Recently, I had some rather harsh words for a dad whose son just couldn’t seem to meet his dad’s expectations, let alone elicit his praise (http://tinyurl.com/cygmvst). However, it later occurred to me that the lines between “pushing” and “shoving” are not always so clearly defined for a parent, particularly parents whose children exhibit obvious academic, athletic or artistic talents at a very young age. It’s relatively easy to deal with those gifts in their “infancy” (i.e., when, like a new toy on Christmas morning, everyone is basking in the excitement associated with “unwrapping” them and the joy that spontaneously flows from “playing” with them the first several times).
But, as the “newness” of the gift wears off and the child and the parent struggle with all that typically is involved in nurturing and developing it things get considerably more complicated. The parent realizes their child’s potential (or has it explained to them by a teacher, coach or director), as well as the hard work, commitment and single-mindedness of purpose that often is necessary to take that gift to the next level. They also appreciate the unfortunate reality that, often times, that commitment needs to begin at a very early age, when the parent is intent on preserving and enjoying the simplicity, spontaneity and innocence of the only childhood their child will ever have.
The academic, artistic and athletic landscapes are littered with “horror” stories of the highly-gifted individuals whose parents, coaches, and artistic directors pushed too early, too hard or in the wrong way. However, there are an equal number of highly accomplished students, performing artists and athletes, who, when asked, are quick to acknowledge those who gave them a critical “nudge” and, even on occasion, dragged their sometimes kicking, screaming and rebellious selves to the next step on the journey that led to the realization of their dreams. What is considerably less well-documented are those whose gifts were never realized due to a lack of appropriate support and encouragement.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers here, no “how-to” books or manuals to ensure a “right” decision. Knowing whether to push and, if so, how, when and how much are, like so many parental decisions, ones that have to be made on an individual basis. Regrettably, at times, it involves trial and error and “mistakes” are inevitable. What is critically important from my perspective is that the paths chosen be constantly and objectively re-evaluated by all involved to ensure that, to the extent possible, some semblance of balance is maintained and that the heart, spirit and true desires of the gifted one are being heard, properly respected and seen as the paramount considerations at all times.