Today as I was sitting in church between my two youngsters, I found myself observing them through my peripheral and engaging in something truly mental. As my son had the under-seat bible open on his lap and was making a valiant effort to follow along with the pastor’s reading, my daughter on the flip side had a hymnal book open and was pretending to follow along with what she thought was a song we had just sang.
As the mind often does, it went through a variety of suppositions and assumptions within a matter of nanoseconds: knowing my son is now in the fast-pace portion of his reader class and has received a few recent paper rewards touting his reading progress, the thought voiced itself, “He might be the reader.” In like kind, recalling the repeated instances when my daughter has been softly singing to herself made-up songs or her best remembrance of one she has heard before, as well as how intently focused she was this morning on the guest choir, a similar thought rose up: “She might be the singer.”
This is right about when I almost physically shook myself out of my reverie and would have smacked the back of my own head to immediately cease these careening trains of thought. Without realizing it, I had entered into the realm of what I term Pigeonhole Parenting.
I gandered at the definition of pigeonhole, and the portion I particularly identified with today was “to classify mentally; categorize.” That part I found to be fairly innocuous on its face, but then there’s the alternate definition also provided which is likely what made me shudder: “to put aside and ignore; shelve.”
(If you still need a solid visual on this idea, go ahead and google “pigeonhole.” I had no idea the term branched into office supplies…and that imagery embedded my angst even further.)
I LOVE my kids and I truly do believe and hope they can be anything they want and try to be. But by autopiloting myself into a trajectory where I was assigning each kid their respective and assumed label or identity, I could very easily be mapping out a trajectory for them which they might feel they are expected to follow. “Well, Mom keeps calling me ‘her reader,’ so I’d better focus on that – even though I really enjoy building with my Legos.” You get the picture.
Look, I’m not saying a reading focus is a bad vector to follow, or that singing and the arts is either. I’m not even saying that my internal monologue of this morning was some indication that my kids will turn into resentful, one-dimensional teens and then adults who will be filled with regret. But the better I can be at catching myself in these deliberations before giving them voice or action gives my kids a better shot at really being all they can be – and even more than I can visualize.