No Book, No Way: when children love the things we love

A few days ago, my daughter said, “Do you know what my motto is? No book, no way!”

It reminded me of how I can’t help but feel warm inside when my child loves the things I love, and also how uncomfortable it can be when they don’t.

I think it’s okay to acknowledge this – it’s probably a normal human emotion, right? We feel a bond with people who share our passions and interests.

But I think what we do with it is in a way more crucial – do we praise them for it, in the hopes that this will encourage them? Do we expect them to always love reading, because they do right now? How do we manage our approval?

I find this kind of manipulation doesn’t sit so well with me. I love sharing my love of reading with my child, but I’m also cautious to not have expectations about where she is going to go with it. I’ll always support her but I don’t want to take over her interest with my own agenda.

I’m not sure this is something I’ve always been very good at. I’m working on it.

I will always aim to give equal value to all my children’s interests and to always support them, no matter whether I can personally relate or not.

I not only want to do this, but I want them to feel like that’s what I do – these are two separate things, and the distinction is everything.

I watch myself react to “no books no way” and wonder whether I did the same when I asked my son what his goal was for the next few months, and he said “land a tail whip on my scooter.”

I’d like to think I was equally as supportive and enthusiastic, even though I may not have felt the same as I felt after the “No book, no way!” comment, but how did he experience it?

Sure, it’s easier to be excited about things you already find joy and inspiration in, but how much more mind-opening and challenging (in a good way!) is it to be a child’s champion even if you don’t really relate to their passions at all?

Childhood is not a build-up to adulthood, and you may never find your “one thing”. And that’s okay.

Today over dinner my daughter said: When I grow up I don’t want to be one thing, but many. Some I’ll get paid for, some I won’t. Things like a baker, an activist, a book illustrator and a babysitter. And other things.

As someone who for a big chunk of my life believed I had to find the one thing I was meant to be doing, this was such an amazing moment.

Some of us do find one, true passion in life. But I wish someone had told me, growing up, that many of us don’t. And that that’s okay.

I wish I’d known sooner that doing a bit of many things is also a legitimate use of my one previous life. And that I hadn’t spent so much time fruitlessly searching, never finding, and feeling like I’d failed at something I never even began.

I’m so relieved my child already knows this. And that this feels intuitively right for her, because no-one is making her entire childhood about the one thing she’s going to be.

And that’s the other side of this – childhood is not a race to an end point, that point being your adult job.

Childhood is a beautiful phase in itself, and if we keep focusing on what our children are going to become rather than what they are right now, we’ll be missing an opportunity to truly see them, to truly appreciate and enjoy them as they are now.

We’ll also be robbing them of the chance to feel like they are enough, right now.

On top of this, life isn’t all about work. It’s an incredibly narrow viewpoint to focus most of our efforts as humans on the goal of getting “a good job.” Not only does this set many of us up to fail, but it also fails to acknowledge that there is so much more to life than what we do to make ends meet.

I recognise that shifting our attention away from making a living can be a privilege, and even raising a child who knows they have the option to do many things in life, or to not constantly work hard towards the goal of a job, is an enormous privilege, in some ways.

But maybe if we all allowed ourselves to do this – to see the years of our life as individual years where we might find our passions, we might think about work, and we might also grow a garden, travel the world, raise money for a cause, or whatever, rather than a build-up to something – then it may benefit even those who may not have as many options, who may have to work several jobs, who may never even have entered the race to the top that so many of us seem to be taking part in.

Maybe small changes like this could actually have big repercussions – less obsessing over what our children will become, and less worrying about whether we’re fulfilling our potential and society’s view of what success should looks like.

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