Last month, I sold a novel to Harper Collins. It was the culmination of five years of hard work (and several other novels that I couldn’t find an agent for). All that effort, all that rejection, and to be honest, I’d decided that this novel was my last hurrah, my final attempt.
If no agent wanted to sell it, then I was giving up. I’d write this blog and focus on my family and practice therapy and that was plenty, right? It would have to be enough.
But dreams are about what’s more than enough. They’re larger than life. We want our kids to reach for the stars, until…? When do we–and our kids–need support and when do we need a reality check?
My daughter is still so young. She has a vocabulary that consists of “Mama”, “Dada”, and “Yeah.” We’re not talking about dreams yet.
But one of these months or years, she’ll start to have an image of who she wants to be. She’ll start dreaming of her grown up life. She’ll want to be a pop princess or a veterinarian or an astronaut.
And my husband and I will encourage her imagination for a while, no strings attached. Then we’ll start using her dreams as a way to tell her to do her math homework, or to not give up so easily when things are hard. We’ll recognize her aptitudes and help her develop them and hope that her dreams align with these.
But what if they don’t? What if she wants things that we think are unlikely to ever happen for her? Either because she doesn’t seem to have the degree of talent, or the willingness to work as hard as necessary, or the odds are simply too great (in acting, in sports, etc.)?
At what point do you interject reality? Is it when she’s 9, or 15, or 22?
I know that for me, if I didn’t continue to have belief in my own talent (perhaps even an unrealistic sense of how I measure up against the many people who are also trying to publish their novels), I would have given up three novels before. I might never have tried at all.
And I have to credit my parents for their belief in me. When I was 16, my father drove me to downtown Philadelphia, to the office of the one literary agent in the Yellow Pages, so I could hand-deliver my manuscript. (I was treated kindly by the receptionist, and later received a typed rejection letter. I’m sure that if I hadn’t been a nervous and pimply teenager, I would have been told to follow proper channels, which do not involve hand-delivering manuscripts.)
I meant to be S.E. Hinton, who published “The Outsiders” as an adolescent. It hasn’t exactly turned out that way. But it is turning out, many many rejections later.
We want our kids to be resilient enough to handle rejection, to try and try again, but sometimes the odds of success can seem impossibly low. We want to protect our children from banging their heads against doors that will likely never open.
Our job as parents involves helping our kids make determinations about their odds, and decide how best to allocate their resources: when to dream, when to work hard, when to get a day job, when to get a real job, when to find a new dream.
That means we have to help them learn to balance dreams and reality. Then they have to do the rest.
Dreaming image available from Shutterstock.