So, when my only son was very young and announced he wanted to be an astronaut, I said, "Awesome!" He was greeted with the same reaction when he promised to single-handedly carry on the late Steve Irwin's international wildlife conservation efforts.
And a little later, when he informed my husband, Marc, and me he was planning to shoot a new, bigger, better "Star Wars" flick in our backyard and would hire George Lucas as his assistant, we said, "Go for it!"
During each of these occasions, I prided myself in never once channeling my parents and dissuading the little guy by saying something along the lines of, "Well, that's nice, dear, but why don't you work towards a safer, more attainable profession with overtime and medical benefits?"
However, my understanding of my parents' parenting style crystalized one day during the summer when my child, now 8, came home from his first day of acting camp and excitedly proclaimed he had the lead in the week-end play.
All of a sudden, I was filled with anxiety. My soon-to-be-third-grader seemed confident enough, but I was terrified for him. Although adorable and bright, he was younger and smaller than the other campers. He seemed so vulnerable. He had never had to memorize lines before or speak alone on stage. All I could think of was: "How does he know he can pull this off? And how will he ever recover if he doesn't? Could a bad experience at acting camp when he's 8 crush his spirit forever?"
Ah, this is probably what my parents feared for my siblings and me, as well, I realized with a smack to the forehead.
I confided my concerns to Marc, who is very laid-back, and he assured me it was in the lad's nature to soak up the spotlight. Besides, Marc added, if he forgets his lines, he'll learn how to improvise quickly.
Marc's words offered me little solace. All week, I rehearsed my son's lines with him and offered him all the support I could muster, suppressing my own fears and asking him -- I think -- only occasionally, "Are you sure you want to do this?" He insisted he did and only let on that he had butterflies in his stomach the evening before the performance. Still, he bravely told me he wanted to do it.
The next day, he took the stage with his co-stars and said every line on cue and with great enthusiasm. Only problem was, the theater didn't have a good sound system and nobody could hear what he said!
But he didn't know that. All he knew was that he remembered and executed his lines perfectly and that experience gave him the confidence to want to try it again some day.
As for me, I don't think I've yet pinpointed the line between telling him he can do or be anything and realistically protecting him from possible failure, but I did come to accept that by teaching my kid to be confident and have lofty goals, I have to be prepared for him to be confident and willing to take risks, and not impose my insecurities on him. That's harder than I thought it would be and I understand my own parents a little better now.