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Could We See Children for Who They Are?

From the center of your being, you have the answer. You know who you are and what you want.

– Lao Tzu

As parents, we naturally want the best for our children: good health, a financially rewarding career, a happy family, etc. However, in helping them to prepare for the future, could we see them for who they are, instead of who we want them to be? Why do we sometimes impose prescriptive expectations without considering their desires and interests? If we don’t see our children for who they are, how could they be true to themselves?

We probably all know someone (or someone’s child) who devotes hours to doing things that they don’t really like just to please their parents. This problem is prevalent in sports. A common example is when kids spend hours practicing a certain sport just because their parents want them to. Other examples are a bit more dramatized. The movie “Love the Coopers” tells the story of a girl who fakes being in a relationship, just to please her parents on Christmas. Another movie that shows the same concept is called “Farewell”. It’s a Chinese movie, about a grandson staging a fake wedding ceremony just to meet the expectation of his dying grandmother.

Psychologists believe that when children grow up with parents who impose prescriptive expectations, they often struggle with inner conflict and angst.

These struggles will affect their work and relationships for many years to come.  Some are eventually able to work through the disconnect and live an authentic life, but some may live a continuous struggle.

At the time, I was too young or inexperienced to question that expectation, so I put my head down and did what expected of me.

I have a personal experience with this struggle. I grew up with two conservative Chinese parents who liked to set prescriptive expectations, especially in school. Neither of my parents went to college, but somehow, they believed that I needed a Ph.D. to be successful. I think this expectation was derived from Confucian culture, which placed a strong emphasis on education. At the time, I was too young or inexperienced to question that expectation, so I put my head down and did what expected of me. After graduating from college, I got a scholarship to study a Ph.D. in Economics at a prestigious school in the United States, however, I found myself lacking the motivation. One year later, I dropped out of the program, feeling both disappointed and liberated. After that, I had to figure out what I really wanted to do and how I would pursue that. Luckily, I figured it out. I went on to pursue a successful business career after getting an MBA, but the transition to do so took nearly ten years.

I don’t want my children to go through the same experience.

When I became a mother, I promised myself that I would guide them directionally without imposing any prescriptive expectations. I wanted them to try different things, develop their own interests, think critically, and find a path to pursue what they wanted. When they were growing up, I listened to what they liked and didn’t like. Most of the time, I supported their decisions. Sometimes, I would urge them to give certain activities a bit more time, but in the end; I accepted their choices.

For example, when my daughters were 4 and 6 years old, I enrolled them in a Chinese school. Every Sunday afternoon, they spent 3 hours studying Mandarin, with more homework for the weekdays. They hated it, refusing to do their homework. I wanted them to learn Mandarin because not only is it part of their cultural heritage, but also speaking another language will give them advantages in their future careers. I asked them to give it one year. However, after one year, they still didn’t like it, so I dropped them from the Chinese school. Now, they regret that decision. They sometimes jokingly say, “Mom, I wish you would’ve forced us to learn Mandarin”. But, knowing that I wouldn’t impose my own expectations, they always felt safe to speak their truth. To me, that is more important than a particular skill they could have learned when they were young.

Seeing children for who they are takes a lot of practice. But the outcome is worth the hard work.

By seeing our children for who they are, not what we want them to be, we are helping them understand themselves early on. They learn to trust themselves and feel safe for being themselves, with a strong sense of self-love. These are critical foundations for the well-being and growth of children.

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Jackie Luo
Jackie Luohttps://www.beyourownceo.net/
Jackie Luo is an investor and entrepreneur, with expertise in software and technology businesses. Most recently, as the CEO of a Maryland based SaaS (Software as a Service) company, Jackie was responsible for growing the company as an early innovator in SaaS and mobile technology profitably, before selling the business to a publicly-traded company in 2018. Currently, Jackie is the principal of her own consulting business BAM Advisory LLC, helping entrepreneurs to accelerate growth and maximize the value of their businesses by taking a holistic approach. She believes that we need to cultivate authenticity and growth mindset in order to realize our true potential as an individual, a parent, and a leader. Jackie was born and raised in China, fluent in both Mandarin and English. She holds an MBA from the Wharton School of Business in the University of Pennsylvania. Currently, she lives in Virginia with her two daughters.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Being a responsible parent means being aware of the importance of having a child and looking after them. A child is not the extension of his own being but is a totally free and autonomous individual. The task of each parent does not concern exclusively the care of the offspring but it is a much higher task. A good parent guides their children on the path of awareness, self-growth, realization and then … lets them go.
    A child requires a parent to have total dedication, unconditional love and the ability to recognize an individual completely different from himself, consequently free to be what he is.
    A true parent is not who has become a parent by chance but who has taken responsibility for it and in the child proudly sees an individual free to be himself.
    Having said that, we must agree that being a parent is the most difficult job in the world!

  2. I really appreciated this essay, the wisdom you’ve offered to parents, and your own story, Jackie. To nurture the children in our lives for who they are and what they naturally love becomes such a freedom and joy. I have two children who are quite different in many ways. My son continues to be a kinesthetic learning, a risk taker (he loved/s adventures in nature-climbing trees, exploring new places) while my daughter loved imaginative play and books. Just a couple of ways they were different-naturally drawn to certain activities and passions. I loved being able to hold space for their unique selves and as best I could -often imperfectly-create space for their passions to come alive. To honor a human being for who he/she/they are can create the core experience of emotional health-being seen as capable, heard for what is in your heart, loved for who you are and not how you “perform”, valued, respected, celebrated. Each child deserves this experience. We will have a whole new world if parents healed themselves from the inside out and then from that place of inner strength begin to notice (and not be threatened!) and nurture the unique gifts, interests, abilities, and precious lives of their children. Thank you so much for all you have shared in your essay!

  3. Kimberly, Thank you for taking the time to share your comment. It is a challenge everyday to be a parent. As long as we are mindful, we will be ok…I know I will make mistakes here and there, but together, my children and I are building deeper connections.

  4. Oh Jackie, you have beautifully summed up the struggle that every parent faces to some degree! We like to think we’re supporting our son to forge his own path, but in an effort to give him the opportunities we think will make a difference to him as an adult, we too find ourselves imposing our hopes for him. It’s a challenge though. You know that exercise is important to be healthy and strong, but if your kid simply doesn’t want to exercise, do you give up on the commitment to ensure they’re healthy and strong? No…but… It’s a challenge, isn’t it?! I think, like with everything, it takes continual mindfulness about intent and telling ourselves the truth about what’s underneath our motivations. Such a good piece! Delighted you’re part of the BizCat family! I’m looking forward to reading more of your work!

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