Saturday, April 29, 2017

Doing Better than 'Do Your Best'

I used to read tons of parenting books. As a young, inexperienced parent, I felt the need to learn as much and as fast as I could. I had that burning desire to stay ahead of my new "game", to ensure I was not that inexperienced parent who got caught in a new situation and be helpless. So I read. By the time my first-born could read by age 2, I had read nearly 80 parenting books of all kinds.

I always think it is smarter to learn as much as I could from others' experiences. Learn their successes so I can at least have a chance to replicate their success. Learn from their mistakes so I can hopefully avoid the same mistakes. Why reinvent the wheel? Why waste time making the same mistakes others had made before me, if I could just learn about them?

As I read, I reflected and thought of my parenting journey and aspirations. There are some parenting advices that inspired me greatly and some which I fervently disagree with.

One of such advices was to tell kids that 'it is OK to just do your best'.

There are situations when I think it is harmless to say this to our kids. But I think it is a lazy and lame approach to allow this 'standard' to apply to life in general. Once we entrench in our kids that generally in life, 'it is OK as long as they have done their best', we may more easily than not, set them up for mediocrity.

We may tell kids that as long as they have done their best in their school work, it does not matter whatever results they get. Or as long as they have done their best in explaining the misunderstanding to their best friends, they should not have to feel bad anymore. Or perhaps we tell them they need not feel guilty for not helping someone as long as they have done their best.

Now, while the parents' intentions are great and stemmed out of parental love, I think we can do better.

For a start, if this is the kind of 'standard' that we teach a young child to believe in, I believe we are doing a greater injustice to the child.

First of all, what exactly does 'do your best' mean? How much effort is equivalent to 'I have done my best'? Does your child really know what is his/her best effort?

These are at best, just all ambiguous standards.

If the kids do not truly understand what their best effort means in terms of hours spent learning and understanding his work, steps that he could take to clarify and seek help to be a more effective learner etc... it is lame and unfair to tell the child to do your best.

Instead of telling my kids to just do their best, be it in solving problems encountered or overcoming challenges in their studies, or even in making new friends or extending a helping hand to someone, I prefer to guide them to analyse the situations, reflect and assess their current abilities and motivation (or lack of it) to determine the reasons for not doing better. Once we have identified the gaps, I would guide them to consider why they could or would not go an extra mile. By the time we have reached this phase, overcoming the rest is easy.

They know that this mama is constantly questioning 'how can we do better?'

Even when they did well in studies, win a competition or stood up for a friend and they knew I was very proud of them, I would also point out the fact that no matter the outcomes today, there is always a lesson to learn and room for improvement. Yes, even if we are helping someone today, it is possible to do more or better to help this person in future, or to help even more people in the same situation...

This is different from being a parent who is never satisfied, though I can also understand how easy it is to be misunderstood as such. So I take pains to explain to my kids why I would constantly challenge them to do better than just 'their best'.

Of course it is much easier to just chant 'do your best' with a smile and accept whatever outcomes they deliver. But since I have not lived my life content with just doing my best, it feels hypocritical to teach my kids otherwise, just to make my parenting journey easier.

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