Vantage Point

Let me state right up front that I am not a parent. Apart from living with an infant for a year, I have not resided with a child. I have never experienced the fear that grips when you lose sight of your child in a park. I have never felt the aching pull when you have to be at work and your child is ill. I have never felt the overwhelming joy when your child takes his first step or reads her first book.

But that’s not to say I’m ignorant of parenting. I’ve spent the past thirteen years teaching 13 and 14 year olds. It’s a pivotal point in their lives; this is when they are starting to apply the lessons they learned in childhood. They are beginning to separate from their parents and take their first tentative steps into the bigger world. And it’s an interesting vantage point.

There are aspects of parenting I will never understand or appreciate. I have the utmost respect for those who parent selflessly. It’s a difficult job.

And it’s one that I often see people approach as though they’re afraid they will be terminated.

But the thing about parenting is that, if you do it well, you will lose the job.

That’s the point.

The goal of parenting should not be to be the parent possible or even to create the best kids possible.

It’s to raise the best adults possible.

It’s a blend of accepting the realities of the moment (terrible twos anyone?) yet always keeping in mind the intended outcomes. It’s about being the parent that your child needs, not the parent you would prefer to be (or the parent your parent was).

Based on my observations on the thousands of teenagers that have crossed my path over the years, these are the most important lessons to give your children:

Perseverance

Let your child fail but don’t let them internalize failure. Let them see you struggle and let them see what you gain when you do. Teach them that everything worthwhile in life requires effort. Discourage the use of the words, “I can’t.” Encourage them. Celebrate success but also celebrate attempts. Especially repeated ones. Remind them of skills they now take for granted that took tenacity to develop. Teach them the difference between quitting and letting go. Give them love but make them earn respect. If you give them everything, they become like a lion in a zoo. Unable to hunt on their own.

Empathy

Expose your child to the larger world. Do not attempt to hide all suffering. Suffering is part of life. Teach your child to respect and honor it. Model empathy. Use stories in books and movies as an opportunity to have them express what a character is feeling. Give them an opportunity to care for another. Even if it’s just a fish.

Integrity

Be careful what you model; they will do as you do, not what you say. Reward honesty. Discuss implications of dishonesty, both personal and societal. When they call you out when your actions do not match your words (this WILL happen), admit it. And then fix it.

Responsibility

Teach them that their response is always a choice. Nobody can make them feel or act a certain way. Discuss consequences of choices and then let them happen. A consequence must be felt to be effective. Don’t intervene in every situation. There will come a time when you can’t and your child needs to learn how to fight for himself.

Humility

Teach them that if they think they know everything, they will learn nothing. “I don’t know” is a starting point, not a conclusion. Let them see you learn. Show that you are human. And fallible. And teach them that they are too.

Gratitude

Have them create gratitude lists, whether through bedtime prayers or in a journal. Highlight the positives. Teach them that whatever they nurture will grow and help them grow life’s flowers. Don’t just tell them they have it good; show them. Gratitude is a powerful tool; help them learn to wield it.

It’s easy to get caught up in the thousands of details that fill each day as a parent. But in the end, the lessons above are the ones that really matter. Teach those and you will put yourself out of a job. And this is one job you want to lose.

Because the severance package is pretty awesome.

8 responses to “Vantage Point

  1. You raise some good points, and I know teachers have a unique insight into other people’s children. I think, though, that parents (and I am one) can only teach what they themselves can do. In my years of raising my kids, I have come to believe that 98% of parents do the best they can do given who they are. The outside world is responsible for the rest of the lessons. Also, brain development continues until mid-20s. Some of these lessons middle-school aged kids are completely not able yet to integrate.

    I face an empty nest in a couple of years — one in college, one halfway through high school. And I am struggling with it, despite my desire to see them soar into fully-actualized lives and dreams. My kids are incredible people. But they have their struggles. From my own perspective, I’ll add to your list the biggest gifts I hope to impart. One is that it is of the utmost importance to be kind. Kindness is seriously under-rated in today’s impatient and fast-paced world. The other is having faith in yourself. Which falls under a number of the items above. But having faith means trusting you can handle what comes your way, even if you fail, even if something is really not your fault, even if you are subject to constant unceasing criticism and to ridiculous standards in today’s multimedia world.

  2. What wonderful insight you have! Even though I dread my kids moving on into adulthood, I know that is the ultimate goal. You stated it perfectly. Thank you.

  3. Wonderfully done. I am and am not a parent. I married many years ago a man with two sons, at the time they were 2 and 4, now they are 35 and 37. When we finally legally separated 20 years ago they both lived with me, their mother (my wife-in-law) asked the court to grant me custody as they had been with me for many years at that point. She and I have a mutual love for them and each other and have worked hard to raise awesome adults, we have been successful despite their father.

    All that you have said here, yes and doubly yes.

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