Friday, January 08, 2010

Knowing your place

Sort of related to my musings on class, I had a minor epiphany (if that isn't an oxymoron) during my recent visit to South Africa.

My sister was talking about a singer in her church and I asked, "You mean Irene who sang with me that time?" to which my mother instantly responded, "I think you mean you sang with her!"

Now Irene is a rather prominent figure in the city's music scene, it is true. But, many years ago, she and I had rehearsed together for an opera. As it happened, because of some or other problem with the venue, the opera never took place. But she was to have played Gretel, while I sang the role of Hansel. As far as I can tell, those are the two title roles of the opera, and Gretel is as much singing with Hansel as the reverse. But my mother had a very Calvinistic upbringing, and was discouraged from anything approaching vanity or thinking too highly of oneself. As a consequence, she has tended to have this knee jerk reaction whenever one of us has appeared to be getting 'above ourselves'.

I didn't even notice it on a conscious level until that moment, but numerous other little events came flooding back to my memory. Times when she refused to accept that I had said, done or thought of a certain thing all on my own, insisting that I must have had help. Times when I was discouraged from being too pleased with myself for some or other achievement. Times when my achievements were put down to some or other coincidence or fluke.

When I described the adoptive parents I had chosen for my daughter as a radiographer and an architect, she mused that they were obviously far more intelligent than the biological father or myself, and wondered if it was a wise placement.

Now she doesn't do it on purpose, and my mother is inordinately proud of me and my achievements, but this is how she has reacted all our lives. And I wondered if this explained the whole impostor syndrome thing.

I share this story because - whether you're a teacher, a parent or both - I want to encourage you not to place limits on your kids' expectations of themselves, or their ambitions. So what if they're unrealistic? Let them dream big. Let them believe that they can achieve greatness. Who are you to decide that they can't?

If you think about the phrase 'being put in your place', who empowered that person to decide what your place is, anyway? Surely that's not a given.

Let's not put them in their place. Let's try to help them reach the place they're aiming for.

Why not?

1 comment:

V Yonkers said...

I find I am constantly walking a tight rope in my family. My husband came from parents that were like your mother. To this day they say things to my kids which make me cringe and explain, "Nana or Popa don't really understand what it's like today." On the other hand, sometimes my kids have really unrealistic expectations and are crushed when those expectations aren't met.

The same thing happens in my classes where some students just whine at every little thing, where others are driven and feel they can do anything (often without having to work at it).

What I do with my kids and my classes is to make sure they have a realistic understanding of the situation. For example, my daughter tried out for a play where she got in the chorus. I knew she wanted to just be in the play with the hope that the lead would drop out and she would have to step in. I congratulated her for getting in the play, then explained that this did not mean she was lacking, but also that she shouldn't expect to do more than the chorus.

Throughout the process, I have seen the politics of the situation, and I try to temper her disappointment with focusing on what she is learning by doing the play. It is hard to answer her when she asks if she will ever get a good part, because so much (including politics) goes into the casting. But I also don't want her to give up because she does have a wonderful voice. Thus I continue on my tightrope!