’t supportive of athletics, and 3) I moved a lot when I was younger so I couldn’t participate because I didn’t have transportation and I didn’t have consistent coaching.
I found my niche though. I liked to read and play video games. I liked to spend time outside on my bike. I learned things quickly at school. One thing I really enjoyed was spelling. If I saw a word once (or maybe twice), I could recall how to spell it. So when the annual school spelling bee occurred wherever I was living at the time, I usually did pretty well. In 5th grade I actually won the school spelling bee, despite the school going up to 6th grade and despite being put in an English as a Second Language class when I transferred to the school.
Last year when J was in kindergarten they publicized her school’s spelling bee. Each grade would have their own set of words, though, and it wouldn’t be as Hunger Games-ish as when I was in school with all grades competing against one another.
Here’s where I screwed up. I had kept the little certificate I had gotten from being the school spelling bee winner and the follow-up certificate because I represented the school in the district spelling competition (and lost). I showed these to J. And she was amazed. Like her eyes got all big and she was so impressed. You would have thought I had won a real award that actually counts in life rather than a silly certificate.
She was bummed when she didn’t win her class spelling bee last year. She said she would never be as good of a speller as I was, and there might have been tears and further beating herself up about it. I tried to blow it off. After all, she was in KINDERGARTEN! She tried her best, and all I wanted was for her to try. She was 5 freaking years old, and there is absolutely no expectation that she be a world-class speller. Needless to say, she took it hard.
Now she’s in first grade. The spelling bee is a month or two away, and this little girl wants to make me proud by winning the spelling bee. It breaks my heart. I love her determination, but the way she says it is like she will be disappointing me if she doesn’t win. That’s totally not true. I keep telling her that I just want her to try her best. I don’t want her bar for her actions to be to avoid disappointing me. It kills me that she is searching for my approval. She needs to live her life on her terms. I don’t want her to base her actions and decisions on me. I might have an occasional insight or two, but I wholeheartedly want her to develop to be her own person who can navigate life without me.
I try to be a reflective parent, and sometimes that can mean obsessing about little things, like this one comment out of context. I do think what she said is a symptom of something bigger, which could be that I’m one of her main role models and her reliance on my approval given her age. Maybe that reliance will loosen as she gets older. I want to tell her that it really only matters what she thinks of herself. If she tries her best, then she should be proud of her effort, regardless what it is. If she doesn’t try her best, then be honest about it and own it (don’t make excuses). As of right now, I’ve just been sticking to the standard “try your best” and “check your work” lines. One problem she has is doing homework quickly and making mistakes that could have been caught if she had checked her work before saying she was done. It’s a good life lesson, and many adults don’t check their work.
As a side note, I think I understand why a lot of people really enjoy being a parent. You are a god in the child’s life, at least when they’re young. That’s an incredible ego boost. And someone as anxious as myself is wondering why on earth a kid would look to me as a role model. Most days I’m a nanosecond away from becoming unglued. And then I look at my daughter, who is even more anxious than I am. Like the world needs a mini version of me!! Aaarggh!