What is a parent? How do you view your role as a parent? If you indulge in shows such as "Dance Moms" or "Toddlers and Tiaras", you have seen numerous moms exclaim that their child's success is a direct reflection on themselves. They take it personally when their child does not succeed, and they see it as their right and responsibility to "force success" upon their child. Of course, these are the extreme cases (or they wouldn't get on TV), but how far from this are each of us? How do we take it when our child does not succeed? How personally do we interpret our children's individuality, especially when they choose a different path than we have chosen (for them)? As I pondered this, here are some of my thoughts...
As a parent, I am...
- My child's first and always primary teacher
- My child's role model for behavior and attitude
- The temporary custodian of these precious individuals
- A completely separate entity from my child
I am my child's first teacher. Even if you don't homeschool your child, you are building a foundation for their life time of learning, even in those first five years. What foundation will you build? I would assert that more important than ABCs or any academic foundation is a foundation of their Core. Teach them what is "right", "true", and "good". Be clear about defining these concepts for your children - clear that you personally have definitions for "right", "good", and "true". Children do not need an "open mind". They need the security of a solid Core. Teach them the value of work. They don't have to love work, but teach them the benefits (intrinsic, feelings of satisfaction) that come from a job well done. Teach them the basics of healthy relationships, including communication skills. These will all be very basic for young children, but they are a needed foundation. Children who feel "shaky" about their Core beliefs, or who do not value work, or who are struggling with basic relationships will find it very challenging to turn their attention to academics once they enter school. They will seek extrinsic rewards for academic performance and approval of teachers and peers, rather than an internal gauge of success.
Regardless of where your child sits for school, you are always the primary teacher - the teacher they return to. Do not delegate that role to anyone, regardless of their expertise.
I am my child's role model for behavior and attitude. Whether you realize it or not, your children watch you carefully. They may not always listen or remember what you say, but they will remember what you do and how your actions make them feel. Even worse, if your instructions contradict your actions and attitude, a child will become very conflicted. Model the characteristics and behaviors you want your child to display.
I am the temporary custodian of my precious children. My children came to me with personalities and their own reasons for being born. I have a few, precious years in which to help them develop their talents, strengthen their weaknesses, and uncover their purpose. It is my responsibility to raise them to be the best of who they already are inside. It is my responsibility to raise children who will be independent adults. Of course, we protect our children. Different ages require different levels of protection. But if we completely shelter our children from life's difficult lessons, we do them and society a disservice.
I am a completely separate entity from my child. I have a responsibility to develop my own talents, strengthen my own weaknesses, and uncover my own purpose - not live vicariously through my children. Ideally, we have a strong sense of who we are and why we are here before we begin raising our own children, but we will continue to grow for our entire lives. Even if we are still working on who we are, we should not use our children to define our identity. Our children may accomplish much thanks to our parenting (and driving and money and time), but they should be permitted to own their accomplishments. Allow them to work hard and succeed or fail. If they fail, help them learn and move on from that failure. Do not add to their failure that they have also failed you or "the family".
I was struck by a thought recently in a discussion about "pride". When we are "proud", it means that we are taking all of the credit for something. We are warned against pride in scripture, because being "proud" in that context means that we are not giving God (our creator) any credit for our accomplishments. We should be happy when our work pays off in accomplishment, but we still need to recognize that we did not do it completely on our own. In a similar way, when we are "proud" of our children, often we are taking credit for their accomplishments. Our children's success should make us happy (beyond happy...joyful), but be careful of how much credit we take for ourselves.
Parenting is the most challenging task I have encountered in my life. There are volumes of books that will tell you how to do it correctly. If you find a book that resonates for you and your child, then use the resource, by all means! But remember that you are the expert for your family and your children. Do not abdicate that to anyone, no matter what credentials they have acquired. Enjoy the time you have with your young children, and the beautiful people they grow to be.