How many dads out there are old enough to remember what a pressure cooker is? We don’t mean your workplace, although that may describe your office to a T. We mean the kitchen appliance that mom used to use to cook roasts and other homemade delicacies. A pressure cooker is a kitchen apparatus that uses intense heat in a confined space for cooking food. The heavy steel container has a lid that seals tightly. There is a metal gauge on top of the lid. When the heat builds to a certain level, the only way for the hot air inside to escape is through a small opening on the gauge. When that happens, the gauge shakes, rattles, dances in circles and emits a hissing sound. The pressure cooker has blown its top! At least, that’s how we remember it.
Dad, have you said any of the following pressure-cooker statements to your teenagers?
- How can you expect to win first place with that kind of attitude?
- Is that really the best you can do?
- If you can get a 3.8 grade point average, then you can get a 4.0!
- If I can do it, then certainly you can do it.
- Don’t mess up—everyone’s watching you.
- Bring home that trophy!
- I expected a lot more from you.
At first glance most of these statements seem OK, constructive and instructive. We parents use some variation of them, as do coaches, counselors, teachers, and employers. We’ve all used them. It’s part of living and surviving in a competitive society. It’s part of our drive for excellence. Go! Fight! Win!
What behind the push?
It also explains the stress, sometimes unwarranted and unreasonable, that we parents place on our kids. As dads, as parents, we should ask ourselves: What’s my motivation for exerting pressure on my son or daughter? Do I have his or her best interests at heart? Or am I trying to fill a void in my own life? Am I mindful of the fact that my teenager is already putting immense pressure on him/herself in order to find acceptance and belong?
Push with finesse
Pressure isn’t necessarily bad. Occasionally we all need a nudge to keep us on our toes — from being too satisfied with where we are. It helps us to look forward so that we can advance and improve and achieve in a smart way. This is where finessecomes into play. Parents, teachers, coaches, counselors—all of us are supposed to apply just enough pressure to challenge our kids to stretch. But there’s a limit. As adults and as mentors, we need to handle with care and know when pressure may become destructive.
Let’s teach our kids to stretch, to reach beyond their grasp. That’s the way they grow. Let’s also recognize their limitations. Unreasonable expectations—pressure without finesse—are just a lot of hot air.