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Did you grow up being driven to excel?


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This is something I've thought about a lot, because I didn't.  My parents were both bright and hard working, but they never pushed me at all.  Anything I did was fine with them.  They never challenged me to do better.  And I guess I wasn't genetically inclined to do so on my own.  So, it never even occurred to me to do much more than I absolutely had to.  I did things -- I was involved with a lot of activities, I ran for student office, I entered contests, etc, but it was never about doing the best I could.  That never played into the equation at all for me.  As a result, I think I grew up not recognizing my potential and not really accomplishing much for a long time.

Then I met my dh, who is the opposite of that.  His entire family and upbringing was about doing the best you can...pushing beyond.  BEING the best in whatever you do.  It was exciting to learn that approach.  I can't tell you how new that approach was to me!  So our children grew up with a healthy dose of reaching to excel (not in a competitive way, but for their own benefit and happiness).  For a lot of that time, I still felt like I was watching from the sidelines and learning.  

It still fascinates me.  Sometimes I wish I could do my growing up years over again just to push myself more and take on something bigger.  And often I'm left thinking that it's kind of odd that my parents didn't push me at all, but maybe part of it was generational too...  I grew up in the 60's and 70's.  It's interesting to think that having that kind of an attitude really can change the direction of your life.  I don't think that means the other direction is necessarily bad though.  It's just very different.  And it can certainly open up more doors.

It does make me wonder what it was like for other people growing up.  Were you encouraged to excel?

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I guess it is all relative.  I was told to find my potential and fulfill it.  My dad's side is a long list of achievers.  My grandfather had a PhD from NYU and was a professor.  Two of his brothers were medical doctors and the other also had a PhD.  His sister had a BA.  My dad comes from 5 boys.  Three were medical doctors, one a PhD and professor, the last didn't finish college and often (IMO) was made to feel inferior.  

Mom's side of the family, she was the first with a college degree.  

It was all a mix for me.  I was expected to finish college and day I did, my dad asked , "So, have you thought about where you want to go for Grad School?"

I haven't pushed my boys to "be the best" at everything, but we have instilled that college is an expectation, and that they need to find their passions and do the best they can with their passions.  

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The lack of educational support and encouragement my mom received from her own parents was probably the central culprit in the mistakes she made raising us.  I couldn't reach my own potential (which is so much more modest than my mother's aspirations) because I was too busy reaching hers. (I probably couldn't reach mine anyway-- the whole idea of having a certain potential sets one up for a whole lot of regret and perpetual dissatisfaction, doesn't it?)

I do think there are generational and cultural, as well as familial, differences in expectations about the involvement parents should have in a child's education.

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I wasn't pushed to excel, but I had a high level of internal competition and two older siblings. I wanted to be the best. 

I've learned as I matured that I needed to tame that characteristic and focus it more on being better than I was and not worry about anything else. 

For my children, I think I've pushed them some. One always succeeded and succeeded very well without much effort, so pushing her wasn't really a possibility. She has learned to push herself now - mostly, I think, because somehow we did instill a desire/expectation for doing well. The other I've had to push quite a bit, but somehow she has now gotten to the point she is pushing herself to excel. Maybe maturity? Maybe interest? I don't know, but I'll take it. I like sitting on the sidelines and just encouraging and supporting!

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I wouldn't say I was pushed over hard but with academics I was pretty driven anyway.  With anything else not so much.  I did get grade skipped and feel like my childhood was a bit unbalanced towards academic and bookish stuff so I've not pushed my kids too hard.  I'm beginning to realise they could do with a bit of a push but I'm more about harnessing and facilitating the natural interests as much as possible.  

Because uni wasn't encouraged I try to be careful not to over push my kids in that direction to compensate If that makes sense.  They need to live their own goals and lives not the one I wish I had.

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Yes. A lot of it was internal/innate, but my parents pushed hard on the "you can do anything you set your mind to" stuff. They were BIG on positive thinking and goal-setting.

I am NOT raising my kids that way.

For one thing, I grew up and realized that no, I can't in fact "do anything I set my mind to." Attitude and effort are certainly a part of achievement, but there's so much more to it than that. It was a huge letdown. I still struggle with the feeling that if I am not the best/perfect at something it is because I did something wrong -- didn't try hard enough or whatever. If anything goes wrong in my life, I have this huge sense of guilt that it's my fault. It causes terrible anxiety, which has led to an eating disorder (also my fault -- see where this is going?). I don't want my kids to feel that way. Some things just aren't meant to be. And it's ok to have strengths AND weaknesses. It's ok to try to improve on your weaknesses with the understanding that they might always remain sub-par. It's also ok to say, "Meh, I'm not great at/interested in that. I'll do something else instead."

I have one child who is very laid-back who I think can benefit from learning to stretch a little. Most everything comes easily to this child, and as a result they are already advanced in most areas and don't see the need to push any harder. I have another child who has to work very hard to learn and do everything, yet is also a perfectionist. This one does not need any more pressure than they already generate themselves. I try to tailor my parenting to each one's needs. Success means different things to different people (and different things within different areas of one person's life even), and that's ok. I think one can find a healthy balance between just letting life carry them along and an obsessive compulsion to be The.Best.At.Everything. At least, I hope one can. I'm still trying.

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38 minutes ago, PeachyDoodle said:

Yes. A lot of it was internal/innate, but my parents pushed hard on the "you can do anything you set your mind to" stuff. They were BIG on positive thinking and goal-setting.

I am NOT raising my kids that way.

For one thing, I grew up and realized that no, I can't in fact "do anything I set my mind to." Attitude and effort are certainly a part of achievement, but there's so much more to it than that. It was a huge letdown. I still struggle with the feeling that if I am not the best/perfect at something it is because I did something wrong -- didn't try hard enough or whatever. If anything goes wrong in my life, I have this huge sense of guilt that it's my fault. It causes terrible anxiety, which has led to an eating disorder (also my fault -- see where this is going?). I don't want my kids to feel that way. Some things just aren't meant to be. And it's ok to have strengths AND weaknesses. It's ok to try to improve on your weaknesses with the understanding that they might always remain sub-par. It's also ok to say, "Meh, I'm not great at/interested in that. I'll do something else instead."

I have one child who is very laid-back who I think can benefit from learning to stretch a little. Most everything comes easily to this child, and as a result they are already advanced in most areas and don't see the need to push any harder. I have another child who has to work very hard to learn and do everything, yet is also a perfectionist. This one does not need any more pressure than they already generate themselves. I try to tailor my parenting to each one's needs. Success means different things to different people (and different things within different areas of one person's life even), and that's ok. I think one can find a healthy balance between just letting life carry them along and an obsessive compulsion to be The.Best.At.Everything. At least, I hope one can. I'm still trying.

 

This is how I was raised with the same results (minus the eating disorder, but my sister has one). My first thought when I read the OP was that being raised without being pushed is not a bad thing at all! Different personalities handle it different ways. Some personalities are always competitive, all the time, and I think they're the ones who have the best handle on how to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and dust themselves off and keep going. Other personalities are already prone to blaming themselves when things go wrong and can really suffer internally if they've been brought up to have a core belief that they can handle anything. The truth is that sometimes you just hit a wall in your natural capabilities, and no amount of work or study will help you scale it. Of course sometimes it's not really a wall, but rather a series of steps that you have to work to get up, so it's worth exploring if you think the end result will be worth it. But it's okay to say, "Hmm, Self, I think we've hit a wall in our abilities. We've been crashing against this wall for some time now and not getting over it. How about if we turn away from the wall and see what the rest of the world has to offer."

I don't think all pushing or competition is bad, not at all. I do think it's wise to tailor it to the individual child.

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I was encouraged to do my best at things, and when I did things like audition for honors bands, I was expected to practice and do my best to earn a good spot...but if I hand't wanted to audition at all, that would have been OK.  My family was fine with me trying things, and then if I had a goal, I needed to work to achieve it.  But, it was different than my husband's family, which seemed to emphasize being THE best more than just doing YOUR best.  Some of that was environmental - they lived in a smaller town, where it was possible for their kids to be the best at things, but overall the effect seems to have been that husband and his sibling are less willing to try something new - what if they are bad at it?  My parents encouraged us to try something if we were interested - the worst that could happen is that you lose, or don't make the team.  I don't know if it is just our temperaments or if the earlier expectations affected our long-term feelings towards new things and risk.  

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I was encouraged to excel.  In some ways I was forced to excel, lol.  Grades below "B" were not acceptable, and even "B"s were treated with some disdain.  My father always pushed himself, so he expected the same from his children.  Luckily, for the most part, I wanted to excel as well.  This is probably the reason I clash with my son, who, even though he's now in high school, still tries to do the minimum required to get by.  I try to tell myself that maybe that's not such a bad thing. Maybe it's a good thing if one can get the same or a similar result even if one doesn't put in as much effort.  However, I haven't convinced myself yet.  I believe in doing the best you can simply because you can.

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Not really but I think it was due to circumstances.

I was pushed to go to college, knew it was the expectation from a young age.  And I was encouraged to follow my dreams.

But there was very little practical advice or guidance or encouragement beyond the vague.  My mother didn't get her high school diploma until she was in her 30's.  She had no idea how to navigate college admissions or school programs or extra curriculars or anything.  We also couldn't afford any programs outside of what was offered at my school.  I qualified for the John Hopkins Talent Search in middle school and could have done classes at a local university but they were so far outside our budget it wasn't even a consideration.

I ended up going away to school when, in hindsight, things probably would have gone a lot better and I would have achieved a lot more if I'd had more guidance on picking the right school, probably one closer to home.

I think we parent with a mix.  Encouragement to do the best they can but also trying not to pressure to much, and an understanding that everyone has different strengths.  With my youngers, I have one kid who is gifted, and an Aspie with SPD.  My other had anxiety and possibly adhd.  They are so close in age that comparison is inevitable but we really try to discourage it since it just makes my dd feel inadequate.

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Thanks for the thoughtful answers.  And I guess "driven" in my title is a little harsh.  I think I really mean "encouraged" or maybe "gently prodded," especially if you know it's in an area where you really have the potential to do better.  Even in my dh's family, his parents were not like the tiger mother sort at all.  Somehow they did it in a way that was fun, and they all grew up having accomplished a lot, yet it was enjoyable for them and they had (have) a nice balance.   And it's not really about the accomplishments.  I think it's more about pushing forward toward your potential in a way that would be a nice challenge and bring you contentment, and help contribute to society too along the way.  So more about the process maybe.

But I'm sure there's always a line.  When is it too much?  And some of my kids seem to have a real internal drive too -- something that I wish I had had at their age.  Oh well.

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My parents never pushed at all.  The main thing my mother stressed was the circumstances can change at any time so do your best to adapt.  (She went from a wealthy lifestyle to a prison cell in a gulag at age 17 very soon after WW2 started).  My parents were educated and just lived that lifestyle with not much money-  so we were taken frequently to the free museums on the Mall and we would be taken to concerts and plays and musicals.  We were always going to the library.  We just lived a lifestyle of learning.  My older brother and I were achievers naturally because of our temperaments.  Our younger sister wasn't.  But she also had other problems such as an addictive personality and later bipolar.  

My dh's family was also non-pushy but less learning oriented.  He also was driven naturally.  

Now, this does not translate into great wealth or fame.  But that is because none of us even wanted to try for that.  Both dh and I had recruiters try to get us into higher wage employment- like for dh, a lot higher wages.  We weren't interested as a family.  

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7 minutes ago, TravelingChris said:

My parents never pushed at all.  The main thing my mother stressed was the circumstances can change at any time so do your best to adapt.  (She went from a wealthy lifestyle to a prison cell in a gulag at age 17 very soon after WW2 started).  My parents were educated and just lived that lifestyle with not much money-  so we were taken frequently to the free museums on the Mall and we would be taken to concerts and plays and musicals.  We were always going to the library.  We just lived a lifestyle of learning.  My older brother and I were achievers naturally because of our temperaments.  Our younger sister wasn't.  But she also had other problems such as an addictive personality and later bipolar.  

My dh's family was also non-pushy but less learning oriented.  He also was driven naturally.  

Now, this does not translate into great wealth or fame.  But that is because none of us even wanted to try for that.  Both dh and I had recruiters try to get us into higher wage employment- like for dh, a lot higher wages.  We weren't interested as a family.  

Wow, your mother...    Also, I like that way of thinking.  Knowing how to adapt.  I think that probably is something my parents helped me learn just by the way they lived their lives and raised us.  

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I wouldn't use the word "excel".  I was expected to do well in school, go to college, etc., but I was never pushed to compete with my fellow humans like it was a me or them situation.  My mom did steer me away from 2 year schools and art majors, and she wasn't happy (to put it mildly) that I quit college.  But she didn't make life an all or nothing game.

I think I probably do push my (older) kids real hard to excel... in their personal learning pursuits and their service to others.  But not at all in chasing colleges or high paying careers.  Unfortunately, pressure is pressure, and I really am trying to lighten up.

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I will say that, to my parents' credit, they never pushed me to do any specific thing. It was more, whatever you decide to do, give it 110%. Always. There wasn't much room for a situation in which you tried something and discovered it wasn't for you, especially if the reason you thought it wasn't for you is because you weren't very good at it. And yeah, that made (and still makes) me hesitant to try new things. 

I"m trying to get over that now. (See my other thread on the triathlon, LOL!)

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No definitely not. My parents were also intelligent and hard working but there was no emphasis in my family on doing very well in school, or finding something you cared about and working very hard at it. I was homeschooled, but there was no effort to make education a rich experience. It was more, buy a stack of textbooks, hand them to the kid, let the kid who what he or she will with them. It was very dull.

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My husband and I both came from blue collar working families. Neither of our families pushed us at all. In fact, my mom would often say that girls didn't need to worry about academics as much since they can be wives and mothers (she meant well but oh my!) They didn't care if I did or didn' do my homework, if I decided to stay home or go to school...I was given way too much autonomy as a kid. 

I was a great student up until 8th grade when my boyfriend and my social life took front and center. I just stopped working and nobody cared. Around my senior year I became serious, did a running start like program and was able to transfer to a state college with no real harm. Sometimes I wish they would have expected more but I am a really driven adult. I am not I would be the same person if it had been different as I am experiential in the way I learn for sure.

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   No.  It was to my detriment that they didn’t.  I never had much issue academically until high school, when I started thinking other things were more important than school (boys, friends, working.)  Once that started, I wish they would have helped me get my priorities straight.

  Also, my mom in particular was always cool with me quitting any activity I decided I didn’t like.  It meant less work for her.  (My mom is a good person, btw, she just didn’t do so well in this department.) Also, when I was in early elementary, I wanted to try an activity that would have been really stretching for me as I was a very shy kid.  She said she wouldn’t let me because she knew I wouldn’t do the performances.  :( 

 I have to work to keep middle ground on this with my own DC. 

ETA: My dad was more “pushy,” but not in a bad way.  

 

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We were pushed and pushed and told we were 'less than' if we didn't excel in academics by our mother. (Our dad was quiet, laid back, encouraging, and loving. But, he wasn't around much because he had to work out of town most of my life.) If you were one of the girls and had all As on your report card, you were chided for not having all A+s. If you were a boy and had a C or a D, you were a failure and had no future.

When I won fourth place in a national competition, mymom's first response was to ask who beat me out (aka, why wasn't I first?) You could never be enough or do enough.

It has had long-reaching effects on all of us kids. I wouldn't do that to mine!

We have high expectations of our kids, but they are individualized. I push my oldest because she responds best to being challenged and put just out of her comfort zone. My second is more of a ribbon that just folds up if you push her, so I encourage and set up opportunities. She's a self-driver in some areas and does well with seld-motivation as long as she has emotional support.

Third is a perfectionist and naturally good at a lot of things. I'm still trying to figure out how she ticks. And so on...

As another poster said, each personality reacts differently.

ETA: My dad graduated college after a stint in the military. My mom made it through high school (at a girl's only school) but was always made to feel less than by her mom and her brothers. That certainly affected her behavior.) She constantly compares us kids and her grandkids to others.

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The flip side to being pushed isn't not being pushed.  Rather, it is being discouraged.

I see that in some circles.  When I was in high school it was pretty common for Black kids to be told by others that they were 'trying to be White' if they got good grades.  This was a SERIOUS put down, and discouraging.  Also, girls were 'advised' not to show their smarts in front of guys for fear of damaging their fragile male egos and being rejected as possible girlfriends because of this.  Also, in some blue collar circles kids who did well in school were chided by their parents for 'trying to be better than me!"  That last one is the worst of all.

I think it's good to help kids develop themselves.  That doesn't have to mean being Tiger Mama.  Being neutral but encouraging is perfectly reasonable.  But being discouraging is just awful.

 

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Pushed?  Driven?  no.

Were there unspoken expectations to do at least try?  Sure.  Did I have people around me modeling a good work ethic and intellectual stimulation?  Yes. 

I did very well without any prodding or encouragement.  In fact, my parents embraced the Asian concept of never praising children either to their face or to others, so I actually wish that I had had some acknowledgement when I did particularly well.  But others in my life were more vocally encouraging.

Have I reached my potential?  Probably not.  Do I really care?  Nope.  (I probably did reach my potential in certain endeavors and have sadly failed in others because I didn't push myself and have reached a comfortable 2/3 of my potential in most things.  Probably.  Is there a way to really know?)  The only thing that I wish that I had worked harder at was violin but my wish is not that others pushed me more but that I had had more internal motivation to do better.  But I didn't.  And I could always drag my violin out of the closet and work on it and so far I haven't so. . . .

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I've really enjoyed reading everyone's thoughtful responses...  And you're right, I think it's important to know your children.  Some might require and even want to be pushed a bit and others might not do well with that.  I do think one of my children has TOO much internal drive, to his detriment, so I've always backed completely off of him. 

But, I still wish I had more pushing when I was growing up.

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I was told I could be whatever I wanted to be and do whatever I wanted to do, as long as I worked at it. While that was an encouragement, I wasn't pushed to do anything in particular. The expectation was that I would give it 110% and always try my best. I was encouraged to get an education mainly because my mother didn't want me to struggle as she had to. To her a college education was my ticket out of poverty (as it turned out she was right).

I wonder too, if it has to do with being competitive. We weren't a competitive family at all. We were cooperative*. I think that's because we had to be. For most of my childhood it was just my mother, my brother, and me. We had to stick together and cooperate in order to survive. 

*I'm not saying competitive families aren't also cooperative, just pointing out that competitiveness in my particular family would have been detrimental to each of us individually and to our little family.

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Encouraged yes, driven from outside no. But I was driven from within, and motivated by competition.

My own kids are not driven from within, so that is HARD for me.  I try not to push, but they are very capable and could do so much with a little striving.  They don’t have a strong correlation in their minds between striving and succeeding (they’ve had too many instances where initial success came naturally or without too much effort).

i think some of this is related to past experiences and some of this is personality.  I can push some if my kids (gently) but one shuts down with any pushing - it does NOT help stretch her.

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Interesting question.

In my family of origin, there was a hope that one would do well and - paradoxically - a doubt that one could do well. It was very weird and confusing and may have stemmed from grandparents who struggled through WWII and lost everything and had to begin with nothing in a different area. My mother was born in 1940, so she has some memories of the war but not an adult's memories. However, she got a good dose of the doubt and anxiety. However, my mother was excellent at providing guidance and helping figure out how to apply to schools and what options were good ones.

It took me years to work around this and not have that tape running in my head.

In dh's family, there was little to no guidance and he did his degree in his late twenties / early thirties and often wished his parents had been more encouraging and provided some guidance. His parents had marriage struggles and there were five of them. Housing and basic support like clothing and food was thought to be enough.

Have I reached my potential? I'd like to think "no" there could be another degree in my future if I find some money for it because at my age I am not going into debt for advanced degrees.

In areas other than academics / professional, I have a lot of room to still improve and working on those areas is less expensive :) - one just has to honestly self-evaluate and determine to change certain unhealthy patterns. I am still - and probably will always - be working on this area.

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Grew up middle class,  blue collar family.  Going to work at 14 is just what we did. We bought our own cars, clothes etc. Got raises, promotions, moved on to better jobs, sometimes worked 2jobs.  No one pushed us to excel beyond working hard.

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I was compelled to not disappoint my parents.  I hated confrontation and I am a people-pleaser.  Nothing I did was ever good enough.  Every grade less than perfect was questioned.  My parents grew up during the depression without fathers and my dad knew how unlucky life could be so he made sure that his kids "made their own luck."  

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Nope. One parent was an alcoholic and the other was uninterested in parenting, so they didn't provide guidance in much of anything. My life has turned out very well despite that, though. I always knew what kind of life I wanted to create for myself and was very driven to make it happen.   

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As far as pushing my kids go, no I don't push.  I give honest feedback on school and if asked on other things but otherwise, I feel like motivation should come from within.  That doesn't mean that I haven't taught them what I'm looking for in executing a chore for example or writing a paper or whatever.  But I see that as teaching, not pushing. 

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God, no. My mom never really wanted kids, so we were always sort of a nuisance to her. Pushing us to be successful was too much work. I was pushed to do just enough so that she didn't have to deal with any issues, but not so much that my parents would have had to put in any effort. I wasn't even allowed to be in any sports because she would have had to bring me to practices occasionally. When I was trying to apply for colleges, she said she'd buy me a bike (I couldn't drive then because of my epilepsy) if I'd just drop the whole idea, because my parents couldn't be bothered to help with the apps and the FAFSA and all that.

I started out wanting to excel when I was younger, but you can only be pummeled with so much apathy and resentment before you give up.

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Compared to many on this board, no.  Compared to most in my community, yes.

My parents were intelligent, but both had barriers to success.  They quit high school at 15 and 16, but continued their education while I was growing up.  They saw that their kids were generally smart and capable, and it was always a given that we would get good grades and go to college.  I had some older cousins and my mom would hold them up as an example because they got extremely high grades in college.  My folks would "expect" As on my report cards, though I didn't get any serious heat for getting less.  We weren't much of a sports family, but we were encouraged in the arts (i.e. we had instruments and were in school band if we wanted that, our drawings and poetry were appreciated etc.).  My folks put us in school as young as legally permitted and encouraged early graduation so we could get on with college.  Mom expected us to pursue professional careers.

I always wanted to be a teacher, but my mom always thought I should be a lawyer.  I held out until age 19 when I realized that the teaching profession would break my spirit.  I ended up a lawyer.  :P

My folks sacrificed to put us into a Lutheran school.  But, they never got involved in my homework or projects or any of that.  School was my responsibility.  (My mistakes were dealt with by teachers with paddles etc.)  I had an atrocious attendance record and didn't always turn my elementary school work in on time.  If I didn't understand something, it was on me to ask the teacher, no matter how scary he was.  My folks never ever suggested any extra academic work or help outside of school.  Same for learning instruments or pretty much anything else.  I think chores were the only exception.  :P

I think my parents were on to something.  It's hard to know how much, how early, and for how long to give the reins to kids.

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quite the opposite -my mother destroyed motivation to do much of anything.   (my father was deceased.  what my mother didn't destroy, my grandmother did.)

as 1dd has become healthier - she is realizing just how much she is driven to excel, and how much she *needs* to follow that drive to feel "herself".

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My parents definitely wanted me to have a trade or degree so I could be self supporting.  I heard the story of my grandmother being widowed with 4 kids and no way to support herself all the time!  That being said I could have chosen pretty much anything after getting a high school diploma and they would have been supportive.  

That being said my mom really wanted me to have a degree.  I was the first in my family to receive a BA which was a HUGE accomplishment in her eyes.  Any pushing for top grades came from me totally. ;)  My dad did step in and help choose my college because he did actually research them and gave me a choice of two that he was comfortable with.  Please note he paid the bills.  He also wanted me to combine my majors and graduate with several accounting classes (so I could support myself and not be like my grandmother).  

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I should note my parents had zero chance of financially helping any of their older 4 in college (beyond letting us live with them).  It was understood that we would go to the nearby state school and apply for financial aid.  My mom provided the paperwork to show financial need, and co-signed on the student loans (but it was always understood we would pay our own loans).

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It's a mixed bag.

I wanted to please people and follow the rules, so I got good grades.  Mostly I got them because I am naturally intelligent because I surely didn't do much studying.  As long as I was getting As and Bs with a C in gym, my parents were fine with that.  And since I was scared to let my grade dip below that, they never had to step in and encourage or cajole me to excel. They didn't know that I was doing the bare minimum to get by.  I did the assignments as quickly as I could, never taking the time to let things sink in, I remembered the material just long enough to regurgitate it on tests, and then promptly forgot everything I'd learned.  I failed every final I ever took because I had no retention.  My grades throughout the semester were good enough that the final never brought my grade down by a letter.

They offered at 16: we can help you buy a car or help you pay for college. What a mixed message. One the one hand, they thought it was very important for me to get good grades in school, but on the other hand, they didn't know that anything beyond a high school diploma was important.  I chose the car. As soon as I made the decision about the car, they never mentioned college again.  I think they were relieved that they wouldn't have to figure out how to sign me up for it.  They'd never gone themselves, but had gotten a bit of education in the navy.

My mother is the sort who heaps compliments on people.  She is absolutely convinced that everyone she knows is the smartest and most talented person ever.  It's a sweet thing about her.  So, she was constantly heaping verbal praise on me, "You're just so smart! You're so clever! I wish I was as smart as you!"  So, I did grow up thinking I was smart and clever and could do whatever I set out to do.  But since there was no push to excel, I would float along and not hunker down and really master anything. I had a great self-esteem, but nothing concrete to show for it.

Somewhere in my mid-twenties, I got a jolt of drive and would work very hard at my job, but still was scared to advance.  I advanced a little bit, but was scared of advancing too far (like maybe into management) because it might be "too hard."   I was sort of understanding how to work hard, and yet afraid of hard work at the same time.  

For my own kids?  I don't know.  They know that they will go to college, unless they totally fight me on it when the time comes, but as far as they know, college is in their future.  My sons do not naturally have a lot of drive.  They're rather like me, I suppose.  However, I do help them with their studies and expect them to master a lot of things in a way I never knew how to do.  I don't let them skate by just barely remembering enough to pass the test and then forget things.  But I get the sense that they are also a bit afraid of hard work and they're scared of advancing to college and to jobs.  It's difficult to encourage them and I often feel like I'm dragging boulders up a hill when it comes to getting them excited about doing new things and doing them well.  The older they get, the more I see little glimpses of them wanting to excel, but I don't think I've found "the thing" that gives them an internal drive just yet.  

But then again, I really don't know how to encourage them to do their very best.  They look a little sick to their stomachs when I talk about "doing your best."

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15 hours ago, lavender's green said:

 

This is how I was raised with the same results (minus the eating disorder, but my sister has one). My first thought when I read the OP was that being raised without being pushed is not a bad thing at all! Different personalities handle it different ways. Some personalities are always competitive, all the time, and I think they're the ones who have the best handle on how to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and dust themselves off and keep going. Other personalities are already prone to blaming themselves when things go wrong and can really suffer internally if they've been brought up to have a core belief that they can handle anything. The truth is that sometimes you just hit a wall in your natural capabilities, and no amount of work or study will help you scale it. Of course sometimes it's not really a wall, but rather a series of steps that you have to work to get up, so it's worth exploring if you think the end result will be worth it. But it's okay to say, "Hmm, Self, I think we've hit a wall in our abilities. We've been crashing against this wall for some time now and not getting over it. How about if we turn away from the wall and see what the rest of the world has to offer."

I don't think all pushing or competition is bad, not at all. I do think it's wise to tailor it to the individual child.

So true.  One component of being prone to depression is whether or not you blame yourself for everything or blame other circumstances.

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No. There was pressure in my family but it was it wasn’t about cultivating excellence; it was more about not making the family look bad and not being a “problem.” My parents did not have lofty goals about me becoming something; girls were meant to be good Christian mothers and helpmeets. I think it was to my detriment. I was very aimless in high school and had no appreciation for my abilities. I wasn’t even aware that I was a quick learner until I was in my late 20s and I took a photography course. 

DH’s parents had a healthy approach to encouraging the kids to excel without being pressuring overlords. Most of them had LDs which was not understood at the time (the youngest child was the only one a teacher identified correctly with dyslexia), so academics was not a major strength for any of them, but FIL was a highly can-do kind of guy. He had a specific saying: “‘Can’t’ is not a word!” :) And MIL was always devising ways to try and improve everyone; she did things like “word-of-the-day” at the dinnertable and bought colts for the boys to train so they would have something useful to do. :) 

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12 hours ago, Garga said:

My mother is the sort who heaps compliments on people.  She is absolutely convinced that everyone she knows is the smartest and most talented person ever.  It's a sweet thing about her.  So, she was constantly heaping verbal praise on me, "You're just so smart! You're so clever! I wish I was as smart as you!"  So, I did grow up thinking I was smart and clever and could do whatever I set out to do.  But since there was no push to excel, I would float along and not hunker down and really master anything. I had a great self-esteem, but nothing concrete to show for it.

Your whole post really resonates with me. This part, though, is just like my mom. She is a very bubbly, positive, warm person - it is the #1 thing that people say about my mom. She praises people SOOO much. One negative about this was that she praised my beauty - she STILL does this - and it translates to pressure to never let my looks slip. It made me very leery of praising my kids’ good looks. If I do praise something about how my kids look, I stick to praising their effort, not their god-given features - “Your hair is styled so pretty today,” or “I really like that outfit on you.” 

She did this with my talents as well and, like you, I just skated along thinking I didn’t need to work at things or try to master skills. I just rested on my natural ability laurels and did not see that I could be masterful if I would simply gain skills that come from learning and practice. I could play the piano, sing, and draw in a natural talent manner, but it became mediocre as other kids learned skills and practiced and, in doing so, blew on by me wih my natural, but minimally-developed talents. 

I get frustrated with my youngest because I feel like he doesn’t care about using his abilities or doing anything well. But my older son was like that, too, and is coming into his own for motivation now. So sometimes it blooms a little later, I think. 

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Not at all. I was pushed down, discouraged, and laughed at.

I used to sing loudly until I was told, by family, that I had a goat's voice. I was about 10 or so. So I went and joined kids' choir at school. I took some singing lessons as an adult and loved it. I still sing loudly and people say my voice is nice. 

wanted very much to learn to play piano, but was told no, and no to any other instrument also. Since there was money needed, I did not get to study music.

I wanted to grade skip in about 6th grade or so, and my math teacher supported me. My family did not allow this when I asked. So in 10th grade I did not ask. I just worked with my guidance counselor and skipped 11 grade. It was a lot of work, but I did it.

I am very driven, and I think I would have done all these things anyway, but it would have been nice to have some family support.

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I am very driven and ambitious, without anybody pushing. Growing up, I was always an overachiever and sought out additional challenge which school did not provide. My parents didn't need to do anything to encourage that. My sister who grew up with the same parents and is equally smart was a minimalist.

I think the internal drive to excel is intrinsic and not created by parenting.

 

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4 hours ago, StellaM said:

Just musing on this some more. 

I remember being 5 and having a 'girls can do anything!' t-shirt and really believing that. Growing up in the 70's - it was an optimistic time in many ways. I feel the social messaging I got was very positive - from family, at school, in the media. I think expectations were high, but child appropriate. It made excelling in a wide range of activities EASY. 

By the mid 80's though...I suppose the focus shifted to social excellence. Performing the role of popular girl, or performing the role of the girl who rejects the performance of the popular girl. Suddenly the positive messaging skidded to a halt - there was a lot of bullying - a lot of focus on the many ways in which you daily failed to excel, all of which could be measured in terms of social approval. And social approval for excellence in other arenas was suddenly withdrawn. 

I miss the 70's. I feel like that message - you can do it! - has only become more and more smothered - by recession, by motherhood, by age, by politics, even. This is, I suppose, off the topic of 'who pushed you to excel?' other than to say at one time in my life, it felt like everyone was encouraging that. And then....BOOM!...everything flipped and the motivation became one of avoiding failure, or just avoidance in general. 

I think these issues are complex; it's a little bit your mum and dad (Larkin tells us what they did), but it's a little bit you, and a little bit your peers, and a little bit the changing world you find yourselves in. 

I'd love an alternate history where the flip never happened.

 

I think the bullying / change of focus to "what is wrong with you" is more of a life stage than anything else.  That certainly happened to me around the same age.  I see it starting with my kids (finishing 6th grade).  The amount of time spent worrying whether their hair is "awful" etc., where a few months ago the same hair would have been just fine.  (I dread their first pimples.)  I can remember myself combing my hair so much that it just got worse and worse.  I know this will pass, but it's a very tough and often long stage.  I think that as tweens/teens go through this stage, younger kids are still hearing "you can be anything."

As for whether a girl (or boy) actually *can* be anything / should be told that, my views are mixed.  I would never say "can't," but I tell my kids realistically what they will need to do to qualify for xyz career.  Not everyone can do all of those things, and I really don't know if my kids will hit a wall.  If they ever do hit a wall, it will be on them to realize this and decide how to adjust.  Ultimately I think it will be OK, as it has been for most people whose childhood dreams didn't come true.

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My parents were young.  I was their only for six year.  I was academically gifted.  They were proud of it.  They were encouraging (non-pushing) in elementary and middle school.  By high school (due to a move/ school switch) I decided I didn't want to be one of the "smart" kids.  THEN it bothered them.  But, I don't think they knew quite how to "motivate."  They mostly knew how to punish, i.e., take away things I enjoyed for mediocre grades.  So, yes, pushed hard in high school and it utterly backfired.  I was one angry, resentful, in trouble, make all the rotten choices, high school kid.

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I think this prior thread (started by, ahem, yours truly) is related. You're asking about being pushed to excel.  My post was more about competition, but since competition is one of the major ways our society measures "excellence," it reminded me of the old thread.

I was/am very internally motivated, like regentrude. My parents actually encouraged me to play more, "get B's," and have boyfriends. I wasn't trying to be better than others, but felt very driven to do the right thing. For me, as a child, the only metric I had for "doing the right thing" was from external cues - what school or teachers valued, or by winning or excelling in various areas.  I have one child who is of a similar temperment, and I am at this time not pushing that child to "excel" from a competitive standpoint. DD has strong internal motivation and I want DD to have room to find her own interests and passions, not feel she has to live up to an externally dictated rubric of what "doing her best" or "being the best" means.  My other child is very different and I think will grow and blossom more with external encouragement.  Since the idea of needing external motivation is foreign to me, I am still thinking through what that would look like for my kids. One of the main points I'm gleaning from this thread and from posts to my prior thread is that each child is different and we will have to parent each child according to their personality and needs. That seems obvious, but it's a good reminder for me :)

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On 2018-04-07 at 4:59 AM, J-rap said:

This is something I've thought about a lot, because I didn't.  My parents were both bright and hard working, but they never pushed me at all.  Anything I did was fine with them.  They never challenged me to do better.  And I guess I wasn't genetically inclined to do so on my own.  So, it never even occurred to me to do much more than I absolutely had to.  I did things -- I was involved with a lot of activities, I ran for student office, I entered contests, etc, but it was never about doing the best I could.  That never played into the equation at all for me.  As a result, I think I grew up not recognizing my potential and not really accomplishing much for a long time.

Then I met my dh, who is the opposite of that.  His entire family and upbringing was about doing the best you can...pushing beyond.  BEING the best in whatever you do.  It was exciting to learn that approach.  I can't tell you how new that approach was to me!  So our children grew up with a healthy dose of reaching to excel (not in a competitive way, but for their own benefit and happiness).  For a lot of that time, I still felt like I was watching from the sidelines and learning.  

It still fascinates me.  Sometimes I wish I could do my growing up years over again just to push myself more and take on something bigger.  And often I'm left thinking that it's kind of odd that my parents didn't push me at all, but maybe part of it was generational too...  I grew up in the 60's and 70's.  It's interesting to think that having that kind of an attitude really can change the direction of your life.  I don't think that means the other direction is necessarily bad though.  It's just very different.  And it can certainly open up more doors.

It does make me wonder what it was like for other people growing up.  Were you encouraged to excel?

My experience was probably more like yours.  My parents did try and pressure me somewhat to do more academically, but that was about it, and was partly in response to some very poor results when I had really checked out academically.

I'm not driven or competitive by nature. So that's part of it.  My mom is kind of a perfectionist by nature, and my step-dad is pretty driven as well.

I don't know if I'd say I wished the did more.  In some ways I do - but - actually I think they thought I should take that on myself.  They didn't realize I needed more direction or help, because it wasn't always obvious to me what to do.  And on things I didn't care about, I think that might not have worked - in fact to the extent they did try and lead me to excel, it tended to backfire and I would really back off from anything like that.

So I'm not really sure what they could have done.  I've tried to help my kids see the value in excelling, especially mu dd13 who is a bit like me personality wise.  My other two are if anything likely to need to be toned down, and told it is ok not to be the best or perfect.  One thing I will say is that I can see that there are also real downsides to the drive to excel. My mom has struggled with being able to turn off or just do things for enjoyment, and as she gets older it actually makes her inflexible in her life.  And too much competitiveness can make people miserable at times too.

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9 hours ago, StellaM said:

I definitely feel that I did not live up to my earlier drive to excel, and experience daily guilt over the dreaded 'not living up to one's potential'. 

 

I sometimes wish that idea had never been invented.  Who can live up to every potential they have?

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My parents wanted us three kids to do well in school but didn't really know how to support that. They expected good grades and were disappointed when we didn't achieve. My brother's and sister's grade reports were often unsatisfactory. My parents would resort to comparing in an attempt to motivate. It really never worked in either direction. I was the youngest and, while at some level liked being the high achiever, I also resented it. It made me want to try just hard enough to do well but not so well that it would highlight the difference with my siblings, so no excellling for me! We were never expected or encouraged to do any extracurricular activities so no excellling there either for anyone. One thing that my parents did well was that we always felt loved. My father also had a love for books which he passed on to my brother and I.

Once my brother started vocational school, he started to do really well. My sister, on the other hand, kept underperforming, never really getting any diplomas other than the basic 8th grade diploma. Her story though is one of two key serious mistakes on my parents' and school's side. She never did recover from those.

I went on to being the first one in the family to graduate high school and then university. My brother eventually also graduated from college and even started a PhD. He is actually much smarter than me.

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No, I wasn’t pushed to excel. I was supposed to get good grades, but college was a maybe. I’m in my early 50s. I grew up at a time when my parents did not know what the SAT was or why it was important. I only took the PSAT and the ASVAB in school because all students in a particular grade were required to take it.  I’m an early Gen-Xer that could get a good job with just a high school diploma. Today, aside from the potential of dying, I can’t get gainful employment because I’ve still not completed my BA. 

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