We all know the story of the little engine who thought he could.
“I think I can, I think I can” he repeated until, overcoming a great obstacle, he did. The moral of the story? That positive thinking and a will to succeed is all that is needed to achieve a goal.
While this may indeed be the case much of the time, there is an equally compelling perspective that supports an opposing ideology: that it’s okay to think you can’t do something and, accordingly, it’s okay to give up.
A radical thought for any of us who have grown up with the increasingly popular and optimistic perspective that a person - a child in particular - can do whatever they set out their minds to do.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m certainly no pessimist and for the most part, subscribe to the tenets of positive thinking, supportive parenting and the belief that “mind over matter” can overcome the most challenging of scenarios. That being said, I’m also a realist and have wondered how much collective harm we are doing to our kids by telling them that they can succeed at whatever they set their minds to achieving. After all, by the time most people have reached adulthood, they are keenly aware that they can’t do everything that they set out to do - and oftentimes, it’s not the smartest decision to even attempt trying.
As parents, we’re often scared that the decisions that we make on behalf of our children will be bad ones - that we’ll mess them up by not supporting everything that they desire and want, in spite of themselves. We quote proverbs such as “if first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” all the while knowing in our heart of hearts - sadly - that our kids will likely fail at a the particular task at hand. Yet we continue to ease them along, saying “you can do it!” and similar supportive words. Sometimes they do do it and exceed our wildest expectations. Oftentimes, however, they don’t, which should give us pause that we wasted their time and ours on what we knew was an impossible or highly improbable task at hand. Was it better that we showed them our support even though we knew the probable outcome, or would it have been a more prudent decision to have been honest with them from the outset, saving them from wasting time and worse - the inevitable disappointment of failure?
A difficult question for sure, but most of us know the answer. Realistically, it makes a lot of sense to teach our kids the importance of “cutting one’s losses” when need be as opposed to supporting their ride on a continual treadmill with no end or success in sight. There are certainly lessons to be learned about perseverance and tenacity but aren’t lessons about knowing when to call it a day and not wasting one’s time equally important?
You win some, you lose some. That's life.
With our collective guilt being the determining factor for our silence, we’re doing our children more harm than good. After all - there will come a time when our kids are no longer in our purview and will have to deal with the spectre of failure outside the loving support system offered by their parents. Sometimes, such lessons are even more painful in the stark light of day in full view of those who may not be as tactful in addressing such failures.
Being a good parent isn’t always about supporting your child in their endeavors no matter what. Being a good parent is about teaching your child the importance of good judgement and more importantly about having realistic expectations about what one can likely and realistically achieve. For these and many other reasons, don’t feel guilty next time you want to tell your child to throw in the towel.