Condeming my children to a life of under-achievement

I may be holding my children back from achieving their true potential. I know it’s hard to fathom given the amount of time, energy and money I’ve invested in them.

This Christmas Hippie Child was given the autobiography of Jessica Watson, the teenager who in 2010, at just 16, became the youngest person to sail solo, unassisted and non-stop around the world (unofficially). Yes all on her own for 210 days at sea through 24,285 nautical miles of ocean waves.

Yesterday I opened the newspaper to discover a 15-year-old American has become the youngest person to climb the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. Jordan Romero did not spend Christmas fighting with siblings over who got the best pressie and who was gonna eat the last piece of cake. No he was too busy scaling Antarctica’s Mount Vinson. Everest? He knocked that over when he was 13.

I’m starting to think it might be my attitude that’s stopping my children embracing high-achievement and a lifetime of product endorsements and speaking tours.

You see when I heard Jessica was going to head off to sea I was one of the tut-tut brigade that declared no child of mine would be allowed to do such a silly, silly thing. It was just plain dangerous. Given that my teenager struggles to handle the controls of the front-loader washing machine I doubt she want to take command of 10 metre yacht on the open sea but that’s beside the point. My best friend supported my position,her 16-year-old wasn’t allowed to ride in her mate’s car because he had only just got his P-plates.

The Watson’s faced a barrage of criticism in the lead-up to Jessica’s voyage two years ago and I did wonder if perhaps we weren’t all being a little sexist in our attitude, after all Jesse Martin did the same thing setting off at 17, celebrating his 18th birthday at sea and completing the world record for youngest person to sail solo, unassisted and non-stop around the world two months later, with virtually no criticism. Was it just that he was a boy and we expect boys to be adventurous? Or was it that he completed the task at 18, so we shrug our shoulders and declare well he’s an adult now, parents have no control.

Even when it was all over and Jessica sailed victorious into Sydney Harbour to be greeted by the Prime Minister and every other man and his dog I still struggled to enjoy the moment, what if it hadn’t worked out? What if this brave girl had died out there in the middle of the ocean?

But it did work out and Jessica and her family should be very proud of her achievement but it makes me wonder how these kids become these adventuring souls.

Do the kids win the genetic lottery in determination and motivation and the parent’s just go along for the ride, figuring if they support the endeavours at least they will have some control over the safety aspects?  Or do the children feed on a parent’s own commitment and “do anything” attitude to create their own personal challenges?

Jessica’s family never had a TV. Perhaps that’s what made all the difference. While I was slamming on the Wiggles to quieten my toddlers Jessica’s mum was instilling in her a sense of imagination and focus “of course you can sail solo around the around the world, you can do anything”.

I tell my children they “can do anything they want” but I think secretly we are all aware of their limitations. I don’t think either are planning on a career in nuclear physics and I doubt they’ve got their eye on the Nobel Prize.

Jordon Romero’s father and stepmother were with him on the summit of Vinson Massif – see that’s the first problem for my children – neither their father or I have the physical capability to actually GO WITH them as they CLIMB MOUNTAINS. We’re struggling to find the energy to get off the lounge and take them to the movies this afternoon.

Jordon’s been a climber from a young age, at 10 he was the youngest person to climb Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro. Again, at 10 I was still worrying about my kids crossing the road safely without supervision. Perhaps for this family it’s just another family outing, nothing to do today? I know let’s go climb a peak?

I find it fascinating to consider how this mix of child/parent creates such high-achieving risk takers. Even given all the precautions taken, how do you as a parent, watch your child (albeit teenager) go off into a dangerous situation that has defeated much older and more experienced adventurers?

But well done Jordan, and as I write Jessica is competing in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race so good luck to her as well.


8 thoughts on “Condeming my children to a life of under-achievement

  1. hello janine – interesting topic! my thought is that the leaf does not fall far from the tree. so when i read about families that do triathlons together, and instead of family meals they compete to see who can transition (swim to bike, bike to run) quickest, then i know what the children will like. or perhaps they will rebel? most folks don’t do what those children are doing, and so we need to perhaps define underachieving? joy and blessings to you and your lovely children (they must be lovely, and i bet they have your sense of humor!)

    • These kids are rare indeed but it is a bit like the chicken/egg quandry – where they born this way or did they emerge from a adventure seeking environment in which their parents created? I think you are right that parents would have a pretty strong influence. I’m not suggesting that they are wrong just curious about the how/why of the whole child development thing. I also think the children have to have a pretty strong commitment to these feats otherwise they wouldn’t be able to see them through. But pushing your child in any particular direction always leads to the chance they will rebel – they have to want it for themselves.

  2. This is a great post and it made me consider many things. For one, my 19 year old son is a Physics/Chemistry/Maths nut. He was dux of his Year 12 class. he is currently doing a dual degree in Physics and Engineering. I liked science but it’s mysteries always eluded me and I was never able to grasp a lot of concepts. Same for Maths. Tried hard, struggled often. My point? How in God’s good name did my son develop this love of numbers and science? Not from me, not from my husband. The only thing I can think of is…. the hours he spent collecting rocks that I let him keep under the bed. The hours he spent as a child, scavenging my parent’s five acres for rocks, insects, bugs….whatever he could find. The child that left some poor lady gob-smacked at the Australian Reptile Park when he recited all the names of Australian spiders corresponding with the display at the age of three. He was the child that constantly asked questions. If I didn’t have the answers, then he’d find someone or something that could tell him. The maths? I have no idea. There was the one time when his preschool teacher called me and told me he had started counting to ten and just kept going. What can I say? He liked numbers.
    Who can say for sure where the passion and talent some children display come from? If not from the parents ( and there are some out there that push their children into anything they can) then perhaps from someone else they admire, who have met, seen on TV, written a book.
    I don’t think there is anything you can do or expose your children to that will lead them to be high achievers. My son still struggles with the front loader and dishwasher.

    • Love this, kid determined to succeed (from a very young age) despite parent’s limitations. Some children are just born with a talent and obviously you gave him the opportunities, freedom to explore those talents (let him keep the rocks under the bed) even if it wasn’t an area you understood. Great parenting. Reckon this one has a chance at the Nobel Prize – and don’t worry he’ll earn enough not to have to worry about washing up. LOL.

      • It’s funny that you say that, I often remark about his complete lack of attention to household chores and mowing the lawn and how he won’t be able to ‘do’ for himself when he leaves home, his reply…I’ll just pay someone when I’m working. Arghhh! Thanks Janine, I love the way you write and I think your children are very lucky to have you! ( I am constantly laughing about your reference to Hippie Child when I read your blog).

  3. I can definitively state that it isn’t the lack of TV. I didn’t have one growing up and my biggest ambition is to have all of the rooms of my house and my car clean at the same time. I think that those of us who are both under-achievers and are raising under-achievers are doing the world a favor by giving over-achievers something to compare themselves to. In fact, I think that Jessica Watson and Jordan Romero’s parents should thank us for our under-achieving children whose existence allows their children to shine.

  4. I think most of their parents are adventurous too. I travel a lot, but I don’t really do much of the extremes. I think I’ll be a worried type like you are. Although sorry to air it, I don’t think I’ll deprive them of something that they want to pursue, or anything reasonably they strongly insist.

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