As I've stated in previous posts, I'm a part-time matchmaker, happily sticking my nose in other people's business in their pursuit of love. I had a strange conversation with a girl's mother yesterday that I haven't been able to get out of my mind. Generally I set up busy, young Modern Orthodox professionals who are marriage-minded. Sometimes I arrange singles events and allow for the free flow of conversation with some gentle directional nudging when I think a couple might suit one another. On a rare occasion, I will interact with a mother who is seeking a match for her child because in the highly religious circles she finds herself in, suggestions are pursued exclusively through a facilitator aka matchmaker.
The mother, who had gotten my number from someone I vaguely knew spent fifteen minutes extolling the virtues of her daughter's abilities--she could play any instrument (with no formal study), had been the star of the school play, could sew and design gorgeous clothing (with minimal training), was beautiful, incredibly accomplished and tremendously popular. The only problem with this list of qualities this stupendous girl seemed to possess was that she had never finished high school, choosing instead to study abroad in a vocational school (of sorts) and she was barely eighteen. And this mother had allowed all of this.
After I gasped and caught myself from shouting: Are you out of your mind? I was able to interrupt this mother's breathless praise and ask: But Why does she want to get married? What I didn't ask was: Why would you let her?
Her response: She's the kind of child who has wanted to get married since she was five years old, surely you've met girls like that?
Well, I've met five-year-olds who want to be princesses and ballerinas and lots of little girls who play dress-up, my granddaughters, among them, and then they mature and realize Life isn't all make-believe. After asking several pointed questions that she responded to with more renewed affirmations and a healthy dose of blinders, I hung up as quickly as I could without seeming too rude. I knew I'd only heard half of the story and had zero interest in hearing the rest.
As parents we skate the thin line between indulging our child's wishes and acting as reality checker. This mother sounded batty to me and there were many layers of wrong with what she was allowing her child to pursue. I wanted to screech, Why Don't You Be A Parent? rather than indulge your child's every whim, from quitting school to making a life decision while still a teenager.
At what point during our child's journey to mature, functioning adult do we switch from the confidence-building cheering squad and steer them to where we believe they can achieve realistic success?
How many times have I seen a young actor win a coveted award in their field and thank their parents for encouraging them to fulfill their dream and never give up. I wonder if I could be that kind of parent when the odds are so stacked against success. I am all about pursuing dreams and passions, but at some point, it simply doesn't make sense. Sure, there are doctors and firemen and astronauts who glommed onto that dream as five-year-olds and saw it through to fruition, but how many weren't capable of seeing that dream through? And as parents, how do we gently nudge their aspirations into a viable effort that yields real results rather than standing by and watching our child throw away years of life pursuing something too elusive?
One of the phrases that really drives me crazy is: "You can be anything you want to be." Um, not true, it simply isn't true. Malcolm Gladwell's ten-thousand hour rule exists after there is a certain establishment of raw talent that needs the man hours to polish and hone it. I would hate to see a tone deaf person practice trumpet for that many hours and never achieve his goal.
As parents, I feel our job is to manage expectations, cheer the victories, feel the defeats in our gut, and give our children coping skills for when life throws them a curve, which is bound to happen at least once or twice.
Yes, we get to sit in the front row of graduations, walk by their side down the aisle at their weddings, and get a VIP tour of their first major purchase: car/business/home. But in this culture where children on opposing teams are both told they're winners, the problem with going overboard trying to protect them from the big bad world is that they can't face losing and don't understand the word No.
My father used to joke that when he grew up he walked to school uphill--both ways.
Grit and true determination are vital keys to success. And so is failure. Defeat builds character and makes success all that more precious. We need to teach our kids that failures can and will happen, and as long as they get up each time, brush themselves off and try again, they will ultimately succeed.