Being on the other side – A parent in an elite environment.
I just returned from a trip with my kids and their mom from out East. The trip served 2 purposes. One was to check out areas for us to all live in June and look at some available properties on the market, but the most important reason was for my 2 kids to audition for a performing arts academy, my kid’s true passions in life.
My kids are only 10, in 5th grade and young for their class, and will be entering 6th grade next year. The academy they wanted to audition for goes from grades 6 – grade 12, and concentrates on all the arts: visual, dance, instruments, singing etc. The school itself is publicly funded, and part of the public schooling system. Needless to say, the kids that apply for the school come from many economic and social backgrounds, from affluent to those that would struggle to be above the poverty line.
The school is awesome. Dedicated staff that are well trained and credentialed, and the kids we met that attend the academy are polite, excited, offered encouragement to my and all the other kids auditioning and are great role models for the school. You could definitely tell that its a happening place by the atmosphere and the smiling faces of the children. Any parent would be happy to have their kids attend there.
I met some nice parents too. All dedicated to their kids, and clearly had tried their very best, like all parents, to give their kids every opportunity in life. Some were super intense, as were their kids, a lot of very nervous 10 – 12 year old kids put in a truly pressure filled, adult situation. Needless to say, it was a very different view from the parent’s perspective than one that you get from being a coach! If you have ever seen the opening scene in the movie Jerry Macguire, you will know what I am talking about. Definitely some singularly focused young grommets running around!
It was a really good study of seeing elite situations (be it in sport or the arts) from another set of shoes and here are some of my take aways from the whole situation:
Every parent and child’s situation is different from both a social and economic perspective. I met a lovely African-American woman. Her son was a terrific and very polite young man. He was auditioning for piano and had been getting dedicated lessons since he was 4 years old. So 7 years of deliberate practice, all for this moment. For their family, this was a chance to get him into a GREAT school with the hopes of then receiving a scholarship for college in the future. The emotional and financial investment from their limited means was huge. Talk about pressure! With 200 5th graders auditioning, and only 20 being accepted, he had to be in the Top 10% to qualify for the school. Just let those numbers marinate for a bit. He, like my son, had a 1 in 10 chance of making it. This was truly the only option this mother had to better her life. I am pulling for this kid and family. Its such a game changer
I am not a fan of specialization at this young age. Me and the kids mom only have simple wishes for our kids: to try their best, enjoy the process and most importantly, to be happy. We want well rounded kids that are involved in lots of different sports, hobbies and activities. We are not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but we have the means to achieve this for our kids. We are both single parents with separate households, and every month is a struggle, but we are far better off than some of the families that attended these auditions. Many of these families are forced into specialization at early ages because they LOVE their kids, and want what is best for them. Getting into this school is just the first step to achieving that. They don’t have the ability to allow their kids to be involved in lots of activities. This is their one passion, their one focus. I get it!
BUT…these kids are battled hardened! Some of these kids had been in a K-5 performing arts elementary school. They had been immersed in the culture, and it was just another step in their progression. For kids like mine, this was their first audition! Puts them at a huge disadvantage, but also provided them with some huge life lessons. I am proud to say they gave it their all, and after some tears and stress walked out happy.
Dealing with disappointment from your kids just sucks! Nothing worse as a parent to see your kids hurting. Everything is so black and white to them. If they don’t get selected, to them it means they suck! The kids mom and I had to deal with it, but man, my heart goes out to those parents and kids where this audition was a potential life changer. It can be catastrophic! There is no parent playbook for dealing with this. I am lucky from my career I have years of experience dealing with it, but its never easy. I truly have a better understanding of why some parents go nuts in situations like this. The most important person in life has just been crushed, and protective instincts go into overdrive. If, as a parent, you don’t have the experience and training dealing with these situations, its a whirlwind!
I still believe failure and adversity are a good thing, and a kids reaction to it will stick. For my kids, this was definitely a turning point. They did really well in one audition, not so good in the other. I was so proud of the way they dealt with the adversity, picked themselves back up and charged forward. We were able to talk after everything had settled down and identify the things we had learnt from it, things to be proud of, and celebrate the process and the journey. To see them understand that regardless of whether they are selected or not, does not make them whom they are, take away from their hard work, nor take away from the improvements they made in their craft. I have never been so proud of them!
Parents feel the hurt too, even when the intentions are good. The kids mom was beating herself up a bit, questioning why we put our kids into such a stressful situation. We did it because we love our kids, that we want them to have opportunity to chase their passions! We both agreed that some great life lessons were acquired as take aways. There is always that fine line we tread as parents between SUPPORTING our kids and PUSHING our kids. We struggle between protecting them, wanting to make sure they never get hurt or feel pain thru failure, yet know we have to put them into situations where failure helps them grow and develop as people. I like a couple of Michael Jordan’s quotes, that I think any person, and especially parents and coaches can embrace: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” and something I tell my kids all the time “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” Kids…hell, all of us….will fail more than we succeed, and we need to keep that in perspective. It highlighted to me that effort needs to be celebrated as much as results.
After all is said and done, us as parents create the culture we set for our kids. Clearly external factors like financial means, social factors and countless others can really determine what that culture is. I find parenting, like coaching, works best when I keep it simple. Love your kids, support them, celebrate effort and know that failure and disappointment are often time the seeds to substantial personal growth.