Sometime next month my youngest will embark on a new life adventure overseas. He is committed to teaching English in China for one year. He completed his undergraduate degree at Texas A&M University in December, so this will be his first “big-boy job” to use his terminology.
Getting on a plane and relocating to China for a year was not on my radar when I was his age. Of course, I have to remember that I was married by that stage in life! But if the truth be known, I did not have the tenacity for such a commitment. In fact, I just did not possess the confidence for such a cross-cultural experience.
This past week I officiated at a memorial service. One of the family members of the person being honored noted that I spoke at the service with such confidence! It was a very nice compliment, but my mind quickly went back to a time when I was seriously lacking in certainty. In fact, her comment led me back to the time period in my life when I was the one finishing up an undergraduate degree. One of my professors started urging me apply for graduate school during my senior year. I thought that was laughable. I could not picture myself pursuing a master’s degree, because I just did not think I was bright enough. Lack of confidence was the primary issue.
It took me a full year to muster sufficient courage to apply and begin a master’s program. And then when I began, I convinced myself that the rest of the students were far more advanced academically. I was still not convinced that I was actually “graduate school material.” I finished that degree, and even went back to complete doctoral level work as well. My confidence slowly increased over the years.
I am thankful that Mitchell is not lacking in confidence. Traveling overseas to a country where a different language is spoken does not seem to intimidate him. He is going by himself, so he won’t know anyone. He will teach students with limited English skills. And of course, the culture will be drastically different. He will be a long way off from anything that looks or feels familiar. I am really proud of him. It takes courage to make such a commitment.
I have no idea what we did as parents to encourage such confidence. It could be that we just stayed out of his way, and allowed him to become his own person. I just don’t know… But I do know that parents can whittle away at a child’s capacity to feel assured. As the parent of three adult sons, I do have a few suggestions.
- Allow your child age-appropriate freedom. Don’t hover over them. Helicopter parenting does not foster confidence.
- When your teenager or 20something makes mistakes, be redemptive. Don’t allow juvenile errors in judgment to become a life sentence.
- Allow them to explore extra-curricular activities, or academic pursuits that interest them. (Even if those pursuits are not what you would have done!)
- Don’t shoot down their ideas. (I had to work on this one a lot! I tend to be too much a realist.)
- And finally, let them try out some things that interest them!
Confidence is so important! You really don’t want your child to struggle with a lack of such assurance as an adult.