Why ‘Potential’ is a Dangerous Word for Parenting
Read this before you ask your child to bring out their “full potential.”
Imagine having friends over for dinner. You have been preparing this meal for hours, shopping for the ingredients, prepping the meats, chopping vegetables. As you begin the dinner, one of your guests says, “Um, is this your best effort at cooking? I think you have more potential than this. Next time we come for dinner, please cook to your full potential.”
Absurd, right? Well, regretfully, we do this to our children all the time.
The Pressure of “Full Potential”
Potential is the word brought up by parent-teacher nights over and over. Potential is what sports coaches are trying to pull out of your child. So I invite you to sit for just a minute and feel the feeling of your friends requesting your full potential. Does this motivate you? Or deflate you? Does this bring you closer to your friends? Or have you been wanting to separate from them?
Inherently, it is so natural for us to want our children to do well. We want them to succeed and do the best they possibly can. We want them to avoid the mistakes we made and repeat the successes we had. But all of this idealization leaves very little room for your child to become their unique self.
I am not suggesting you don’t have an expectation for academic success. But rather than a pressure to live up to their potential, perhaps we can help them to see what is blocking them from achieving their most “whole selves”. The difference between these two is called connection vs. correction.
Connection vs. Correction
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Shefali Tsabary, ideally, we should aim for 80% connection and 20% correction.
Unfortunately, most parent-child relationships have these numbers flipped. We can get away with this control in the younger years. But in the teen years, if we correct 80% of the time and attempt to connect 20% of the time, we will lose touch with them — and will have very little, if any, influence on them. Therefore, it is essential to spend far more time connecting with them as a supporter.
Connection, foremost, can be of a particular challenge if we have expectations. Suppose we expect them to get high grades or be the best on a sports team. We push our agendas to ensure our children succeed in life. But is it for them? Or is this for ourselves?
The Incestuous Parental Ego
The parental ego is an immense pain. The ego controls our urge to look like a good parent in the eyes of our parents, teacher, other parents and especially ourselves.
Looking good to others is a trap that disconnects us from our child and has us performing and expecting them to commit to our satisfaction.
This ego-driven motivation stems from a ubiquitous fear that we, the parents, are not good enough. When we get truthful and dive very deep, we can look at each child’s achievements and how they affect us. This incestuous ego hurts our children. The message they receive is, “I am not enough unless I am getting good grades and achieving in some extracurricular activity” or whatever your unique measure of success is.
We come by this honestly; however, as our parents trained us this way, this has been passed down generationally — our parents received the same lesson. The silent message is, “I can see you when you are doing well because that makes me feel good.”
The dangerous lesson we learn from this is that we earn our love from what we do, not from who we are.
Accept the Ordinariness
Conscious parenting requires something bigger out of ourselves. It requires us to deeply love and accept ourselves with all of our flaws and ordinariness. When we do this, only then can we give unconditional love to our children. Only then can we release this idea of potential and support them to thrive just as they are.
The best you can give your child is self-acceptance. Let them see what your life looks like when you fully accept and love yourself. Once we accept our ordinary yet unique selves, we give room for our children to be fully loved and accepted as they are.
When we all have that safety, anything is possible. Literally.
Andrea Markusich is a mom, wife, entrepreneur, conscious parenting coach and writer. She has a degree in Psychology and Philosophy and is certified through Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s coaching program, which shifted her understanding of parenting and her role as a mother.
Andrea is in the process of writing a children’s book and loves to help parents feel freedom and ease in parenting by first learning how to love and support themselves. Learn more at www.theconsciousfamily.ca