Sunday, October 24, 2010

Aspirations and Abilities

 I'm sure most parents run into this at some point, and probably more than once with each child:  your child wants to do something, and they're convinced they can do it, but you know that their aspiration is outstripping their ability by a considerable margin.  What do you do?  There's sometimes a fine line between encouraging and lying - kids need to try new things, and we want to tell them that they can do just about anything they set their mind to.  But, the reality is that sometimes they reach much farther than their grasp, and you can just see the fall coming like a train down the track toward Wile E. Coyote.  There seems to be a fine art to encouraging your child to reach, but not overreach (and isn't that still hard for us as adults?), to be willing to take a risk and give their best, and to learn whether they succeed or fail.  But they also need to learn to evaluate the risk and see if the effort is worth the possible failure.  And, equally hard, is knowing as parents when to tell them honestly that they just aren't cut out or ready for something they think they can do.

This is on my mind today because our son wants to play basketball.  Because of his precocious height, people have been telling him for years that he ought to play basketball, as if height were the best/only criteria for success in that sport.  The fact is, our son doesn't have much natural athletic ability; he never has, and he doesn't have that competitive drive that fuels many other kids.  I can see him getting eaten alive by much more skilled players, both in the sport and off the court.  Kids can be cruel, and competitive kids sometimes aren't nice to kids who don't play well or "let the team down."  Truth be told, if our son tried out for a real team, he wouldn't be accepted, and I don't want to encourage him to try out when the odds of his success for that kind of team are so low.  But, our school district seems to have handed us a perfect solution for now.  They're offering a basketball fundamentals clinic, an intramural league for less experienced players, and a traveling league for competitive players for the winter.  The fundamentals clinic and intramural basketball are one after the other on Saturday mornings.  So our son could get the drill and practice he needs, then go right to a game with kids near his own skill level.  It seems to be a win-win, and he's excited to get to play.  I hope it works out well for him and that he has fun, and he still hopes to be able to join a higher level team someday.

Looking farther out, our son lately has been saying he'd like to pursue a career in law enforcement.  Now, I can see that as a person with Asperger's Syndrome that being a street patrol officer is not likely to be a realistic goal for him.  He simply isn't likely to have the personal and relational skills to read and react quickly and accurately to emotionally loaded situations.  But I'm not going to crush his dreams - he's only 12.  If he isn't cut out for a particular career, eventually he'll come to that conclusion on his own, or (more likely) he'll just change his mind and find a new interest.   Goodness knows we've been through enough intense interests with him!  Until the next obsession arises, he can dream of being a police officer, and of driving the totally awesome patrol cars full of radios and computers and gizmos (which is what he's really interested in anyhow).  I'm not going to spend his youth telling him what he won't be able to do, or isn't well suited for.  After all, he's likely to surprise me in the end anyway.  So, let him dream.


  1. I agree, most parents probably go through this time and time again. I know that we have seen it with both of our kids. Our daughter has very unrealistic expectations of herself when it comes to certain situations, and we always have her try. Yes, she might end up failing, or seeing that it wasn't what she had envisioned, and yes, that never goes over well....but at least she can always say that she tried, gave her best, and that we supported her in it. Her abilities and inabilities are designed by Him, and only He knows how things will turn out. Who am I to discourage His child? Let them try. You know I have such a soft spot in my heart for your son, I would never want to see him hurt needlessly....but if he has the confidence to want to try, let him. It does sound as if you have workable options so far, and as time goes on if that changes any coach worth his salt will make sure that child has a spot on any team, and that his teammates encourage and appreciate him. Nothing less. He might make a fantastic team manager, someday helping to warm up the team before games, and being an 'assistant coach' at practices.

    As far as the career goes, again....I would never discourage. That can always come back on you and seem to them as your doubts of them, not as a realistic opinion. I agree that his view of the ideal job may not be possible with his abilities, but there are jobs where his abilities would serve him very well.Instead of street patrol, what about crime scene investigation, or investigating accident scenes? We had a fantastic field trip last year and met an officer who I am sure would happily do a follow up with both of you to tell him different career options.His abilities are not hindrances, they are gifts. Every day they are gifts.Just as yours and mine are.

    And, who knows, he might end up not doing anything he has mentioned thus far in life!! lol Our boy is heading toward 13, and has yet to name a real career! Unless world dictator is seriously taking applications.....

  2. LOL, he'll have to arm-wrestle my incipient dictator for the title (and while they wrestle, the girls will take over the world anyhow).

    When our kids suggest a career they're interested in, we usually prompt them to talk about it, what they like about it, what skills they'll need to do it, and we sometimes do some research to find out more to the dream has some connection to the actual effort required to get there.

    I think our son would make a great crime scene investigator, or fire/disaster investigator. He's also said he would love to be a RR engineer, an automotive crash test scientist, and run a day care (he loves children and is a magnet for toddlers).