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Fayette-Mom: When child's dream is unattainable, do you soften the blow?

Posted November 14, 2011

Jennifer Joyner

When I was 8, a local hotel was holding auditions for a dinner theater production of “Annie.” I became quite excited, convinced that I would land the starring role. Finally, the freckles would pay off!

There were only two small problems: I couldn’t act and I couldn’t sing.

Of course, I didn’t know this. I thought my rendition of “Tomorrow” was show stopping, and I couldn’t wait to get in front of those casting directors and perform.

I never got the chance. My mom, very gently, told me that my “abilities” were not up to snuff.

Of course, I was crushed, but what was my mom to do? Allow me to go embarrass myself? Now that I am an adult, I know. I could have practiced every day for the rest of my childhood and my “abilities” would have only added up to wishes.

No, she did the right thing, but I wonder: as a mom, would I be able to do the same? If my child were to come to me with a dream, something I just knew was unattainable, how would I handle it? Would I take it into my own hands, trying to soften the blow? Or would I chicken out and let them put themselves out there, hoping the universe is kind but never really knowing for sure?

It’s a tricky thing. I’m a big believer in following dreams — if my son or daughter expressed a wish to become, say, President of the United States, then I would encourage them to study and work hard and develop the skills necessary to become a public servant. I would tell them what I firmly believe to be true: With hard work, you can do anything you set your mind to.

Er …. unless it’s something like being a pro golfer or an opera singer. Yes, hard work is needed, but the skill level has to be there, you know?

Of course, there are always exceptions. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.

How do you handle these things with your kids? Do you intervene in order to save feelings? Or is learning the lesson for themselves an important part of the journey?

Jennifer is a mom of two and WRAL-TV assignment editor in Fayetteville. Her food obsession memoir, “Designated Fat Girl,” came out in 2010. Read more about Jennifer and her book on her website. Find her here on Go Ask Mom on Tuesdays.



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  • asdfg Nov 15, 2011

    I've always tried to let my daughter know she doesn't have to be the best at everything. It's okay to go and have fun even if you're not great at it. Private lessons before starting something new has been great for a few things just to help her be more prepared, particularly if tryouts are involved or if I know the other girls will have a lot more experience than her. Also, if I know she's not going to be very good at something I'll seek out less competitive programs where everyone gets a chance to play and is encouraged to do their best-church leagues are often great. Another good lesson is that everyone is born with gifts and talents. Things will come easy if you have a talent for it but even if you don't you can still get good at something through hard work.

  • Not Now Nov 15, 2011

    Depends on the age of the child. Young children change their "career choices" more often than they change their socks, so encouragement shows that Mom and Dad support them. Older children and teenagers do need to learn how to accept failure, and hopefully, by this point, they have the maturity to handle rejection. It hurts, but you have to allow your kids to fail.

  • brassy Nov 15, 2011

    I think in some cases it would help to be honest. My mom never told me that all those dance lessons were just for fun. She waited until I was 18 and then she made me quit.

  • getovrit Nov 15, 2011

    Every successful person failed many, many times before they succeeded. Fear of failure can stop you from living up to your potential and taking that leap of faith that would allow you to achieve extraordinary results. Learning to deal with failure and not get discouraged by it is an invaluable gift I hope to give my son.

  • suzanf Nov 15, 2011

    Although singing isn't a good exmple, the writer's point is still valid. My son is colorblind. He can never ever be an astronaut or a pilot. So whenever he shows an interest in something else (robots), I'm all excited! Space and flying I'm much more casual ("that's nice dear"). Now that he is older we had a chance to discuss why and it doesn't matter as much since I was never very excited about those things.

  • snowl Nov 15, 2011

    My daughter loves acting. She took every drama class in middle and high school. She auditioned for every theatre production, not always getting cast, and learning the feeling of rejection time and time again! She practiced her craft...and I encouraged her to follow her dreams. Now in college, she auditioned and was accepted into the Bachelor's of Fine Arts in Acting (BFA major). This experience has been valuable in so many ways!

  • NCCaniac Nov 15, 2011

    While I agree with trying to add some dose of reality to dreams, I see several people here making the incorrect assumption that either people can sing or they can't. It is not a binary state. True, some people have some innate ability to sing well, but very few people (I have read less the 3% actually) are what we often call "tone deaf". Most just have not developed their listening to help them learn to hear pitch and then use that to improve their singing. This is partly because when children are learning to talk and make mistakes, we encourage them because we believe everyone can learn to talk. When children do not sing well early on, we tend not to encourage it because we often assume that ability to sing is innate or not.

    If a child has an interest in singing and acting (or anything else), encourage it and let him or her take some classes to learn and improve. As with sports or anything else, that lets the child improve, but also realistically gauge potential.

  • Lab mom Nov 15, 2011

    I let my daughter sing in public recently. She is 10. She was ready but would not listen when I told her to stick to HER music and not the music of the 16 year old girl that was also there. She was TERRIBLE and I was so embarassed for her. She cried and just beat herself up. HOWEVER, she learned a great lesson and is working harder than ever with her voice and range. I doubt she will ever switch her music again OR ignore my suggestions. (maybe the first lol )Still, I had to let her fail.

  • babbleon Nov 15, 2011

    Learning to fail and get back up again is one of the most valuable life skills. I think when it happens with my son, I'll go with miswiggie's idea and make sure my son is aware of what he is good at, if that's different from his dream.

  • kittiboo Nov 14, 2011

    My parents always let me try and fail, and that was ok. I was never really afraid to fail as a result. I did a community theater production in high school (minor role) and I tried out for my college's production of Steel Magnolias. Of course I didn't make it, and my monologue SUCKED, but I'm glad I tried.