We live in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, a region rife with over-achievers. You get on 270 to drive somewhere and you’ll encounter all kinds of Very Important People on their busy way in to “the Hill” or to the White House or whatever important place they need to get to. Even the aircraft is OTT – occasionally I look up and see this:
Since this is the most powerful city in the world, the people who are drawn to this area and live around it are mostly over-achievers. This applies to the parents, too. I think that whatever group you live amongst, it rubs off on you in ways you may not even realize, especially if, like me, you are somewhat codependent (this means that I’m like tofu: I tend to pick up the flavors of what’s around me).
So for example, when I’m in West Marin my children are more into nature, organic eating, crystals and Sand Tray Mandalas. In West Marin I become Hippie Mom.
But here on the East Coast, Hippie Mom goes underground and is replaced by Alpha Male Mommy. We’ve been on this coast for almost 8 years now, and it’s rubbed off on me in an over-achievy helicopter parent kind of way. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing – I’m not sure yet, because the jury’s still out.
In California this summer I was catching up with one of my BFF’s from childhood. We were talking about our children, and I found myself listing my children’s accomplishments (boasting, really) – firing off one accomplishment after the other – “Fiona has moved up to prize winner in Irish dance, so she gets her own solo dress!” – “She’s been accepted to the honors music program…” – “Ella is playing violin and piano now…” blah-blah-blah-hork!
Oh my God – the things that come out of my mommy mouth! Stop. Me!
We talked about how much more “on steroids” the parents in D.C. are than the parents in Marin. I know D.C.-area parents who have their child in five sports a year, in Chinese language immersion programs, whose kids are taking Russian as a third language, are dancing in the Nutcracker at The Kennedy Center, debuting with their children’s choir at Carnegie Hall, who are going to regionals or nationals or the junior olympics or the olympics in swimming or gymnastics or – you name it. Whatever it is they are doing, it seems, they are going for the gold.
My friend, who is no slouch herself – she graduated Magna Cum Laude from UC Berkeley and is quite successful in her own right (and a great parent) said simply: “My kids don’t really do anything. I mean – they pretty much just go to school. They take music but I don’t make them practice. Once in a while, they’ll take a hip hop class or gym – my son plays soccer. They’re just…being kids.”
I admire my friend’s parenting, and I admire how she is raising her kids even though it’s a bit different than how I’m raising mine. It isn’t like her kids are sitting around doing nothing – they are in activities, but she’s not OTT about the things they are in. She’s balanced.
Me: “Oh my God. I’ve become one of those parents, haven’t I?”
She just looked at me, and smiled.
So – outing myself here as one of the over-achievey Washington D.C.-area parents I’ve been pointing the finger at. I’m one of them. (Ever heard that saying, “whenever you point your finger at someone else, you’ve got four fingers pointing right back at you?” – Well alrighty, then.)
The thing is: I don’t think it’s such a bad thing to be an over-achievey parent. It can be quite a good thing. My husband and I want to support our children in:
a.) finding whatever it is they love, and
b.) supporting them to become the best they can be at whatever that is.
Right now the main things we focus on are the arts – music and dance. We aren’t forcing our kids to do these things – they want to do them. That said, it can be a huge and odious challenge to get them to practice some days (as I write this, for example, my husband and our 7-year-old are having a major standoff during violin practice and it’s not going very well. At. All. In fact it’s like Armageddon in there because we took a couple of days off, and every time we do this, the first day back is Hell.) Doing well at any extracurricular activity – anything, golf, spelling bees, chess, music – seriously, can be hard on both the parent and the child, at times. That’s just par for the course.
On a more positive note, here is a clip from my ten-year-old’s practice this morning, which went really well:
For us, in the end – we are simply helping our children to excel at something. I’m not Tiger Mom by any stretch of the imagination – our kids have plenty of time to play outdoors, to loaf around watching Pound Puppies on Netflix, and have play dates. But in my opinion, helping your kids to really excel at something beats letting them loaf around and play video games most of the time, watch TV, or complain that they’re bored. Also, it’s been proven that teens who are involved in things – team sports, music, chess club, swim team – whatever – are happier and less likely to experiment with drugs. So, yeah – I’m an achiever parent, and I’m kind of proud of that.