Prophecies of doom
We’ve all made them—those pronouncements that let our children know that the perilous choice they make today will land them in a low-paying ditch of a job, eking out a half life, regretting that they didn’t… master the proof for right angles on Thursday, April 25, 2013.
The slow descent to adult failure begins when the precious cherub who suckled at your breast defies your plan for his life.
You see him happily writing poems instead of completing math tests (yes, that would be Noah) and declare: “How will you get into college if you never advance in math?”
He plays around with sign language, studies Klingon, and never takes chemistry.
Dire predictions follow: “You *must* complete high school. You can’t expect colleges to make exceptions for you. Without a college degree, you won’t ever earn enough money to live.”
Except that colleges do make exceptions, and they make them for your son, who they told to put Klingon on his transcript for his foreign language requirement, and apparently the linguistics department doesn’t care whether or not he took chemistry in high school.
You proclaim to your daughter that she *must* study US history because no college will accept her without it on her transcript. She never musters the interest. US history study lags and flags and sputters. When application to college-time comes, she does a six week crash course and is accepted into the scholars program at the university of her choice… anyway.
You declare that no one can live on minimum wage… and then your adult child does, somehow (maybe not to the standard of living you’d want for him, but he makes it work because it’s his life and this is what he wanted for now).
We tell our kids that they will get lost if they don’t print directions, we tell them they will lose all their teeth if they don’t brush them, we warn that if they don’t sleep 8 hours a night, they won’t be able to think straight the next day.
We predict that no girl will ever kiss our son if he doesn’t learn to shower. We declare that online friends aren’t real friends and so our child is friendless.
We make sweeping statements out of fear and love, I know. We all do it.
Last night a mother I spoke with told me that her 9 year old son had just begun to lie to her, for the first time in their precious intimate close self-aware relationship. It stunned her. She launched into the parental “never lie to me” prophecy of doom: “How can you lie to me? We will never have trust again if you don’t tell me the truth. You are ruining our relationship.”
But that’s not what is happening. A 9 year old boy is avoiding something, has figured out that if he tells half the truth, he may only have to do half the work. It’s not likely he intends to destroy the parent-child bond… but we frame it that way. We get big and dramatic and huge and sometimes even loud and lecture-y and oh how we love to go for length in those moments.
Parents aren’t stupid. They have made so many mistakes in their 35-50 years on the planet, they only want one thing: for their children to not make any. Parents can see further down the time line. Sometimes that’s an enormous advantage! Kids do well to heed parental vision!
But not every time.
Not about every thing.
Not all the choices your kids make today need to match the ones you would have them make.
In fact, I’ll go further. Our biggest job isn’t to prophecy doom or to spell out impending disaster or to nudge, nag, and coerce cooperation with our vision for their lives (or even what we are convinced is their vision for their lives).
Our job is to be pointers.
It’s better to say stuff like:
“Hmm. You don’t want to take more math? I wonder if UC will accept you into their program if you were to apply without it. Let’s call to find out. What if you don’t call and don’t take the math? How would you feel if they didn’t accept you because you didn’t take pre-calc? Would you take it then? Where?”
We need to help our kids think about the choices they are making, not tell them the outcome of the choices before they’ve made them. We can point our children in the right direction—suggesting they find out what they don’t know and honestly, what we may not know either.
When Noah stuffed his transcript into the application envelope for college, he said the following:
“I’m going to be so mad at myself if not taking chemistry keeps me out of college.”
That’s what you want to hear! Noah knew it was his choice, one he made with full information—that most kids need chemistry in high school to qualify for college.
And wouldn’t you know? His wager won. He was accepted to the linguistics program without chemistry.
The main reason you don’t want to prophesy doom is because you really don’t know how things will turn out. You really don’t. But you do have valid concerns and some perspective and a slew of ideas about how to make a satisfying life. Your best bet is to engage in conversation, point out things to consider, and even to prophesy a little hope:
“I would hate to study chemistry too. In fact, I never did! We didn’t have to take that class in high school when I was your age. I wonder if there’s a way to get around it. I wonder, if it is required, if there’s a way to do it so it’s less annoying. But I know you. You’re smart! You’ll get to where you want to go eventually, and I want to help you get there. Shall we do a little research before we abandon the traditional path? Just to be sure?”
Resist the temptation to prophesy doom.
Establish the habit of research and considering all options.
Give support, faith, and love.
Then see what happens.