Parental guilt is hard to shake off, no matter what decisions you make as a parent. Before you spend too much time over-analyzing your best courses of action though, it’s important to take a step back and think about what those actions may or may not be teaching your child about ambition. For example, mothers who continue their careers after having kids can teach more than we realize.
As Dr. Sarah Allen, a pediatric neuropsychologist discussed in a recent Forbes interview, our ambition is healthy for our kids’ brains, and leaning into it is an opportunity to model a number of effective habits, while also fostering a sense of independence in our children.
Given the number of moms out there struggling with guilt over juggling career and family, we reached out to Dr. Allen, author of the book “Raising Brains: Mindful Meddling to Raise Successful, Happy, Connected Kids,” in addition to being a coach for parents. What we really wanted to know was just how our own ambitions can help us raise ambitious children.
Kids learn by watching us
“Developing kids are going to model behavior,” Allen said. “It makes logical sense that they are also going to model ambition. We’ve been taught, especially as women, to hold back and give everything to our children, but in reality, we’re doing them a disservice by not modeling ambition and not modeling some of these skills that will be helpful to them in the long run.”
If children grow up seeing their parents setting big goals and going after them, that’s one of the lessons they’ll learn. If children grow up seeing their parents give up everything, denying who they are and what makes them happy, that’s also a lesson our children will learn, whether we intend them to or not.
“I often say this to the moms I help, ‘Would you tell your own child to give up their entire lives and everything that makes happy, in order to serve their kid? No, you would work to help them find a solution, so that there’s some balance there.’ But for some reason, when we turn that inward to ourselves, we tend to ignore that fact.”
Combine modeling with active teaching
Children learn by watching their parents. However, as Allen suggests, it’s a good idea to couple this modeling of behavior with some active teaching.
“If you are juggling work and home responsibilities, we tend to do that in our heads. Instead of doing that in your head, if you talk out that problem, your kids learn how to problem-solve. They learn and understand how to organize and re-organize their day and their priorities that way.”
For parents, they might be juggling finishing a big work project, their regular work duties, as well as family responsibilities, such as picking up their child from soccer practice and making sure to have quality family time in the evening. If your kids are seeing you prioritize your responsibilities, as well as how you adjust to the unexpected, this can help them understand how they can prioritize and organize their day.
“Kids learn problem-solving skills, independence, organization, initiation, motivation, all of these things through modeling,” Allen said. “These are learned skills, these are not skills we are born with, and so we need to teach these skills.”
Fostering ambition requires teaching independence
As parents, our impulse is to help our children. That impulse comes from good intentions and can be helpful in some circumstances, but it’s also important to have a sense of what the limits should be. Ultimately, our children need to grow up to become independent adults, for which they will need to learn certain skills.
“We’re training kids to be healthy, happy, successful adults one day, and to do that, they need to start to do a lot for themselves,” Allen said. “So instead of putting the burden on moms, the burden is really on us as moms to teach them how to do things for themselves. There’s been this ‘we need to do it all’ sort of mentality, but that is actually not helpful in teaching your kids.”