Monday, May 11, 2009

So what's your child's ambition?

HAVE you asked your children what they want to be when they grow up? Yes, their ambitions. I have forgotten all about this ambition thing until my children's teacher asked me if I knew what their ambitions were. I said: "No, I didn't ask."

The last time I was subjected to the drill was during my first day at secondary school. I recalled the indignation written all over my form teacher's face when I told him I wanted to be a postman because I loved collecting stamps. Aghast, he said, he did not want to hear anymore of it. Any student good enough to be in his class was capable of much greater things in life, he declared, and promptly introduced me to the power of positive thinking.

However, several changes in ambitions later, I realised that it was an exercise in futility. Good as an icebreaker for conversations, asking about a child's ambition is certainly no fun for the poor kid who has to decide on an answer that could potentially classify him/her as achievers or non-achievers, or worse, good-for-nothings.

To be curious about a child's ambition is harmless, of course. The real danger is when the answer does not fit our expectations. In our enthusiasm to impart our adulthood's wisdom, we could divert the child from his/her true calling or capabilities with our own ideals.

Even if the answer meets our approval, how sure are we that it was what he or she really wanted and not because everyone else had the same idea? Or could it be a subconscious need to fulfil someone else's expectations, like their parents', for example?

I have seen harried parents shuttling children from one tuition centre to another, chasing paper qualifications and skills which they hoped would put their children ahead of the rat race and nearer to achieving their ambitions.

One teenager I met at an art class said she had ceased to complain and has complied with the wishes of her mother, a successful insurance agency manager, to attend self-defence, dancing, chess, piano, public speaking, and art sessions seven days a week, in addition to the regular tuition classes. I asked if she had time for other things. "No," she said, "but it beats staying home when all my friends were attending a class."

I suppose children living far from the city are luckier. At least, the kids in the kampung still have their freedom to live their lives as children and not live out their ambitious parents' dreams.

As for my teenage children, I don't mind if they cannot tell me what their ambitions are right now. As long as they grow up to be humble, kind, respectful and filial, half of their life's battle has already been won.

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