“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” ~Frederick Douglass
I often joke that it is easy to blame your parents for everything that you think is wrong with you, until you have children of your own. Then, all of a sudden, you realize that it is not that easy being a parent. Children don’t come with guidebooks and instructions; it isn’t always clear what is the right way to do things.
An author was discussing how stressful parenting is nowadays. We feel under pressure to perform at some self-imposed level. We think there are things we are supposed to be doing with and for our kids; goals we are supposed to be helping them attain. She mentioned that this type of parenting is recent. 100 years ago children were brought into this world with a purpose: they helped with the farm, or worked. The concept of childhood is relatively recent, and we are still trying to figure it out.
When I first went to Jamaica I realized that I had a childhood quite different from my peers. When I was on vacation from school if I visited the homes of my friends in the morning, they would be busy doing chores. If I wanted them to play, I would have to help them finish up. In my own home I didn’t have those kinds of responsibilities. Most Jamaicans of my era and beyond grew up with that strong sense of duty, of delayed gratification. You did not get to do something fun and enjoyable until you had completed your assigned tasks. That was a discipline they carry to this day.
But do we continue to instill the same values in our kids now? Or do we try to make up for what we perceive as our own deprived childhood and overcompensate with material goods? Do we try to visit our own ambitions and desires on our children? The author described the frantic life of most parents who are working and then ferrying their children from one after school activity to another. We are convinced that we need to uncover the secret talent that maybe we would have had, if only someone had taken the time to discover it.
So instead of spending time with our children, teaching them the joy of relationships; the fun of storytelling and discovering together, we burden them with a treadmill experience of goals to accomplish and dreams to fulfill. On top of our already stressful lives (trying to pay bills, trying to maintain a certain lifestyle) we now add the stress of molding our kids.
We call the millennial generation helicopter kids. These are kids whose parents still feel they have to swoop in to save their children from themselves, whether it is failing grades in college, or misadventures with the law. And these children are in their twenties, unable to cope with the responsibilities of life because we have not prepared them for it.
How much thought do we put into the raising of our children? I know I went by instinct! I had four kids in six year, was working full time (night shift mostly) and had very little energy left to think about what kind of job I was doing. All I could do was love them, and do what came naturally. I admire those parents who put thought into their actions; making conscious decisions about what they are doing, and how they do it. I am relieved to see that my children seem to have survived their childhood, and have grown into adults that I can be proud of.
We have to stop sometimes and think about the non-concrete things we need to provide for our children: unconditional love and acceptance, tempered with words of warning and encouragement when we see them drifting. We need to provide security and a safety net, yet like mother birds we must push them off the branch when they are too timid to try to fly. We need to teach them to appreciate the simple things: a good book; the joy of music and dancing; the beauty of nature.
We need to show them by our own example, how to live a compassionate and productive life. It cannot be a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ kind of method. I had a principal who used to say “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” Children use all of their senses to learn, they will not hear those words if your actions contradict them.
As a teacher I look at my students and wonder what their stories are. Some seem so damaged and traumatized, even at an early age. Some have to fight to overcome that trauma before they can be successful in school and in life. Others are able to use those same kinds of obstacles as a springboard; they are resilient enough to learn from the past and are determined not to repeat the patterns of their family life. Some of the wounds are too deep though.
On this Friday morning I hope you are enjoying your family, whether they are close to you or far away. For those with young children I wish you all the patience you need to see their beauty and ability and potential; and all the wisdom to nurture and support it. These are not easy times in which to raise kids. But if we can teach them to be productive members of society; aware of the need for compassion and care of all of our brothers and sisters, perhaps we will not have done such a bad job.
Have a wonderful weekend Family! In this harsh world we need more than ever to strengthen our bonds.