For your children, it’s a new school year. For you, its another step closer to when you’ll send your children off into the world. What a scary thought. Right?
But one day, these children, who depend on us for everything, will be independent, self sufficient. Already they are saying “I can do it myself” I can zip a zipper, I can tie, I can draw, dress. And sometimes we let them zip, tie, draw and dress. And sometimes we don’t.
How do we decide when to help? When to allow tv watching? When to allow iPads, cell phones, sugar?
This is such a smart, educated group of adults here in this room. So we ought to have parenting pretty figured out. Some of you have been at it for 9 years. Me, 18 years. Who has mastered parenting?
I am sorry that parenting doesn’t work that way. You will never figure it out. Just the fact that there are so many parenting books on the market is a sign that there are no satisfactory answers on how to do it well. All those books? They are a sign that there is a crisis of confidence in our ability to raise children in this country.
We all have something in common. We all have anxiety about raising our children. It is okay to admit it. And we should be anxious since our children’s health and well-being is completely our responsibility.
And we worry about our abilities as parents. At least I do. I worry that sometimes I am too permissive and sometimes I am too strict. Did I allow too much Halloween candy? Did I encourage my children to take responsibility for their own choices? Did I spend too much time at work? And what about the weird nanny 10 years ago?
There are so many paradoxes in parenting in today’s culture. We want our kids to be morally grounded and ethical, and we want them to be successful in a cut-throat world. We want them to grow up to be self-confident, but we have so little confidence that we know how to do it.
I have daydreamed about my children being accepted to prestigious colleges on full scholarships just so I can brag about my parenting skills. See, I wasn’t too permissive! Parenting has made us all crazy at times. We can admit it.
One thing for sure, it has made us into different people than we were pre-kids. Now we are more loving. More tired. More self-less. And also more selfish. I would put my child’s needs ahead of anyone else.
So, before I go on too long, I am going to tell you how to be a parent.
At some level, we all know that our culture isn’t good for kids. The commercialization, sensationalism and sexualization in the media is really disturbing. The culture of celebrity and egotism is really horrible. The professionalization of childhood, including youth sports, travel teams and tutors isn’t really spot on for kids.
How to parent is simple, but impossible. It’s this: let your children extend their childhood as long as possible. Fourth grade is fourth grade, and your children will be ready for it when the time comes.
Extend childhood. Let them explore with their hands, let them play with younger children and older ones, let them spend as much time as possible in places that respects their innate curiosity. A place with high expectations not high stakes testing. A school where they will be known by loving teachers who believe learning isn’t a competition with winners and losers. Learning is just what people do.
I think you will find that the less you try to make your child into something, (like some idealized version of you), the more they will grow into someone competent, grounded and amazing. The less you try to toughen them up for the real world, the more confidently they will be able to navigate it.
So last words, let your kids see you live your values. Be true to yourself. Step away from your parenting anxiety. Show your children that you have faith in their ability to grow up strong. They’ll watch you and they’ll learn from you. And they will grow into wonderful people.