The biggest problem with parents teaching their children is unrealistic expectations. They care about them more than they should, so they either push too hard (expect too much) because they believe they know them or they go too soft (can’t stomach it). A parent has a greater emotional investment in their offspring than they do a random student who leaves and goes home at the end of the day. They are with them all the time which makes it harder to set boundaries on when training ends and becomes easy for them to slip into “Master” mode as a constant.
It’s the stage parent problem and, for the child, there is no escape.
I’ll make a list:
1) Do my parents love me for me or do they love my skills?
For a child, doing well in their parent’s chosen martial art under their parent’s guidance can double up for positive reinforcement. Doing well makes their parent happy, they receive adulation, love, and affection. The parent feels good because not only are they receiving adulation from all the martial artists around them for having such a talented student, but they’re also receiving praise from the parents of the other children they teach. “Wow, look how well your kid is doing, you must be a great parent and teacher! I can trust my kid to you!” Whether it’s intentional or not, the child may accidentally become bound up in their parent’s own sense of pride, their self-worth, and (possibly) their business.
But, what if their kid wants to quit? It’s natural as we expand our horizons to want to find other dreams for ourselves. For some kids, being a martial artist or combatant like their parent may be all they’ve ever wanted to do. If the kid decides this isn’t the life they want then there’s a lot more at stake for them then just disappointing a mentor, even if that mentor is like a parent. (A martial artist who raises a child in isolation of their family is practically their parent, if they raise them from an infant regardless of blood relation they are their parent.) They aren’t just hurting the feelings of someone they respect, they’re disappointing their parent. If the only love and positive reinforcement they’ve received has been for their martial arts, then there may be some anxiety over whether or not their mom or dad will still love them.
Saying, “Hey Mom, now that I’m in High School, I don’t want to wake up at 5 every morning for extra practice before school. I want to try playing guitar instead.” Or “Hey Dad, I know we’ve been talking about entering me in X tournament on the stepping stones to the Olympics but maybe I could do Soccer instead?”
The structural familial support isn’t there for them, especially if they’re from a one parent home or both their parents are invested in their training. Eventually, the time will come when the child will have to choose their path for themselves. How would you feel if the choice you were making might alienate or harm your bond with one or both of your parents?
2) My parents have two separate visions for my training (or worse want me to choose between their two different martial arts). Help?
Even two parents who get along in the best of times (and maybe enjoy a bit of friendly rivalry) can cross the line when it comes to their offspring. A child is a legacy, but whose legacy do they choose? In the early stages, they can’t do both. It’ll hurt their training and send mixed/conflicting messages to their body. It’s best to learn one and then the other, but which one?
Either way, one parent is going to get hurt. In a relationship that’s already dysfunctional, it’s all too easy for it to become a game of “Who Do You Love Best?” with one winner and one loser. It can damage the child’s relationship with both their parents and make one feel inferior to other. It doesn’t even have to be two separate martial arts, it can just be two different training methodologies. If the parents have a conflict, their child is now more likely to be drawn into their fighting (physical or otherwise). If there’s two children, then they may play favorites between them and alienate their kids from each other.
4) My parent(s) almost made it to the top, but were denied the championship. They think I’m way more talented than them. They’re sure I’ll make it where they failed. I don’t know if I can, but I don’t want to disappoint them. I’m really stressed. What should I do?
The curse of the talented legacy with a disappointed parent. Whether they mean to or not, they may attempt to turn their child into a “Mini-Me”. The one who will vicariously achieve all their failed dreams. “You have too much talent to waste it”. This is one of the worst combinations for a kid because their parent doesn’t just have their emotions wrapped up in their training, they have all their goals, dreams, and ambitions in there too. Having a child with talent just makes the dream stronger because “you will do all the things I never could”. However, wants are not a question. Their kid is just like them and they have so much talent, why would they want to waste it chasing other dreams that don’t matter?
5) My Dad/Mom is one of the best in the sport. They want me to be just like them, but know I’ll never measure up. I try as hard as I can, but they’re just so amazing. I have half their genes, why can’t I do it too?
This one is even worse when they come into the world ahead of or behind a more talented sibling that their parent(s) puts all their effort into. They want to be good at martial arts because that’s what their parent values and if their parent values skill then they will value them. This is a kid who comes from a very competitive environment with a parent who devotes a great deal of time to a single thing. They love their parent and they want to emulate them, but they feel their parent will never respect them if they don’t defeat them.
6) My Dad/Mom always calls on me in class to demonstrate, the other kids think I’m the teacher’s pet. I might as well be since I’m the teacher’s kid. I’ve told my Dad/Mom that I don’t want to demonstrate anymore but he/she says my technique is the best in the class. The other kids could learn a lot from me. Maybe, but I’d rather be anonymous.
If you’ve ever been the teacher’s pet think about how much all the other kids hated you, if you’ve never been the teacher’s pet think about how much all the other kids (or maybe you) hated that one kid who had all the answers and just kept getting called on. Now, think about what it would have been like if that teacher was your Mom or Dad and they’re calling on you because they know that you know the answer. This sort of treatment builds resentment in the other kids, especially if it’s a repeat offender.
If the kid isn’t working as hard as their parent thinks they should, they may get called out more often. It becomes more difficult for them to do anything right even when their awesome. Always work hard, never slack off, no breaks allowed. To the kid, their peers have it easy because they’re graded on a different scale. For their peers, the kid constantly gets the teacher’s special attention which cuts into their learning time.
The other kids get frustrated because they never get the chance to show off. It feels unfair because the teacher’s kid is so good or isn’t that great but gets picked because they’re the teacher’s kid. Whether the kid is mediocre or best in the class, it doesn’t really matter. If their parent finds another kid who does it better and invests in them then it may hurt their kid’s sense of self. Any which way you look, it’s a no win situation for anyone involved.
Granted, a bunch of these can happen when the child isn’t their parent’s student but we’re going with the basics. While all of these can create an extraordinary martial artist, it has the chance of combusting spectacularly.
1) No choice in joining
2) No choice to opt out
3) Your peers all hate you or suck up to you because of your position (standing)
4) You’re graded on a different curve from your peers and don’t have the option to slack off
5) Your parent always knows when you’re slacking off and may punish you even when you’re miles ahead of your peers
6) Even if you’re successful, you’re always disappointing someone
7) It’s very easy for the parent to lose perspective and it becomes all about what they want and not what their kid wants
It’s a very lonely place to be and an incredibly unfair position to put any child in. It’s not just martial arts either, it’s any specialized field. This doesn’t mean the parent needs to be separated from their child’s training forever. They can train together after their kid has established a base, developed a love of their craft separate from their parent, and secured their sense of self. That way the training can just be about the training and not their parent entirely informing every aspect of this skill which will become part of them.
I hope that made sense!