Although the heading should read:
“High Achiever parents parenting High Achiever children.”
Growing up, I was a born high achiever child – I had drive, determination, I liked to win and was relatively good at most things in life. Sometimes it came easy and sometimes I had to work hard for things. But the biggest issue with high achievers is the amount of pressure they out on themselves. I didn’t have any pressure from my parents or family, no one was pushing me to win or succeed, and I didn’t have direct pressure from peers or coaches either. It was all me. But the weight of the expectations I had of myself, was a very heavy load. And I remember it starting very young.
In Grade 1, our good work or neat handwriting was rewarded with classroom duties – most memorable for me, was to sit at the desk closest to the classroom door and be the “door-opener” when someone knocked. This role was my everything and maybe its the reason I still have neat handwriting and sharp pencils to this day, but I don’r remember ever losing my spot at that corner desk for the whole year. In Grade 2, we had a weekly newspaper collection and I searched the streets and homes of everyone I knew to collect newspapers each week, in order to feel the successful and happy feeling of my name being announced in assembly each week. I wore my Friday merit badge with great pride, and I took my class captain roles very seriously. In Grade 3, I set my sights on being House Captain, swimming champion and even Junior Dux – and clearly remember the feelings of elation, joy, pride and great achievement when my name was announced each time.
BUT being a high achiever child comes with its extreme highs and extreme lows. Just as those feelings of pure elation and pride can have you floating on Cloud Nine for weeks, the extreme low of disappointment, devastation and failure can completely overwhelm a little person too. As well as the days and nights of anxiety and worry, nerves and butterflies leading up to any such event, milestone or announcement. And just as I remember all the achievements so well, the feeling of sitting in a packed school hall with the anticipation of setting my heart on being Head Girl, believing wholeheartedly that I had worked hard for it, and deserved the role and honour, my heart beating out of my chest and the butterflies flying around my time – and then the soul crushing ringing in my ears that neither of the two names were mine, the whole school and teachers laying their eyes on me because they knew too, and then the courage to keep a very brave face and not crumble into a ball of tears and heartache, is a memory that will never leave my mind. It was my first major disappointment life but it was just the beginning of many more to come, and my hard and heartbreaking life lessons to learn.
But I’ve learnt these past few weeks that as hard as being a high achiever child may have been at times, it doesn’t compare to the tough feelings of parenting a high achiever child.
But with all hard things come valuable lessons and great honour.
Our big girl, SJ is a high achiever child. And in simpler terms, she is quite literally my twin. I’ve said it many times before but down to looks, personality traits, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, we are almost identical (just 25 years apart!) The beauty of this is that I can almost be in her heart and mind each day – I know how she thinks and how she feels and this allows for a very strong bond between us. As a fiercely protective and proud mom, a high achiever myself and a high empath – this does mean a rollercoaster of emotions and feelings for both of us. SJ is a talented, hungry and high capacity little girl – from a little toddler, she has been extremely capable, always trying new things and being naturally gifted in so many areas. She also has a love and passion for everything she does, and she is never scared to try new things and take on more. She is high energy, and doesn’t need a lot of sleep. She has also, in her 8 short years of life, achieved so much due to her talent, skill and zest for getting involved and doing things well.
More recently, our big girl set two very big goals for herself for the first term. She wanted to be House Captain at their Junior Primary gala and she wanted to win the Grade 3 champion trophy. She wrote her goals down, she asked how she could work towards them and she got to work… For some, this may seem extreme and a little hectic for a young 8 year old but for our family, it was a very big stepping stone. Last year was a tough year for our SJ, and she got into a habit of being lazy and allowing things to come easy for her and not needing to work for anything. As a parent, we all know that doesn’t end well so we tried our best to encourage her and do things differently but after months of being in each others pockets, and me being her teacher, she wasn’t keen on taking advice from us anymore and she chose to do things her way. Unfortunately at the end of the year, she fell short in a few areas and she was upset and disappointed. But with all disappointment comes life lessons and she struggled through a few of these learnings.
But when she set her two goals in December, we were both surprised and delighted that in her own capacity, she had decided to work towards something and really work hard. And she did just that. Our little soul spent hours in the pool, she attended every school swimming lesson, she didn’t miss a private swimming training, she swam in the cold and in the rain, she swam when all pool heaters were turned off, she missed play dates and parties on the weekend to fit in session she had missed, she worked on each of her strokes individually, she listened to coaches, she paid attention at training and didn’t mess around and she never once complained. She absolutely loved it all! We have never seen her so committed, so determined and so dedicated.
As the gala date approached and the school confirmed it was going ahead, the nerves and anxiety started to kick in. She started to load the pressure on to her little shoulders – she was anxious, she was scared, she doubted herself but then backed herself, she allowed other swimmers to get into her head, she cried and tossed and turned, she asked for more training sessions which we didn’t allow to over do it, it became her whole world. We had conversation after conversation, we encouraged her, her teachers and coaches guided her, her mentors counselled her – but just as we remember so clearly, nothing we can say could take away this feeling of setting out to achiever her goal. The night before house captains were announced, she was very emotional and the fear of disappointment was so real for her but she came home with the biggest grin and a very proud House Captain badge.
This past week we have had the most incredible conversations, and through the overwhelming emotions for us all, we have bonded on a deeper level. But no matter how much we let her know that we are so incredibly proud of her for working so hard and being so determined and dedicated, and it doesn’t matter where she comes in a race or who wins a trophy, we are so proud of her for giving of her best and enjoying it and having fun, she doesn’t let the prize out of her sight. She is wise and mature beyond her words is our SJ, and when those big green eyes stare back at me, glazed with tears and she so vehemently announces that Grade 3 may be a small year and not that important in the bigger picture of her life but if she wins that trophy, her name will be engraved on it forever, how do you argue with that? It means that much, its the legacy she wants to leave behind.
A few days before the gala, it was announced that no parents may attend and as heartbreaking and disappointing as this was for us all, we understand that our school is making the safest decisions for our girls and our families. But SJ didn’t take this news well – and where we assumed she was confident and independent in this arena and didn’t need our presence or physical support, we soon learnt how much of a comfort we are to her in the present moment. She struggled with this for days and again when those big green eyes looked up at me and questioned, if I don’t win this trophy, who will be there to hug me and console me? And if I do win the trophy, who will be there to hug me and celebrate me? It’s not meant to be this way and whilst I fought back my own emotions and disappointment, I promised her that I would sit in my car outside school and wait for the gala to end, and be there in the car park to give her the hug she so badly would need.
The past two weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster for our home – our SJ has walked through so many highs and lows, excitement and anxiety, questions and doubt but with maturity and courage that I could never imagine in a little 8 year old. I have sat in tears at night questioning so much for my little girl, feeling my heart beating around the outside world and wanting to protect her from any pain or hurt, and even more frustrated with the helpless feeling that there is nothing more I can do but love her and encourage her, believe in her and be proud of her – no matter the outcome and no matter her feelings. Parenting is not easy, it doesn’t come with a manual and each day is a new learning curve and when you love someone so much, your life turns upside down and inside out when they are navigating stormy seas. But there will be many more years and goals and milestones ahead, many successful highs and many disappointing lows. This is just the beginning…
We are so proud to announce that our baby girl did it!!
Her hard work paid off and was rewarded with winning 3 out of her 4 races, winning 2 team relays, been awarded the Grade 3 swimming trophy and her house team wining the overall gala and as house captain receiving that trophy. But more importantly, she had the happiest morning of her term – the biggest grin on her face from the very start and so much fun and memories with her peers and friends. She bounced into the parking lot for her celebratory hug with two shiny trophies, most beautiful smile and eyes full of tears.
You did it my SJ, and we are so proud of you baby girl x