I am surrounded by competitive mothers and grandparents, some of who see their children and grandchildren’s potential for fame as something they must drive towards with vigour every day. In the world of Facebook it seems everyone is a very proud parent and grandparent when our little people win awards or succeed. But how many of us have stopped to think about whether we should encourage our littlies to strive for extreme and public achievement or whether we should attempt to grow people who are happy to be average in comparison to others but keep on learning and getting the best out of the things they are best at, and know that this will likely give them a good life?
It is interesting when you apply this to grandparenting, as many grandparents have more than one grandchild, and more than one family of grandchildren to encourage, support and brag about. So how do you walk the fine balance between celebrating the publicly recognised achievements too much, and building up children who are going to be happy everyday participants in society? Is ordinary a bad thing among people today or should it be inspirational?
Everyone wants their little people to do well in life. I have three young children I am constantly very proud of for who they are and what they do. But I am not just proud of them when they win the most important awards (and in fact don’t drive these sorts of goals as milestones). I am probably more proud of them when they improve at something they have been struggling with, or they challenge themselves to be the best they can be at something they chose and get there with hard work and perseverance. I don’t like to compare them with other children, drive them to be “the star” of the show or play pushy mother to have them outrank others. My sense of achievement is in building self-empowered little people into bigger people that can enjoy being a normal part of society rather than needing to have them as the star of every show.
Perhaps I am being judgemental when I say that I see in some the opposite, especially in younger generations and their parents and I worry that we are building a generation where nobody can be happy with normal anymore. Could this be why depression is rising and why people are spending so much on making their lives look great to the outside world? Have we stopped looking for what makes life great?
Do we want to create a society where everyone feels they need to be extraordinary, famous and rock-star beautiful by setting our standards too high, and not teaching young people to expect to have to go to work, earn money the hard way and pay their bills when they are due?
As a child of the 70s, a few years younger than many here, I grew up with the era of supermodels and rock stars like Madonna. As a youngster, like most I wished to be famous one day, dressing fashionably, singing loudly and being spectacular… It was very youthful naivety, thankfully short lived. I wanted to sing, dance, and act at different times in my youth, none of which I excelled at so never rose to the top and my parent and my school made sure I knew I could not cut through in the extraordinary layer of such things. My dad encouraged me to be a confident person buying me lessons in singing, and driving me to get a good education; but he also spent a lot of time talking down my perhaps Hollywood-esque ambitions at a fairly young teenage age, telling me “people don’t really have good lives when they are famous”.
Instead he taught me to buckle down and expect to live life as a normal person. I was always taught to go to school and respect the education I was getting by studying for tests, to learn the skills I needed to get a good job, then to go to work and work hard so my boss would want to promote me. I had to work after school to buy my clothes and make-up, and I had to pay for my own university degree.
It was a fair and reasonable expectation to build in a youngster. I flew the nest at about 21 years old feeling confident that my ordinary, hard-learned survival skills could take me to bigger places, landing in London with no grandiose expectations, just the expectation that I would again get a good job, work hard and be a normal person. I think that was the way for those over 40 today. Hollywood dreams only arrived in the 80s, and then, as the world got smaller it seemed that anyone could become a star and that it should be many people’s dream to be one. Ordinary became a dirty word.
I used to ask my dad why he wanted me to be normal, but now I see as a parent for myself just how great it is to be ordinary, average, and able to live a normal existence with normal friends and hope against all hope that my family can live on as normal for their lives.
Fame kind of makes my skin crawl when it gets too overt AKA Miley Cyrus. I got a good dose of it when my children performed in a set of dance-concerts recently. The “true believer” dance-moms backstage would make some of your toes curl up as they competed to have their children in more dances or more times in the front row than others. And it set my mind to it… I will raise “children” not “little egos”, and I am going to devote my life to teaching them how to learn, not how to be the centre of attention. I wonder how many other parents and grandparents have consciously thought through this.
From that they’ll surely find a way to enjoy their lives, as they will just keep learning until they find something they love.
Do you ever stop to think about the values you convey when you teach children to pursue being either “the star” or to celebrate “learning”? Do your children?