The school attended by my twins had been testing all students in grade 8 math in order to separate them into two classes for high school: those with superior mathematical skills to pursue advanced math and the rest to do standard math. My twins were both in contention for advanced math, but I feared for my son. His confidence sometimes overtakes his performance, and I did not want him to be left behind for lack of trying. Not only would that be a waste of his potential, I worried that he could suffer from lowered self-confidence by seeing his twin at the higher level. I thus spent my time emphasizing the importance of the weekly math tests and the need to succeed.
However, at the parent teacher conferences, my worst fears came true. My son had actually been performing worse on the tests as the year had proceeded, and his admittance into the advanced class was in jeopardy. The math teacher was evidently disappointed, but willing to give him one last try after a couple of weeks. Feeling relieved, I set about planning his success for the final test.Once home, I called him into my room and launched into an elaborate one-way conversation about strategies he should be using, feedback he should be seeking, and strengths he should be building. I had hoped to see a surge in motivation. Instead, I saw a slouched figure with downcast eyes. His lack of energy frustrated me. This was hardly the time to play victim. He had things to do, places to go…
As he left the room, I wondered about the script that was running through his mind. Did he think he was not capable enough? Or did he just not want to go into advanced math? As this thought entered my mind, I felt a sudden twinge of resistance and tried to disconnect from the fleeting sensation.
As a mother, I knew what was best for him, I told myself. I could not trust his teenage judgment. But something deeper prompted me to question my reasoning. Did I fear knowing his goals in case they were different from mine? Was I running away from the possibility that his ideals of success would not measure up to societal standards? Would I be able to face it if they didn’t? I slowly began to see myself hiding behind the guise of motherhood.Opening my Eyes and Ears
It is true that we see our own reflection in our children, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it allows us to become one with their pain and their joy. It allows us to be aware of their feelings even when they themselves are not. But when we begin to project our ambitions onto their worlds and desire them to be the greatest manifestations of our own selves, it is not necessarily a good thing either. I had failed to connect to his soul, and his inner world was letting me know. I had been blind to his dreams. Perhaps I was dimming his vision too. In time, he may not know the call of his heart and find himself in the very chasm that I had struggled hard to climb out of.
I went to him and found him hitting balls in his bedroom. The Muscat summer is upon us, and sports have moved indoors. He was struggling with inner frustration the same way I had been. With clearer insight, I was now in a better position to have a meaningful discussion.
It was not easy. He had become used to buying my definition of success and found it difficult to voice his own. But we have a solid and loving relationship, With patience and by prizing all that I valued in him, I was able to give him the courage to disclose his goals without fear of my disdain.What Were His Dreams?
He wants to be a doctor, and he said that he had checked. Advanced math was not a requirement for studying medicine. He was comfortable taking standard math because that would allow him to focus on the science subjects he did care about. He did not seem to care that his twin would be in the advanced class.
“She wants to be an architect,” he said with brotherly love and pride, “and she will need to focus on her math.” It seemed that he had managed to keep a separate identity despite my fears.
It also seemed that my focus on a limited scope of success had not led to feelings of self-doubt within him. He had managed to stay clear about what was important to him. He looked up with those precious sparkling eyes and said:
“I also want to be a part of Doctors without Borders. I read about them in the newspaper after the Nepal earthquake.”
My eyes teared up. Here he was, gently taking me along the journey to his heart, especially at an age where boys tend to glorify power and domination given the inexorable media blitz. Here he was, a morally sensitive child who was subtly showing me that his dreams were not mine, but that they were genuine. I realized, with a faint twinge, that I needed to separate our pathways so that he could go after his passions with the energy of purpose. I needed to let go of my belief that success was wedded to brilliance in math and that he needed to live out my unfulfilled dreams. He was still whole, and I vowed to do everything I could to keep it that way.
Trusting Our Children’s Judgment
I realized too that it was time I learned to trust my children’s judgment. Our adolescents are uniquely situated in time. They are growing up in an era where the world is facing uncertain times and kindling a consciousness that awaits its birth. They are passing through a development phase where their courage and novelty-seeking is grappling with an emerging consciousness that needs to be nurtured. They have an inner passion that we may not be harnessing. They have an inner wisdom that we are perhaps failing to develop. They have an inner need to make a difference that is our best hope for the future of our species and our planet.My experience with the math testing has taught me the need for humility. I need to let go of the belief that I have the answers. For the answers lie within my children. My job is to contain their developmental impulsiveness when needed while calling upon their judgment to guide them in their journey.
I will not pretend it is easy. I have to work every day to let them search for their dreams while keeping mine out of the way. But I am learning. The fearful parent in me that wants to manage and control is slowly giving way to one with the urge to inspire and align.
When the lights are out and my children are tucked safety in bed, when the peace of the night descends upon our busy household and I can look long at those innocent minds dreaming dreams of a lived past and an anticipated future, I ask myself of the one thing I said that day that made their eyes sparkle. If I can come up with one real moment of inner connection, I know I have done my part in keeping them whole and strong in the face of countervailing forces.
Carroll, P., Arkin, R. & Shade, C. (2011). Possible selves and self-doubt: A poverty of desired possibility. Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2(2), 190-198. Abstract.
Siegel, D. (2014). Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. Brunswick: Scribe Publications.
Silverman, L. K. (n.d.). The Moral Sensitivity of Gifted Children and the Evolution of Society. Roeper Review. 17(2), 110-116.
Steinberg, L. (2014). Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence. New York: Harcourt Publishing.
Tsabary, S. (2013). The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children. British Columbia: Namaste Publishing.
Image Credits with Creative Commons licenses
Sad eyes courtesy of simpleinsomnia
Reflection courtesy of Vamsi Krishna
Let your dreams fly courtesy of Yasser Alghofily
Bike path courtesy of Colby Stopa