It is time to ‘fess up. At least for me. I need to take a chill pill. I’ve been running around in circles the past few months, unsatisfied with certain aspects of my older daughter’s schooling system. So, it was time to either fix the situation or take a chill pill. I’ve decided to do the latter, but boy is it hard.
Why? I suspect it’s somewhat my cultural background and partly my personal circumstances. I was raised in a competitive environment and culture, with zero tolerance for academic failure. Hence, I have certain expectations of my children. I also don’t like laziness, and I can be hard on my kids because I see that negative aspect in myself at times.
However, three things have recently given me a reality check on parenting this way. The first is my husband asking “Isn’t it enough that the kids are happy?” (What’s wrong with being a happy overachiever? But I take his point). Secondly, I ask myself the questions, “Am I this way with them because I need them to be something I am not?” This is where parenting gets down and dirty; the self-reflection part and whether you are doing the right thing by your child versus yourself. Thirdly, I recently read a CNN article that stated, between 2007 and 2015 the suicide rate for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 doubled, reaching a 40-year high in 2015. This statistic concerns me as a mother of two girls because other research corroborates increasing levels of anxiety in girls (double that of boys) which ultimately affects their learning.
The reason for this, says Rachel Simmons, author of Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives, is that girls are growing up with enormous expectations of personal and professional success.
“I have been asking adolescent girls to describe what it means to them to be successful,” she writes. “They tell me they are under pressure to be superhuman: ambitious, smart and hardworking, athletic, pretty and sexy, socially active, nice and popular. Both online and off. The sheer impossibility of measuring up has left a generation of girls with the enduring belief that, no matter how many achievements they rack up, they are not enough as they are. We are raising a generation of girls who may look exceptional on paper but are often anxious and overwhelmed in life. Who feel that, no matter how hard they try, they will never be smart enough, successful enough, pretty enough, thin enough, well-liked enough, witty enough online or sexy enough.” With a daughter of her own, she realized that to help girls become stronger and more confident, we have to urgently attend to their emotional health.
Reading this gave me a different type of ‘chill,’ the kind that ran down my spine. I know tweens and teens who are high achievers, yet suffer depression and anxiety, some with long-lasting consequences that will affect them into adulthood. So this research isn’t anecdotal, it is personal. The chill also made me realize I might be part of the problem. I come from a generation and culture that expects women to be able to look good in a bikini, bake scones for school and deliver a presentation to a board the next morning. I realize with horror that I also have these unrealistic expectations of myself and confessing this is like coughing up a giant root from my lungs because this root has been there for years. I need to take a huge step backward to examine why I think this is normal, let alone achievable. I don’t currently do all those things, but I have friends that do. So, perhaps it is my feelings of inadequacy that I subconsciously project onto my children. This is a terrible realization, as I certainly don’t want them to end up one of those statistics.
So now that I have ‘fessed up, what do I do? As an educator, Simmons focuses on healthy risk-taking, conflict resolution, self-advocacy, managing friendships, and the giving and receiving of feedback to build resilience and adaptability. Ironically, these are some of the values that my daughter’s school teaches. You see why this has not been easy parenting self-reflection? I am comforted though, by Simmons’ statement that “This is an era in which parents are probably the least confident they've ever been in themselves. If we want our kids to feel like they are enough, the parents have to feel like they are enough."
Hence, I’ve decided on the chill pill - enough is enough, especially with the expectations. Not just for myself, but more importantly, my precious daughters.
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