This is Little H’s latest refrain, hot on the heels of reluctance to take part in the school fun run once she realised she might not win. It even surfaced when soaking up the incredible atmosphere in ring-side seats at the men’s artistic gymnastics yesterday.
What to do…Do I go all Amy Chua on her and ferociously encourage a competitive, focused, ‘winning is best’ mentality? Or do I foster a more laissez-faire spirit of gentlemanly sportsmanship – ‘trying hard and taking part is what matters’? Or, do I do nothing and leave it up to her to find her way, telling me what she wants to try or not try, letting her change her mind as she sees fit, dropping one interest in favour of another, or, indeed, keeping them all.
At five years old, everyone gets a medal and too much openly competitive spirit with peers is tempered with quiet parental asides to remember others’ feelings and not be unkind. Well, that’s how it goes down in Surrey, anyway, heartland of middle-class England. If the stereotype of Asian parenting is true, I suspect the same doesn’t apply in middle-class China or Japan. Which is right? Which parenting style is going to turn out better children? And therein lies two big questions: what is ‘better’ and what is the role of a parent in achieving it.
Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother, brought these questions to the fore, making me explore my own values and beliefs, even though I haven’t ever cogently articulated them before – to myself, let alone to anyone else. What do I believe life is for? What does it mean to reach one’s fullest potential? Is being happy the best end goal? How much is it about the goal versus the journey? What core values and beliefs do I believe I need to instill in my children and what am I willing to dedicate and sacrifice to achieve that, assuming Mr H agrees? And anyway, where’s the child’s view in all of this?
Big questions, particularly for a Sunday evening. I don’t think I have fully formed answers yet, but I do think it’s important to consciously consider them and talk about it with Mr H. We also need to stay conscious to it as our kids do stuff, share their views and feelings and watch how we go about our lives.
When Little H shared her reluctance to take part in the 2km school fun run if she didn’t win, I knew how I responded was important. I heard myself carefully trying to balance the sentiment that taking part is fun even without winning, with the view that if you want to win/succeed, you need to work hard and believe in yourself.
London 2012’s slogan is ‘Inspiring a generation’. The row of people in front of us watching the gymnastics yesterday were treated to Little H’s embodiment of this: wonder, excitement and a deluge of questions and comments. Could one man win the Olympics for their country; why were the Chinese not being very good today; how does a country win the Olympics; how do people get to be in the Olympics; I don’t think I could be in the Olympics; I wish colouring was in the Olympics; I wish I could watch you doing that, Mummy (cue the whole row turning round to say they’d quite like to see that too).
I grasped the opportunity to talk about self-belief, awe-inspiring skill and strength, hard graft, enjoying proud moments, wanting the best of yourself. Watching her absorb and react to the electric atmosphere was worth every penny we paid for the tickets. Seeing Team GB’s men win their group wasn’t half bad either.
We’re going to be watching, listening to and talking about sport a lot over the next two weeks. I want her to be inspired, to see the joy and pride that comes with putting your all into something you believe in, to think maybe it could be her competing or being one of the best singers, dancers, actors or techie geniuses representing her country in a spectacular show like the opening ceremony, to start to dream and to see that even for the best, dreams are only realised through hard work.
And I guess through that I answer my own question about potential. Personally, I think that if an individual has the potential to be great, then that is what they should strive for in life. Yes, it takes sacrifice, yes it asks a lot of those you love, yes you need to step back and enjoy the journey, but striving for a dream is worth the effort, whatever direction that dream takes you, practical considerations allowing (oh dear, I can already hear that conversation – blow the ideals, darling, where’s the rent coming from).
Even the smallest of things worth doing in life take effort, determination and belief that you can. So my message to Little H and all other littlies is start with having fun colouring the best picture you can, singing your heart out, trying your best in a 2km school fun run and let it flow from there.
There’s time for the hard lesson of life that no-one’s great at everything, and everyone has to choose where to focus their energies. For now, I think my job as a parent is to encourage her, to enable her to try as wide a spectrum of fun things as possible, to believe in her, to help her believe in herself and help her to enjoy putting effort into what she does and reaping the rewards.
As for me, I’m signing up for a triathlon next year. And if we do get our house extension, and thereby space for a piano, I’m taking it up again. I want to do both for me, but if it helps Little H see that trying new things is hard and fun, that it’s important to start with ‘I think I can if I try’, it might not be Carnegie Hall or the Olympics but hey, we all start somewhere. We can all do our bit to inspire a generation. My new generation is sleeping on it.