When I had my son, Devin, I had no idea what in the world I was doing So naturally I read everything I could by “the experts”. And every single one of them told me over and over again how important it was to be encouraging, to praise the self-doubt right out of Devin’s little body. So that’s what I did. And honestly, I didn’t need much coaxing, because I honestly believed he could do anything. He was a genius. His sister was smart, too, but Devin was special.
We moved around a lot, in part because Devin’s dad and I divorced. I had to work a lot to make everything come together. But Devin had places to ride on his bike, and he discovered video games, so I never worried about him, and he never got in trouble.
Of course, he also didn’t turn in his homework and almost failed classes because of it. But that was OK. He did decently on his tests, so I knew he was capable. He was like Einstein. Smarter than everybody knew and trapped in the way they all wanted him to do things. And whenever I insisted he do something for me, he never argued. So what if he didn’t have many buddies? He got along fine with girls, and he was my best friend. That’s what mattered.
He made little songs on the piano, and I had everyone listen. (Everybody plays a few wrong notes here and there.) He came up with an idea for his own video game story, and I told people how good at coding he was. (It was OK he didn’t have an ending, because making a game took dozens of people.) His tendency to ignore homework followed him to college, but everybody knows nobody looks at the grades, just the degree. He switched majors. (I paid the money for that.)
And then it was time for him to find a job. Even with a degree, he didn’t seem to have any direction. He procrastinated and had trouble making decisions for himself. And I didn’t understand why, when I found him a job, the boss let him go in just two weeks.
But then he said it.
“If I can do anything, how do I know which thing I’m supposed to pick?”
All this time, I thought I’d been doing the right things. I thought if I built him up, if I gave him “ins” to try, he’d be fine. But I never balanced any of my praise with reality. I never looked at his weaknesses or told him to work on them. I told him he could accomplish without suggesting anything to aim for. So even though he’s respectful and amazingly still humble, he was lost and overwhelmed and anxious.
Praise matters. I still believe that. But everybody has their own set of skills and abilities, and if you want a kid to find their purpose and passion, they have to have a grasp of what those are. They can’t do everything. But they can do something. And that something is important. They’re made to do it. I screwed up on teaching that. But I didn’t leave him rudderless. I made one last insistence—that he do Destiny Code. And they helped him figure out that his heart was in environmental studies. It was a hard day when he moved away for his new job. But it was perfect, because even though I’m always going to be there for him, now he’s standing without me.
Just the way he should.