On Failing to Raise the Next Doris Day
A reality check for parents with unfulfilled passions
In a parallel universe, I’m a retired entertainer who selectively cameos on your favorite sitcoms. Not to the level of Betty White in our world, but close.
Naturally, since science has been unable to prove that a tap-dancing me exists in another dimension, I have to assume that this other me lives only in my head. She’s been floating around for the past ten years making occasional noise about this or that, but has generally kept it down. She’s actually a lot like the downstairs neighbor we had when we were newlyweds. She was a quiet, elderly woman and the only time you knew she was home was when The Price is Right was on TV. Since I grew up with my gram and her love of game shows, Bob Barker’s melodic “Come on down” wafting up through the floor was a welcome intrusion.
Unlike the lady downstairs, the tap-dancing me is quite excitable. Especially when she spies potential stardom in her children. And lately, she’s been kicking up a lot of dust because she compares my children to other people’s kids. You know the ones; they are natural performers and take great joy in going all-out for school presentations. My inner Betty White has pointed out that my children, in contrast, half-ass it at best. They have to be persuaded to wear a white shirt for their Abe Lincoln speech while the other kids, the actors, get fully dressed and into character. They stroke their fake beards, enthusiastically wave their arms, and easily project their voices across the room, leaving me speechless and wondering why my kids won’t dive in and get their Abe on. Or, at the very least, wear the construction paper stovepipe hat I crafted for them.
To a degree, I agree with my Betty White. My kids are so damn talented (and dramatic). They could do this. They could be on stage or the big screen. But they won’t even reveal their talents in front of their classmates. And I recently felt my alter ego getting pissed off.
“Start caring, damn it!” my Betty White took to ranting. “Get into costume! Get on that stage!” Of course, I don’t actually let my retired entertainer speak. I muffle her shouts and instead suggest that my kids do things like take acting classes (they refuse) or voice lessons (another nope). What about tap dancing? Hip hop? (Nope and nope.)
OMG. You kids are killing me. Do something with your talent!
Even my husband thinks they could be something fabulous. We collectively urge our kids to try out for plays because they both have an instinctive flair for drama. It seems natural that they’d want to perform for others.
But, as always, they refuse.
After years of gentle urging (with my Betty White complaining that my kids are wasting their talents on things like books and baseball), I recently had an epiphany:
I’m not encouraging them to pursue their passions. I’m pushing them to do something that I wish I had done. That the tap dancing Betty White side of me wishes I had done.
So we’re not letting them discover who they are? Oh, the irony! Here I am publicly espousing the importance of being true to yourself and pushing to live authentically, and yet at home, I’m encouraging a behavior in my children that isn’t natural for them.
I should instead be saying, “Honor who you are. Don’t listen to others. Listen to that voice inside yourself. The one that takes care of you. The one that pushes you to do the right thing. The one that says ‘yes!’ to things you love and ‘no’ to the rest.”
I needed this reality flick on the forehead, not only so I’d ease up on my kids and quit the search for an acting coach, but also so I’d get myself back on track and press forward as I go after my own dreams. Even if they don’t include tap shoes (or do they?).
We all need this reminder. The reminder that our children are not an extension of us. They have their own blueprint. And so do we.
It’s easy to lose sight of ourselves when we get caught up in helping our children navigate life. Let my epiphany about my inner Betty White serve as a reminder to take care of yourself. Feed your heart. Find your passion. Do at least one thing every day that inches or leaps you closer to your dreams.
Oh, and my kids may not long for the big screen or stage, but I’ll survive. Sure, I’ll grow old without knowing what it feels like to have a child thank me on stage as they accept their Golden Globe or Grammy, but I’d rather see them truly happy, doing whatever gives them a buzz, than living a life for someone else. Even if that someone else brought them into this world and loves them with so much of her being it literally hurts. But who’s keeping score?
Originally published at www.jenniferchaney.com on August 26, 2016.