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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.