I have a mantra I frequently repeat with my theatre students. Several times a year, I have them repeat the words, "It's not about you." (For added measure, I have them point at themselves on the word "you"). I have found this to be beneficial medicine, quite effective for treating various adolescent maladies.
I have also found that it is helpful for me to remember this as a parent and teacher. Let me tell you a story of which I'm not very proud.
I began directing plays when I was 15 years old. Because I was still young and developing myself, I regret to say that I approached some of my early productions with a major ego. It was, sadly, about me. Not entirely, I sincerely tried to do a good job and make a good experience for the kids in the play, but if I am honest, I must admit that in my mind, it was largely about me.
This was a problem because it meant that I reacted to various stresses and problems in less-than-helpful ways. I remember once really chewing out some poor stage crew kid who had made a mistake. Instead of shaking it off, I felt he had made me look bad and I was furious and really let him have it. I regret that now, more than I can say.
In the years since, I am happy to say my outlook has changed. I no longer feel that plays or concerts are about me. Yes, I want them to go well and I want my students good work, and I am certainly still human. I still might get upset at something, stressed, etc.
However, I no longer feel that my value as a person is threatened by some poor kid making a mistake. My identity and well-being are informed by other factors and not dependent on what my students do. I can honestly say that I am much more focused on the students than I am on my own ego. (Note to students: I still will get mad at sloppy mistakes and laziness--but that's because I love you, not because I feel personally embarrassed).
In fact, I'm to the point now where I can feel satisfaction in seeing a student grow--even if the audience doesn't know it. That is, if a student performs and shows some personal growth or makes a big improvement, I can be satisfied and happy even if the performance itself might seem sub-par to the audience. This makes me a better teacher because I'm willing to take risks that allow for growth, even if the final product might not be as polished or perfect as I might wish. When you are worried about your own identity and ego, you can't take any leaps of faith.
Admittedly, it is more difficult to do this as a parent. I will admit that I still often feel tempted to judge myself (or allow myself to feel judged by others) based on my children. That is, if one of my children get a less-than-positive comment on their report card, my first response might be one of embarrassment. "Oh no, what must that teacher think I'm teaching my kids..." etc.
It's very easy for the focus to be about me and not on my child.
Of course it should not be. The problem is that when we make parenting about ourselves, we fall into bad habits and actions because we start to worry so much about short-term appearances as opposed to long-term growth and development. We confuse means with ends and may easily lose a sense of proportion. We may not value or recognize progress because it doesn't seem to be coming quickly enough. We may push them to achieve more than is needed, prudent, or wise--the list can go and on.
But the bottom line is this: as a parent, it's not about us.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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