Be honest about your kids’ struggles
Although my children easily shine in many areas, however, they struggle in others. Some things just don’t come naturally to them. And in those areas, while I don’t necessarily expect them to be the best, I do expect them to work and do their best.
I’m willing to help. I’ve cheered them on as they worked their butts off to achieve goals, both academically and athletically. I’ve hauled them all over God’s green country to practices and rehearsals. I’ve quizzed them on notes and held up flash cards. On the way to school in the morning, we’ve said prayers for nervousness to cease and for minds to be sharp and for answers to be remembered.
Usually, of course, they take it upon themselves to work hard and prepare for whatever comes their way. But I’ve also watched them slack off and become sluggish in practice and preparation, then wonder why they failed the test or missed the goal, or played the wrong note. And when that happens, I am not one of those parents who shower them with praise and treats. I just don’t believe that lackluster work or lack of effort should be rewarded.
Continue praising your kids — but be objective
Mama praised everything I did as a child even when I didn’t give 100 percent. After every mucked-up piano recital or lost basketball game or failed test, she droned on and on about how well I had performed. Despite what she said, I knew I hadn’t done well. I was completely capable of making a free throw or flawlessly playing a piano piece I’d learned or acing a biology exam—if I practiced or studied, that is. But when I hadn’t prepared, it was always evident. I often didn’t deserve her praise, and over time her always-adoring attitude skewed my thinking. I didn’t believe I had to work hard because everything I did, no matter how poorly, was good enough for Mommy.
During my school years, I often let coaches and teammates down because of my laziness. I was kicked off teams and out of academic clubs. Unfortunately that superior attitude of, “I’m amazing at everything” stuck with me throughout college. I learned really quickly, from professors with stern voices and cold eyes, that I was not the bee’s knees. Without effort and hard work, I was mediocre at best.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m so grateful I had a mother who never let me forget how loved and precious I was to her. But as I grew older, I realized she’d been too easy on me during my adolescence. I’m sure she felt sorry for me because Daddy had died in my presence when I was so young. But her coddling meant that other people in this world had to be responsible for letting me know that poor work would not be rewarded.
What I really needed to hear from my mom after any subpar performance was, “I know what you are capable of doing, and I didn’t see that today. You didn’t give it your best. If you practice really hard, I know you’ll do better next time. Hard work always pays off. You can do better.”
Maybe my feelings would have been hurt. Maybe I would’ve rolled my eyes and sighed. But maybe I also would have practiced my butt off and been an asset to my team at the next game. Maybe I even would’ve made it to Juilliard or the WNBA.