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Kids will be kids … if we let them

In Other Words


On a playground recently I watched a little boy pick up an acorn and impressively chuck it clear across the swing set. He was a little kid, but his throw had major-league heft. A couple of the dads chuckled. “Hey,” said one, “nice arm. He’ll probably be a baseball player.”

In my observation, this kind of statement was not an isolated comment. I’ve heard parents everywhere attribute some current action or personality trait to some fantastic arc for their child’s future. My niece is tall, so she’ll probably end up being a basketball player. My friends’ child shows an aptitude for tending the hurt, prompting us all to tell her she’ll probably make a great nurse (or doctor!) someday. My daughter loves to dance, so, predictably, she’ll be a ballerina. My nephew likes to play video games so he’ll probably be a whiz at computers.

As I listen to parents assign adult characteristics and dispense life pathways for children everywhere from the classroom to the crib, it makes me wonder why we feel the need? What may just be a passing interest in blood, or a new muscle figuring out how exactly it moves, we adults assign life goals to our unsuspecting children. No wonder kids are always asking adults, “What should I be when I grow up?” Apparently, we have the answers all laid out for them.

What exactly is this fixation we have on assigning life-long adult characteristics to little humans, just discovering themselves and the world? Is it our own unrealized dreams transferring onto our children? Is it our own specific wishes for their precious, yet-unlived lives? Is it some deep-seeded competition between adults over whose child will be more successful? Or are we, as adults, simply incapable of appreciating a moment as children do, admiring and enjoying a skill as it waxes and wanes?

As parents, perhaps it is our role to nurture passions, but not assign them a specific purpose. My brother started cooking us family meals at age 8, prompting many to believe he would grow up to be a chef. Instead, he has chosen to make cooking simply a wonderful part of his life, and not a career. Sometimes passions are simply there to enrich our lives and not make us a living.

My best friend recently attended her 4-year-old’s pre-K parent-teacher conference. The teacher spouted off all his wonderful personality traits. At the end of his speech, my friend leaned forward eagerly and asked, “So, based on these qualities, what do you think he’ll be when he grows up?”

I had a good laugh when I heard this story. When I asked her why we feel the need to constantly wonder what our children will grow up to be, who will they become, she answered unequivocally, “As parents, we will just always worry about our children and wonder if they will be all right.”

There is real truth to her statement. I wonder if my daughter ate all her chicken fingers on the rare night I am not there to give them to her myself. When it is finally time for me to set her free upon the world, I am sure I will be fraught with anxieties.

The boy I saw on the playground didn’t fawn over the fathers’ attention at his amazingly strong arm, nor do any of the other children I know crow about their outsized abilities and passions. Usually, after doing something extraordinary, they smile widely at the cheering adults and move on to the next activity, usually accomplishing that with just as much spirit and grit, if not aptitude.

I think adults could take a lesson in humility from children, at the very least, and certainly a lesson in living for the moment. Appreciate a job well done, a game well played, a dance that garnered a joyous moment, and move on. Life is too unpredictable to assign pathways that are undoubtedly far out of our hands anyway.

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