I loved The Brady Bunch as a child, but after re-watching a certain episode I love it even more as a parent. It featured middle daughter Jan Brady (the family's perpetual loser) trying to discover if she had a natural born talent...for anything. Predictably, she failed at many different things (ballet, tap dancing, being a drum majorette, acting in the school play), much to her teen despair. Mom Carol Brady said to husband Mike, "Poor Jan. She's really miserable. I hate to see her going through this." To which he grunts unsympathetically "She'll have to figure it out."
I LOVED this. Today, do we ever let our kids "figure it out" for themselves? We constantly tell them they're good at everything, in a world where it's virtually impossible to fail a class, or having them participate in sports where no score is kept and no one ever loses.
On the show, it's Jan's sympathetic siblings who challenge and deliberately lose to her at a number of activities -- ping pong, Monopoly -- but of course she eventually discovers what they're doing, and becomes convinced she's an even bigger loser. Is this the risk we as parents take if we continue to prop our kids up with false praise, and an "everyone's a winner at everything" attitude? They quickly learn the truth about their talents when they leave the house for a post secondary education, or into the real working world, where discipline and criticism can be harsh. Preparing our children for disappointment and failure is one of the lessons we might want to have them learn at home, rather than from a disgruntled professor or angry manager.
American Idol is a great example of what can happen if you aren't honest with your children, and you send them out onto the stage, to fail. My kids are terrible singers. I am a terrible singer. Their father is a terrible singer. It's just who we are, and we all know it. They won't be one of those show contestants who are so painfully awful but are convinced they are the next Kelly Clarkson because their mom said so.
By all means, we should be encouraging our children for the things they are good at, and be their biggest cheerleaders, but let's make sure we're not cheering them on to great public failure. After all, not everyone can be a perfect drum majorette like their big sister Marcia.
The article was originally run in the Metro News.