We put way too much emphasis on a child’s progress. On whether they’re behind or ahead. On things they need to get better at. On their grades, and how they’re measuring up against the standards that have been set for them.
As parents this emphasis is made very clear very early. We're congratulated when our child is progressing according to the plan, and almost scolded when they’re not. Then we go home and either celebrate or lie awake worrying.
Our children know we're carrying that, by the way. So they start placing the same stress-driven importance on their progress. Progress along a path they had no say in choosing. Progress marked by signposts they had no hand in placing. Progress toward a goal they're not even sure they want to reach.
But progress all the adults in their life apparently need to see.
And among all the stress and worry - for parents and children alike - we forget to stop and consider the impact spending our formative years living that way might have on us.
It's why we enter adulthood struggling to separate our own sense of meaning and progress from others. We continually benchmark ourselves against what people around us have achieved (got the new iPhone, yet? seen my new car?), and either celebrate the fact we're keeping up or worry that we're not.
Whether we actually want to keep up with whoever that is and follow them in whatever direction they're going isn't given much thought. Not really, not often. Why would it be? Comparison is the mode of achievement most of us have been trained in.
We can do something about this mess, but only by allowing our children to turn inward. Only by dropping the steady diet of external validation they're force-fed throughout childhood in favour of time spent working out who they really are. What kind of person they want to be, what really matters to them, and what their own progress through life might look like.
Kids, listen - it is not what you do that is important. It is not what you have. And it is most certainly not what someone else does, has, or tells you to do.
Forget the progress. Forget the comparisons.
What matters most is who you are.
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