By Rachel Levy Lesser
I once heard that parents are only as happy as their least happy child. I imagine this was true for my own parents. I recall my mother once telling me that eighth grade had been her toughest year. It was for me too, and when I noted the coincidence she explained that it was my eighth-grade year she found to be so hard. She felt my pain as she watched me struggle to find my place at a new school.
My parents sent me to this school because my brother went there, and so had my father. There really wasn't a choice. Despite my social despair at the new school, I found academic success, and this continued on into college, graduate school and my adult life. I followed a path that was very clearly laid out for me. There was no road that diverged in a wood, and if there were, I certainly would not be the one to take the one less traveled. In fact, my road was so well traveled I often ran into the same tourists along the way.
I have no regrets for not taking the road less traveled, but I do have questions about my own young children's paths, their successes, but -- most especially - their happiness. Perhaps my parents confused success with happiness, and I do not blame them for this. They did what they thought was best for me as they molded me into a modern-day version of themselves. But I have learned in my eight short years of parenting that my children are not me; they are not my husband, and they are most certainly not each other.
During my pregnancy and their early infancy, I imagined them as mini-me's. This became exacerbated by the onesies and hats we were given as baby gifts - the ones with the names of the schools that my husband and I had attended. My son was soon nicknamed "The Doctor" as we had named him for my grandfather - a man who defined his life by his profession and the success of his medical practice.
I understand how the lines between success and happiness often become blurred during this age of helicopter parenting and tiger moms. I see former college soccer stars yelling at their seven year olds on the soccer fields as if they are playing for the World Cup. Almost-made-it-professional-dancers-turned-moms drive long distances to their children's ballet rehearsals as their kids struggle to stay awake in the back seat.
We all want our children to have positive and meaningful experiences, and it is fun to watch your kids do some of the same things you used to do, but what if Timmy hates baseball or Suzie can't play the violin? Don't you want them to be happy? Isn't that what it's all about?
This hit me several years ago as my husband and I debriefed outside of a school - the same one that I went to as a child.
"I just don't see him here," he said.
The pain in my stomach that had been there all morning as we toured my elementary school, the one that I thought was heaven on earth back in the day, was suddenly gone. My husband was right, and I knew it. For whatever reason, this school was not the place for our son. He would take a different path from mine - not better or worse - just different, and so would his little sister.
Our son has an amazing passion for sports that came from neither of us, and he truly believes he will play for the
"When I play for the Sixers, will you come to the games, even the away ones?" he asks me.
Sometimes he loses focus on his schoolwork because he's day dreaming about playing sports or testing himself on the latest NBA statistics in his head. As a parent, I worry - every parent does. But I tell myself, as does his teacher, that when he wants to focus, he does, he is so smart, and what I like to hear the most - he's a really happy kid.
Our daughter sits at her play table and draws detailed designs on paper, on cardboard, on anything she can get her hands on. She can do this for hours, and when I suggest that she go outside and play with her brother, she usually has no interest.
Will this child ever like the outdoors or play on a school sports team? I worry about that, too. My father will chime in and suggest that she may grow into an artist like my grandmother. Who knows? Last I heard, she wants to be an assistant pastry chef when she grows up. Her best friend will be the head chef, or so she says.
The truth is that we don't know what their futures hold. Academic institutions and workplaces are more competitive than ever. Our kids may not go to the Ivy League like we did, and their career paths will surely be different from mine and my husband's.
They say that the next generation should always aspire to be more successful than the previous one. What exactly does that mean? What about happiness? I want our children to be happy, to work hard, follow their passions, take pride in what they do, and when they grow up, support themselves and their families in a way that works for them. I will wait to see exactly what they do, and where they do it. Whether that be on the crowded road I took or a more lonely one of their choosing.
And yes, if our son's dream comes true, and he does play for the 76ers, I will be at every game - home and away.