Monday, August 25, 2008

Full Potential

A few months back Chris (Chris and Vic) brought up the topic of "living up to ones full potential". I instantly thought that it would make a great, thought provoking, post. I settled in with my laptop, fully expecting to bang out the words with ease.

"Let them be who they are and find their way. They'll decide what their own full potential is and follow the path." It sounded so simple as I was writing it. Then I stopped to think about what I was saying. Could I really just let Paige follow her own path? Is that what a parent should do?

Does everyone have the ability to realize their own full potential, without direction?

I saved the post and decided to pick it back up again a few weeks later. I stared at the screen in hopes of continuing the post I had started. But, my feelings on the topic had changed. When Paige came home from the NICU I used to say, "I don't care if she shovels sh*t for a living, as long as she is happy." Did I think, back then, that shoveling manure was in her future? Would that be all she would be capable of doing?

So, does ones abilities dictate their full potential?

Life took over and I never finished the post. It wasn't until I received an email, from someone that I met a year ago in the blogworld, that opened my eyes to my part on the path to Paige's full potential. This person is an accomplished specialist and a former preemie. His long term issues are not visible in daily life, for the most part. But, he was embarking on a personal goal in a sport that is rough and he was concerned about his ability in one area, due to one lingering preemie issue. I was so proud of him for trying something so difficult. He never gave up and his perseverance paid off.

In the comments section of a recent post I mentioned that I recently made a pretty big parenting mistake. Paige asked if she could take ballet again. She was in it for a few years when she was 4-5 years old. It was fun watching her dance around and quite the tear jerker for hubby and I during her recital. The year after we moved we enrolled her in a ballet/tap group. She was older now and her limits were quite apparent. She could not properly stretch, nor could dance without pain. She asked to stop and we had no problems agreeing.

Well, jump ahead to the end of last month. Paige asked if she could take ballet again. While she was asking me she was dancing around looking so sweet. But, her limits are really apparent now. She cannot stretch her legs and the tightness in her muscles causes her pain, even when she is not doing anything strenuous like ballet. The kids she would be in class with would be much further along than her. She started begging to take ballet.

(here comes the huge parenting mistake) I told her no. *I* knew that it would cause her pain, both physically and mentally. *I* knew that she wouldn't be able to keep up. *I* knew that she would have to drop out of the class.

But, it wasn't until I received the above mentioned email that I realized my mistake. Who was I to dictate what Paige was capable of doing? Even though I was trying to protect her, was that the best possible way of handling it? I no longer think so.

I learned a lesson, thanks to one special person sharing his concerns and then his triumphs. I still can't decide how I feel about Paige living up to her full potential. I still can't fathom what her full potential may be.

I do know this though... I need to make sure I am not the one who limits the possibilities of what her full potential may be.

Thanks Chris for always making me think.

Thanks LS for sharing your news with me. There was a lesson for me to learn and you opened my eyes.


Kate K. said...

This is a thought-provoking topic. Seems to me that before we ask ourselves whether our children will be able to live up to their full potential, we have to ask ourselves whether or not we have lived up to our full potential. What does it mean to live up to one's "full potential"?

I once met a woman in her early 60s who had completed her first triathlon. When she came in dead last, a new reporter asked her if she was disappointed in her performance. She told the reporter that she was proud that she finished the race; that was her goal.

I guess that the woman could have used the time that she spent training for the triathlon on other things that she was already familiar with or good at (thus reaching her full potential in those areas), but would she or the world been better for it?

I don't know if my son is the child that he would have been but for being born at 25 weeks. I don't know that I am the parent that I would have been if he had been born full term. I suspect that the answer is no, we aren't who we would have been. But I do know that my son is a very sweet and engaging child, and I know that I love him with all my heart. I'm not sure if "full potential" is what we would have been, but I hope that my husband and I raise our son so that he has many options for his future, and he will make choices that make him feel fulfilled.

Sarah Blake said...

I like what Kate K. said.

I still don't think you made a mistake. I think the main reason you feel that way is because you are aware of your own motivations. But from where I sit, part of growing up is learning to evaluate my limitations and use my time wisely. Paige could take ballet five times because she wanted to, because she dreamed of being a good dancer; and all that while she could be ignorin something she was able to truly excel in. (This has happened to me.) I think that living up to one's "full potential" (if there is indeed such a thing) involves being aware of one's strengths and learning to avoid the temptation to do something just to prove it is possible. I really wanted a clinical psychology degree... But it requires a course in statistics... I don't have what it takes to do this. I failed statistics in undergrad, and it wasn't just because I didn't have an accessible stats program. It was because that much abstract thinking is just plain over my head. For a little while, I considered taking another class just to see if ten years of maturity has changed my ability. But the reality is that ten years of maturity has also brought ten years of deterioration in my abstract thinking. I'm better off doing things that I excel in. Why waste my time?

I still think you taught Paige a valuable lesson, even though it was painful to both of you.

Kyrsten said...

I was FT (late, as a matter of fact--), but I have a leg muscle condition called Proximal Focal Femoral Deficiency (what a mouthful!). It hasn't caused me many problems, but one of the best things my parents probably did for me was enroll me in a ballet class at a young age. I loved it: felt accomplished, and probably managed much more than I would have in "traditional" therapy.

What I didn't know until much older was that it was a "therapeutic" class, specifically for children with ranging muscle abilities due to birth defects.

Is this an option for Paige?

On the other hand, here again is the topic of inclusion. Would Paige do better in a "regular" class, or one like I went to? Will she be *too* sensitive to her limitations, or will she be comfortable with her *abilities*?

Ah, growing up.

Anonymous said...

If I were in your place, I think it would depend in large part on the other kids in the class, as to whether it is a mistake in telling Paige "no". If the other kids are likely to be supportive of their classmates, regardless of individual ability levels, than maybe Paige should do it regardless of her own ability. If, on the other hand, the other kids would be mean, impatient, etc. if Paige were indeed unable to keep up, well then, no I don't think you made a mistake at all. You protected Paige and that's your job. My own DD wants to take a dance class where she will be taught dances to High School Musical tunes. DD has strictly average dance skills, to be honest. I know several of the other girls who are likely to be in the class, and previous experience with them does not fill me with confidence that those girls won't say something cutting if DD has difficulty. I am torn myself as to the right thing to do here. I do know I would not let DD do another ballet class if someone offered to pay me to do it. There are plenty of other ways I can let her have activity and encourage her intest in pretty things without purposely exposing her to mean kids. Sometimes, small town life, and the way the same people are always around, blows!


Sheila said...


I think that wondering what impact / control you have over whether or not you are pushing/helping your child to reach "their full potential" is largely the domain of younger (elementary school or younger) aged parents. It seem fairly universal by the time children reach HS / College that parents realize they are not in the drivers seat and whether they are supportive of their childrens choices and path or not, the children themselves drive their course based on their own understanding and feelings of their strengths and weaknesses combined with the way that success, failure or mediocrity plays to their own psychological make-up. There are certainly parents who set an impossible high bar for their kids, and as a result have a percentage of their children respond to that pressure (whether their accomplishments are their own is a matter of extreme debate), but there are parents who take a more observational/supportive role who have statistically the same percentage of "winner" children (and in that case, there is little debate as to whose accomplishments they are). We can live lives of character and compassion. Do real work to create a better world, be a good neighbor, help without expectation, love without prejudice, be the change we want to see in our world... I never enrolled my children in anything they didn't ask for, but not once didn't enroll them in something they DID want - and never blinked when they said, "I don't want to do this anymore" no shame, no blame, no "you must finish what you began"... in the case of team activities, I did make them go through the steps of telling their team mates that they were leaving the team and apologizing if their departure created any kind of hardship on the team, but for individual activities, when they said "I don't want to ..." that was it. In school, I learned that no amount of pressure or concern on my part was going to have any effect on their academic performance or standing. Nor did any of that really have any impact on what kind of adults they might turn out to be. Every adult you know is a work in progress. I don't know why we filter our assessment of our childrens activities with the single frame of "is this working toward their full potential" There is no other answer to that question than 'yes'. Every experience, every lesson, every image, every joy, every tragedy is all the integral ingredients to "full potential" .. full potential REALLY means, life lived as it is encountered, without a script, an agenda or a manufactured goal. Full potential means a human being who is totally and completely aware of the moment they are in and its rare and irreplaceable value.

My "troubled" student Kate, who caused me most of my stomach lining and 30 gallons of tears before I realised that she was the only person who could influence her path, her achievement or her "potential" ... and once I stopped trying to grab the wheel from her hand, she demonstrated uncanny ability to stay just this side of failure. I called her Little Miss Absolute Minimum Requirement - but bottom line ... she, alone figured out how to consistently pull the minimum grade she needed to stay in Guard.

One thing Paige may enjoy, is to take a ballet class with kids who are younger than her, two of Ali's 7 dance clases per week are ballet, one of which is a class with kids who are mostly younger than her and it's been wonderful because she's got to be more of a teachers assistant and it's been WONDERFUL for her.

Good luck with finding the perfect dance academy for Paige.


ThePreemie Experiment said...

Kate wrote: "Seems to me that before we ask ourselves whether our children will be able to live up to their full potential, we have to ask ourselves whether or not we have lived up to our full potential. What does it mean to live up to one's "full potential"?"

Another thought provoking question!

ThePreemie Experiment said...

Sarah wrote: "I still think you taught Paige a valuable lesson, even though it was painful to both of you."

In my original post I forgot to add that I talked to Paige about it after I received "the email". I told her that I had re-thought my decision and wanted to talk to her about it further. Before I got any farther she shrugged her shoulders and said, "I'm over it mom. I don't want to take ballet anymore. Can I take singing lessons instead?" lol

ThePreemie Experiment said...

krysten wrote: "What I didn't know until much older was that it was a "therapeutic" class, specifically for children with ranging muscle abilities due to birth defects.

Is this an option for Paige?"

Oh how I wish something like that was available in our town!! Sounds like a great program.

ThePreemie Experiment said...

Paula (anonymous) wrote: "If the other kids are likely to be supportive of their classmates, regardless of individual ability levels, than maybe Paige should do it regardless of her own ability. If, on the other hand, the other kids would be mean, impatient, etc. if Paige were indeed unable to keep up, well then, no I don't think you made a mistake at all. You protected Paige and that's your job."

I was very worried about the reaction from the other kids. Not only are kids (in general) nasty to each other at this age, Paige is quite different (socially) and tends to get teased quite a bit. Heck, that's one of the main reasons we pulled her out of school and started homeschooling. We still have her involved in social situations but ballet class would most likely have been a disaster.

ThePreemie Experiment said...

Sheila, I love that you comment here. You have no idea how much I incorporate your observations and conclusions into the way I parent Paige. I still remember the first time you talked (not on this blog) about how you stopped pushing your daughter in school and started letting her pass or fail on her own. I realized that I was doing the same with Paige (constantly helping her and driving myself nuts) and needed to let go.

Once again, your timing is perfect...

You wrote: "in the case of team activities, I did make them go through the steps of telling their team mates that they were leaving the team and apologizing if their departure created any kind of hardship on the team,"

Tonight Paige made the announcement that she no longer wanted to participate in Girl Scouts. She has been saying this for quite some time but this time she was putting her foot down. I had been encouraging her to stay in it because of the social interaction with a great group of girls. But, she doesn't want to do it and she was really letting me know.

I instantly remembered your words and told her that I would support her but she had to be the one to tell the girl and the troupe leaders.

Again, thank you Sheila for your wisdom.

Sophie said...

Stacy said: "Before I got any farther she shrugged her shoulders and said, "I'm over it mom. I don't want to take ballet anymore. Can I take singing lessons instead?" lol"

Ha! Typical tween.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad you opened this Pandora'ls box, Stacy. Penelope Trunk at The Brazen Careerist, opened it about 2 1/2 weeks ago, and got many, many replies to the challenge to "live up to one's full potential". Mostly, Penelope and her blog readers said it was BS . . . They were applying "full potential" to themselves as Gen Yers--not to kids who began life at a disadvantage.

And although I usually agree with and take a lesson from Sheila, I want to differ with her observations on one point: that is, we may think we are in charge of encouraging our kids towards reaching for their full potential in their young childhood and even in their middle childhood years, but then we must learn to let them be in charge (this is the part I agree with). But THIS MINDSET, pondering over reaching one's full potential kind of goes away in the tween years . . . this part I disagree with . . .

I'm here to say I don't think it goes away for very long.
It keeps cycling back, for me, anyway. I am still asking myself what I want to be when I grow up. And you all know I am a dinosaur, near retirement . . . This reaching and seeking the next level led me to:

a) taking on a 6th child when I was 49;
b) I designed a handicap-accessible suite to be built onto my house when I was 56;
c) I joined Tae Kwon Do with Vic when I was 59;
d) I got a Master's degree at age 58;
e) I applied for a job in research 6 months ago;
f) I became a jewelry-maker 2 years ago;
g) and I am not done yet.

I challenge every reader of Stacy's blog to make up a similar list of how they are continually reaching for their full potential, realizing their own full potential, about how they are, in Sheila's words, works in progress.

It is not simply ambition at work here. It is like de Chardin's concept that "everything that is rising must converge". It is expansiveness. It is self-discovery. It is the blossoming of variety in one's psyche--for me, anyway.

Chris and Vic

Anonymous said...

Laura said:

Have you looked at homeschool dance classes? Locally we have homeschool classes at the park district of the next town over. We also have homeschool martial arts, etc. Homeschoolers tend to be a bit more tolerant of individual differences. Our area is much smaller than yours so you might have more opportunities.

Does Paige still have DAFOs? Katie's make a huge difference for her. Katie prefers the ones she wears at night because she doesn't want people to know she has them. What about theraputic horse riding? If you can stretch her out a bit she might have less pain from dancing.

Anonymous said...

TPD Here. This is just semantics, but I am not really comfortable with the term "full potential," because it implies that someone just being "you" isn't sufficient. On one level it really IS sufficient, and no "achievement" is necessary. But of course on a practical level people "do" things and it's important and difficult to decide what things to try harder on and what things to stop doing.

I think it's fine for a parent to say "no ballet," regardless of the reasoning, because there are just limited time and energy resources and lots of different enrichment choices. It would be different if a child had a particular special talent or interest in dance that was being nurtured all along, then *poof* no more dance lessons.

There are a lot of places to enjoy dance without going to formal ballet training of the kind most ballet-minded tweens sign up for - the Y comes to mind.

I always wanted to be on the track team when I was in middle school, but when I went out for the team I found that I was not actually good at any of the events! I remember my parents being pretty matter-of-fact about it, even eventually getting me to laugh about it. My parents always encouraged (but didn't push) me to try a smattering of extracurricular activities, reasoning that you never know when a certain skill will come in handy as an adult and it is good to just know a little something about lots of things. Makes you more interesting as a person. I was never really great at anything I took up, and quit most everything after a couple of seasons/years. There is a difference between being a prima ballerina and knowing what a tendu is...and even if you never become a prima ballerina just gaining an appreciation of the art serves its own purpose. Who knows, Paige might meet her future husband at the Nutcracker :)

buddhist mama said...

Great topic I agree. And I love what Kate K and what Sheila both said about how all of us, adults and children, make our choices based on the circumstances and situation we are dealt.

This is called life, and when we reflect upon it, we may choose to call it living life to the fullest if we are feeling charitable that moment.

The days I was in labor in the hospital, before delivering my twins at 26 weeks, my read a line from Chogyam Trungpa, a Buddhist teacher, that talked about using obstacles as opportunities.

This lesson suggests that our situation is as much a matter of interpretation and that we can make of it what we will, thereby leaving us some agency even in the face of great odds.

IN other words precisely when we think we are living life LEAST to the fullest or most under constraint, Trungpa reminds us that we are living it to the fullest of our abilities at that and every moment.

buddhist mama said...

Oops, typo, it was my husband who read the book to me that night I was in labor. Perhaps it was because I was in a heightened state with all those lovely labor endorphins.

But I also think the line about considering ones obstacles as opportunities really struck me at that moment. There I was in my least favorite place---a hospital room---tethered to a bed with fetal monitors, IV, and other electronic contraptions while fending off the hordes of nurses, residents, and doctors who paraded.

In short I did not think at that moment that I was living life or giving birth to the fullest.

Yet that moment was one of many that led to the arrival of my twins, who have taught me to live and learn to the fullest in ways that I could never have imagined prior to their birth.

terri w/2 said...

Being encouraging while dealing with limitations is perhaps THE most difficult balancing act we have had in this household. As many of you know, my twins were born at 25ish weeks - one is severely, multiply disabled and medically fragile. At this point in her life, she is basically bed-ridden with only occasional excursions out with her wheelchair.

However, the grey hair has come mostly from her twin sister who has mild/moderate cerebral palsy, non-verbal learning disorder and aspergers. She is very much out there in the world - goes to college part time, drives. .but still has significant limitations physically as well as emotionally and socially. Because of the NLD and Aspergers, she is impaired in judgement and also has limited ability in the executive function area. This has been extremely impactful on her life. She believes she can do things that we know she will never be capable of doing - for instance, she wants to be a star soccer player, a jockey, a psychologist the list changes, but essentially, it is WAAAY out there considering the issues involved (a psychologist with impaired social skills?) So, here, we deal with trying to rein things in a bit - try to set realistic goals with her, baby steps to goals - trying to be encouraging while not dampening her enthusiasm. It is an exhausting thing trying to help her find her niche.

Sometimes full potential, I think must be also based in reality, especially when dealing with significant disabilities.

Joan said...

Most, if not all, of us have huge untapped resources of potential. And most, if not all of us, will go to our graves, barely scratching the surface of the great human potentials that lie within us.

I remember Helen Harrison once mentioning Helen Keller in a post. Helen Keller had parents who had the financial resources to help Helen with her disabilities. Helen was the first deaf/blind person to graduate from Radcliffe. Helen had some incredible accomplishments and it was the fact that her parents had the funds to invest - and could afford the companions and schools and help for her - that gave Helen the opportunity to actualize much of her incredible potential and show what a person with disabilities could achieve.

I just read a bit about Helen Keller on Wikipedia - interestingly, she was a close friend of Mark Twain - another preemie!

So many children and adults with and without disabilities are left by the wayside - without the funds or means to begin to realize their dreams or potential - without access to appropriate education and support - and many even without the love and support of a family to give them a sense of value and self worth.


future of hope said...

So, here, we deal with trying to rein things in a bit - try to set realistic goals with her, baby steps to goals - trying to be encouraging while not dampening her enthusiasm. It is an exhausting thing trying to help her find her niche.

Sometimes full potential, I think must be also based in reality, especially when dealing with significant disabilities.

Very good points Terri. I refuse to limit my son's potential - or to allow anyone else to do so - but I constantly have to inject reality into the situation. Currently he has decided that he is going to become a great Chef (gee, thanks food network!). Great, except it "ain't gonna happen", not with only one semi-functional arm, and horrible fine motor skills. But he has a fair amount of skill in pairing foods, coming up with recipies, directing others etc.... So those are the skills I encourage, and break down into the baby steps. So now he is thinking that writing a cookbook might be fun. "Full Potential" - does not equal fullfilling every fantasy and dream. "Full Potential" - to me at least - equals giving your best effort and receiving satisfaction in return, which is still no easy task.

Susie Korbel said...

Stacy, this one is hard for me to respond to because I've dealt with it fairly recently.

My mother doesn't really "believe" in mental issues like preemie problems or depression or anything similar. She just looked at my stats on the IQ test and figured that I was a genius and would be a CEO or something big and important and she'd be really proud of me. To her, I had nearly limitless potential.

But I can't be the person she wants me to be. I don't think I'm even physically capable of it if I wanted to, and some days I don't know if I don't want to because I know I can't, because it sounds like something I'd enjoy doing. Have I unthinkingly redirected my own life goals towards one that I know I can accomplish and do well?

I don't think that having expectations is a bad thing. But the way my mother did it still hurts because I know she's disappointed in me. She had this brilliant child who has dropped out of university and is now taking a college diploma in childcare- not what she dreamed of. Every time I try to tell her about a non academic success, she'd say "Fine, but what about school?" and it just crushed me.

With respect to Paige and ballet, are there any classes that focus more on fun with movement that she might enjoy? Something with a little less structure to it where limitations won't be noticed as strongly as they will with a class like ballet.

I know it will be difficult for you if she does, but as long as you are there to support her and love her either way as I know you will, she'll be fine.

Kate K. said...

Dear Susie,

Even when people are faced with limitations, there are many paths that they could go down, but won't. No person can do everything that's possible for them to do. I think that it is great that you've found a path that you enjoy. I don't think that anyone wants to make their parents unhappy, but the bottom line is that a person should never choose an occupation solely to please their parents...especially if those occupations are likely to make one unhappy.

I have a couple cousins, an uncle, and two good friends who spent thousands of dollars on law school (excellent law schools), but ultimately were miserable being lawyers. All of them, BTW, were very good at their jobs. The problems were that they all disliked their jobs. And, all of them went into law school to please their parents. Eventually, all of them found their way to other occupations (one is currently very happy as a nurse) after paying off years of debt accumulated from law schools.

One of my sisters could have gone into the hard sciences. She tested very well on AP exams. But she decided that she wanted to go into drama. She's now a high school drama teacher. I believe that she would have been successful either way. She chose the path that was best for her.

Keep in mind that sometimes society has mixed up priorities over what is considered "important." Making a lot of money, IMO, isn't nearly as important as taking care of children. Not everyone takes care of children well. Alas, awesome child care providers will probably never receive the public kudos or incomes they deserve. Just one of life's injustices.

Anyway, I encourage that you do what is going to make you happy. Parents have to learn getting over living vicariously through their children (preemie or not). I suspect that when my son is older, he will make many choices that I wouldn't have made. But that's because he and I are not one in the same. When the time comes, I'll have to learn to get over it. :-)

Best wishes!

medrecgal said...

Ahhh...full 30-something, as a former preemie I still tangle with this nebulous and at times truly frustrating concept! Perhaps the best thing to do instead of posting a long-winded commentary is to post it on my own blog...

mom to lilike locke & anjeni said...

My daughter Lilike gets excited if you aknowledge, what she wants to show you what she can do. A mom saying you tryed so hard and did so well can help develop there childs self esteem. To me it is not what others want to see in Lilike. In my eyes my daughter will always have reached her full potential in life, because she has already given everyone so many gifts to everyone, her very presence as a gorgeous newborn to cuddle and admire touched hearts of nurses in the NNU at Flinders. Her gorgeous smiles with those dimples as a baby, a reason for others to find joy in her prescence, her sweetness and cute personality. God made her perfect like all of the other litle miracle babies. Your daughter Paige is perfect and in her existence God gave Paige the full potential of giving you her mommy enormous joy and joy to others.

mom to lilike locke and anjeni said...

Miracle babies (Preemies and sick newborns) have proven to us that they have alot of potential due to there strength where they had to overcame many medical obstacles in there path. Striving to survive since birth so they could be alive today. Some adults when they get sick can not have the strength to survive yet tiny babies can soldier on against health problems.

mom to lilike locke & anjeni said...

Maybe you could get Paige to dance around the house in a tutu and mom could make up and print her a reward certificate for Paige that says shes an excellent dancer.

mom to lilike locke and anjeni said...

I think it shows that those with a disability who have the courage to tackle a challenge and doing there best is more of a reward to others then seeing a famous athlete blessed with able needs who we expect to be able to do things easily all the time. And that is predictable.

There was a swimmer who as a child he had ADHD and to overcome this issue he took on swimming and now is a very famous and talented swimmer the world over. If you put youre heart and focus on things who knows what you could learn.

dee said...

In terms of dancing... maybe when she's a few years older, she might like to try a belly dancing class? Its fun and great excercise, but a lot less competetive and precise than ballet.

Two studios in my area also run moms and daughters belly dance classes, with daughters as young as 4! They love it!

Joan said...

Stacy asked in the original post: "Are you happy with the help you receive from state programs? (I have heard that PA is a good state to live in)".

Living in PA, I know of families who moved to NJ to get services and I heard services are good in NJ - that is specifically within the school/educational services context rather than state programs.

I can't speak for the whole state, but I do know that services can be very, very different from school district to school district.

There is a state medical access - kind of like a medicaid for children with diagnoses - and it is irrespective of parent's income - so that is a good thing comparatively from what I am hearing about other states.

Also, PA is attempting to pass legislation for insurance companies to cover autism therapies, services, etc.