first child

I Put Too Much Pressure on My First Child

A young girl looking bored in class

I didn’t realize how much I pinned my hopes and dreams on my first child until she brought home her fifth grade report card. After seeing one B, I asked Emily, “Do you need help with this subject?” By the way, the rest of her grades were A’s.

“You just made everything I do right not matter at all,” she said.

My heart sinks every time I replay Emily’s comment in my mind–a painful statement that I wished I heard years before. From that day on, I decided not to put pressure on my daughter or make her take unnecessary classes that she had no interest in. I would concentrate on being a cheerleader for Emily’s accomplishments and listen to her about what she wanted to do.

Emily was our first born. As inexperienced parents, we did the best we could and at times, we were overzealous. Emily was made to take dance and piano lessons for a couple of years–way past the time she learned it was not for her.

I wasn’t allowed to take ballet as a child and I encouraged my girls to do it: I remember drilling then 4-year old Emily to prepare for the dance recital. She performed perfectly. But Emily wore a pained expression and danced like a wooden doll. Gone was the smiling, happy child who sang in the preschool spring concert.

Unfortunately, our parenting techniques, or what her dad and I called “well intentioned encouragement” may have been misguided. My husband and I wanted the best for Emily, wanted to be the best parents we could be. We didn’t realize that putting pressure on her to achieve what we thought would bring her success and happiness may have resulted in something else. Sometimes I wonder our efforts damaged Emily’s self-confidence, stunted her creativity, and limited her growth.

On the other hand, her younger sister seemed to live a relatively stress-free life, because Cindi didn’t have pushy parents on her back. I don’t remember making her participate in unnecessary things she didn’t like. She didn’t get drilled before her dance recital, she didn’t dance perfectly, and she didn’t get any “constructive criticism.” Cindi looked adorable, dancing in her red, frilly costume.

Cindi even received a C on her first report card. My then-husband and I didn’t comment on it, but Emily did. “I can’t believe no one cares Cindi got a C,” she exclaimed and stomped out of the room.

We were surprised to see that despite our laxness, Cindi put some pressure on herself–maybe to keep up with her sister. After Cindi’s C, she proceeded to get straight A’s throughout high school. And she took advantage of opportunities for extra credit in her schoolwork. “It gives me a cushion. I never know what will happen,” Cindi said.

Cindi enjoyed the chance to explore interests and learn what was right for her. In first grade, she wore socks and shoes that didn’t always match. She also wore colorful, oversized jewelry from her dress-up clothes. They say, “pick your battles.” Cindi’s clothes were clean and modest. If Cindi and her peers thought she looked okay, that was good enough for us.

We didn’t push Cindi in her athletic endeavors, but she excelled at volleyball and went to volleyball camp–something she wanted to do. Eventually, she chucked volleyball for track–something she definitely was not good at. My heart went out to Cindi as she lagged behind the competing teams in races throughout high school, yet Cindi said she preferred track to volleyball because she got a better workout. She was doing things her own way.

My children are grown now and are confident, intelligent, likable women who enjoy the careers they chose. But sometimes I wish I could raise my first-born again–after I learned how to relax and not put pressure on her to excel. I would like to give Emily more leeway to explore and pursue activities and things she wanted to do–without pressure.

Here’s an interesting thought. How many of us accomplished our dreams in academics, sports, career, relationships–things we hoped to achieve or hoped to try? Are we foisting these dreams our children, hoping they will obtain our unmet goals?

That’s not fun for anyone.

When I pushed Emily to take the dance classes she hated, my then-husband said, “Why don’t you take ballet classes and leave the girls alone?” That’s when I dropped dancing lessons, and signed the girls up for what they wanted–gymnastics. Unfortunately, it would be six long, pressurized years before I heard Emily’s life-changing comment, “You just made everything I do right not matter at all.”

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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