What is our job as parents?
Don’t answer right away, think about it for a moment or two.
Is a parent’s job to teach their children? To protect their children? To drive them to soccer practice? How about to Love them? Teach them how to be good adults?
I don’t think any of those are correct. Children won’t always take the intended meaning from a lesson. A parent might intend to teach their child how to cross the street safely, but the lesson the child learns is actually that streets are dangerous and from that point on they cower. At first the parent may believe this is a good thing – after all their little one can’t get run over if they never cross the street. However on closer look the parent taught their child that the world is scary and dangerous. And by instilling that fear they also inhibited their child’s ability to actually assess the world for real danger and the likelihood of injury could actually increase.
To drive them to soccer practice? I think not. Soccer isn’t for everyone.
To love them? Perhaps. But more importantly to love them in a manner they receive. A parent can love with all their heart, but if that child doesn’t believe the parents actions are actually love, then it isn’t.
How to be good adults? What is a good adult anyway? One that makes lots of money, or has a big house, lives naturally? That’s a pretty vague notion, something else must be the main goal of parents.
To protect children? Maybe. Partially. Unfortunately many parents believe they need to protect their children from imagined dangers. Or real dangers that are better experienced than protected from. We’re guilty of this on occasion as well. However, our children still have the opportunity to be children. They run barefoot, they climb trees (or they try anyhow), they pick up bugs (and slugs – blech), they ride horses, they swim, but most importantly if they want to try something we usually let them.
We recently met a family with one child on a special diet for health reasons. At eleven that child is not allowed to attend birthday parties on her own, plus she must bring her own food. She is not allowed to attend day camps for fear she might eat something that isn’t good for her. Sure she might eat something that could get her sick, but is it really doing her any good being protected by her parents?
Let’s look at what she’s learning. She can’t be trusted to know what is or isn’t safe. The world isn’t safe. Only her parents can keep her safe, but only if she is segregated from the rest of the world.
What isn’t she learning? How to protect herself, to advocate for herself. She isn’t learning that the world can be safe and that other people are willing to look out for her as well. She isn’t learning how to play freely with her friends. Every single aspect of her life is shadowed by her diet – all out of love.
So if I don’t believe these are what being a parent is actually about, then what is our job?
As parents it is our job to raise our children to have positive views of themselves and the world.
Perhaps you’ve seen it also. People who see the good in the world, the good in the people around them are happier. They also tend to have better ‘luck’ than those with a negative view. They go farther in life, live longer, live happier.
How do we go about raising children with positive views of themselves and the world?
We allow them to roam free as much as possible. When they’re little, just learning to crawl, allow them to navigate a safe room freely. Allow them to gain confidence in themselves and learn that the world is safe. As they learn to walk and climb, follow behind, if you must, but allow them to climb up and down those stairs a million times. remove anything that’s likely to be truly dangerous and let them explore their home without hearing “No” all the time. The more freedom they have the more confident they become. They learn their limitations, but also their strengths.
As they get older, let them ride the bike. Let them climb at the playground. If they fall, hug them, kiss them, let them cry. Encourage them to try again. If they are afraid of something, let them be afraid, but don’t deepen their fear.
As a baby Agatha was afraid of dogs. We never forced her near them, but if we saw one, we didn’t pick her up and run away either. We’d pick her up, and talk about the dog as it passed. Once it was gone, we’d wave bye-bye and say “wow, you were really brave, you didn’t cry as the dog walked passed.” Eventually she gained the courage to pet a dog. Now she loves them.It would have been easier for us to pick her up and walk away from dogs, but would it have done her any good? She’d be less likely to ever get bitten by a strange dog, but she’d be afraid. The fear could have grown, she could have become afraid to leave the house for fear of seeing a dog. We allowed her the opportunity to see that most dogs are friendly and ways she can keep herself safe around dogs she doesn’t know.
What other ways can we encourage a positive view of the world and of themselves? We can spend time with them.
When we went to the playground last week, we played pirates. The entire family joined in the fun. Tomorrow we’re going birdwatching. We play games at home – both made up and structured. We cuddle and read books. Spending time with our children lets them know they really are important to us. When we follow their lead, it shows them their ideas are valuable.
That is ultimately the key. Children need to know they are worth their parents time and that their thoughts are worth listening to.