Ep 227: Are We Too Hard on Our Kids?
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Ron Fournier, author of Love That Boy joins us to discuss the impact of parents' expectations. We also break down why parents can become concerned with kids' popularity, and discuss what Ron learned about fatherhood from American Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama.
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Full show notes
We love our kids and want to see them grow into the best version of themselves–but this can sometimes lead us to put some heavy expectations on their shoulders. We hope so intensely that they’re academically brilliant, a star athlete, popular, or well-read that we don’t make space for them to just be who they are!
This can feel especially hard when our kids start to venture outside the confines of a “perfect” child. Maybe their sexual or religious preferences aren’t what we hoped for. Maybe they’re diagnosed with mental illness or designated as being at-risk. Maybe they just don’t want to follow the plan we so carefully laid out for them from birth! Whatever it is, we as parents have got to learn to respect our kid’s identities and accept them for who they are-no matter how tough it can be sometimes.
To share his own personal journey of acceptance and help us understand ours, we’re talking to Ron Fournier, dad and author of Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent's Expectations. Ron is a political journalist who’s covered the campaigns and presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. His line of work led him towards a more personal journey with his son, Tyler–a journey he’s here to talk about today.
In our interview, Ron and I are talking about why parents tend to pile so many expectations on kids, and how they can move towards acceptance instead. We also discuss the toxic practice of counting our kids' friends, and Ron describes what he learned about fatherhood from Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama!
How Expectations Can Be Harmful
We only want this best for kids…but sometimes we take our expectations a little too far, says Ron. As an avid sports lover, Ron always hoped his son would be interested in athletics too, so much so that he filled his son's nursery with sports memorabilia!
This desire to connect to his son through sports continued as his son grew into a teenager, until Ron finally accepted that would never be an athletic kid. Ron didn’t come to this conclusion easily, however, and many parents have the same problem with acceptance.
Ron explains that this need to control kids’ lives often comes from our own anxieties about life and death. We so desperately hope that teens carry on our legacy or fulfill our unresolved dreams that we start planning their lives before they even exit the womb! But we need to step away from this practice, Ron explains, and let kids carve their own path. In the episode, Ron explains how his son’s autism diagnosis helped him find a new perspective and stop enforcing his own expectations on his son.
Neurodivergence isn’t the only unexpected thing our kids might present us with. Sometimes kids reject the religion we raised them in, or want to pursue a career path we don't approve of. Maybe we don’t like their romantic partner or simply feel that they aren’t reaching our standards in school, athletics or music. While we’re wasting time stressing over this, Ron explains, we’re missing out on getting to know our kids for who they truly are. Instead of trying to teach them how to be, Ron believes we should learn from our kids about how to live our own lives.
One way parents try to measure their kids against a quota is by monitoring their popularity. Ron and I discuss how this problematic behavior is unfortunately common and why we should avoid it.
The Pressure to Be Popular
It can be scary when we feel like kids don’t fit in. Life will always be easier for those who swim easily in social settings, and who find acceptance within their pack. As loving parents, we hope that our kids will be able to make connections and friendships to survive in both the working world and their personal lives. But sometimes this desire for kids to fit in can become toxic, says Ron, and cause us to do things like count how many friends our teen has.
This urge to reduce friendships to quantity doesn’t necessarily come from a bad place, but can be harmful, Ron explains. Friendships should instead be measured by quality, he says. This is especially true in today’s day and age, where teens are often so wrapped up in how many likes and followers they have that they forget to honor the real benchmarks of friendship, like connection, kindness and mutual respect. Teens should strive for the kind of friends who stick with them through thick and thin and encourage them to be their best selves, says Ron–and the quantity isn’t important!
Needing kids to be popular and well-liked is just another way we often pressure kids to be high achievers…but it’s all sort of contradictory! In the episode, Ron and I discuss how our desire for kids to be popular can often be at odds with our hopes that kids will be academically brilliant or athletic superstars. How are kids going to get great grades or excellent race times if they’re hanging out with their friends all day? These contradictions are simply an indication of just how unrealistic our expectations for teens are.
Ron often inflicted these kinds of expectations on his own son–but when his son was diagnosed with autism, Ron’s perspective started to change. In his journey towards understanding his son, the two of them went on a series of trips together, and even met three US. presidents! In our interview, Ron is describing how each of these presidential meetings helped him understand his son.
In the episode, Ron describes the interaction his son Tyler had with both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and how each conversation taught him about fatherhood.
Tyler’s talk with Bill Clinton was largely one-sided, he said, with Bill delivering an invigorating and inspiring speech about the state of the nation. George Bush, on the other hand, simply asked question after question, getting Tyler to open up and even discuss his interests–something that Tyler often struggles with.
For Ron, both of these instances were educational. Although Clinton’s monologue was fascinating, Ron noticed that he neglected to ask Tyler any real questions. Tyler, an autistic teen who often struggles with social situations, sometimes makes the same mistake–talking without understanding his audience! Ron realized that if one of the most famous politicians in America talks too much, it’s ok for his son to do it too.
Meanwhile, Bush’s inquisitive nature and listening skills made Ron realize that Bush was able to extract information in 45 minutes that Ron never knew about his own son. In our interview, he talks about how this meeting with Bush renewed his patience as a father.
As the episode draws to a close, Ron also tells the tale of his son meeting the Obamas, a story which often causes him to get emotional. Before introducing himself to Barrack and Michelle, Tyler turned to him to say “I hope I don’t embarrass you.” For Ron, this moment caused a total change in perspective, and a realization that maybe he’s been too hard on his son.
Ron and I talk more about all three presidential meetings in the episode, along with more discussion about how we can stop forcing too many expectations onto our kids.
In the Episode….
Ron and I cover a lot of ground in this episode! On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about:
- How Ron’s focus on his son hurt his daughter
- Why we need to be more present with teens
- How Thomas Jefferson’s home is a metaphor for parenthood
- Why married parents should put their spouses first
Thanks for listening! If you want to find more from Ron, you can find him on Twitter @ron_fournier. Don’t forget to share and subscribe, and we’ll see you next week!