By Jennifer Richardson
Raising an others-centered child in a child-centered culture. This encapsulates how I have felt as a twenty-first century parent. How do we help a new generation of people understand humankindness? Humankind-NESS. As in, what it should mean to live this life in close proximity to other human beings and try to be a blessing as we go.
Producing human beings is a fairly straightforward process. On the other hand, turning out good people is not nearly as simple. Parenting, and indeed all effort to influence anyone for the better, is a gargantuan task—and I applaud anyone who demonstrates the resolve to do this well.
And I suppose every age group has the same general apprehension about the generation coming up; we all eventually say, what happened, and how are things so different from when I grew up? I recognize that all generations are vulnerable to closing their minds to progress, and I want to truly celebrate all the new ways that people find to positively shape a life. However, our new view of children seems to lack once-common wisdom.
I read somewhere recently that parenting has replaced religion for some people. While this may be stretching things a bit for most, there are indications that children have become the focus.
Some of the awkwardness stems from how we seem to over-celebrate. I received a formal graduation photo from a friend several years ago. It had been taken in an official photography studio, and it showed her in a daughter in an official ceremonial graduation cap and gown, holding a diploma—from pre-school.
We hand out ribbons to all participants and we tell everyone they are the best. We tell our children they can do anything, be anything, and have anything–as if doing, becoming, and having are birthrights.
Care for our children has come to revolve around their every feeling. Every typical childhood feeling becomes a diagnosis. If their feelings are hurt, we offer them a label. If they would prefer to stay home and play games than attend school, we offer them another label. If they like to be up running instead of sitting quietly, we label them something else.
These are normal childhood situations, predictable in fact. But rather than ask our children to do anything that is not their first choice, we consent to let them to lean on their labels. It has become more difficult to plainly say: be resilient, you need to go to school, and yes, you will need to learn to sit still when it is respectful to do so.
We don’t want our children to ever dislike us. We sacrifice civility, appropriate language, and manners so as not to inflict any damage on our child’s self-esteem or self-expression. We also protect our children from feeling loss, heartache, guilt, and pain. We don’t want them to suffer for anything.
I can see the good intentions, it is certainly not bad to love our children, follow up on their worries, or offer them strategies or assistance to handle problems that are larger than their capacity. And there are times and places for mitigation and protection, especially for children who face unusual difficulties. When they hurt, we hurt. A brutal dog-eat-dog world is not the answer.
But navigation of basic childhood should not be wrapped in such protective coating. We want to be encouraging, helpful, and hopeful for our children, but also offer useful direction to help them mature. But how is this accomplished in this modern, child-centered world? The answer was once referred to as common sense.
We should celebrate achievements, and we should have to work for them. By definition, there is only one best, and when we miss it, we should pick ourselves up and try harder. No one owes us anything. We should not be handed a triumph, and we become what we spend our time doing. Labels inform our choices but they are not our identity. Having a problem is not a license to make destructive decisions. Feelings come and go and are not a reliable basis for important life choices. We often need to do things that we wouldn’t choose to do. Suffering builds an empathy that nothing else can. We shouldn’t say everything that enters our mind, and we learn just as much from a loss as we do a win, perhaps more. We don’t pitch a tent and settle in because of a failure, we learn to take the next good step.
The return on investment in common sense is resilience, a quality that appears to be dwindling. Today’s challenge looks like a mountain in front of our child, but years from now when that mountain is behind them, the character they built climbing it will still be with them. Some of the world’s greatest people have been motivated by mistakes, setbacks, and life-lessons. Abraham Lincoln had a failed business and lost many elections before becoming a president that changed the world as we know it.
A child’s perspective should include some common sense. They simply cannot reach genuine adulthood if they believe life revolves around them. The moment they are capable of making a difference in the world, is the very moment they understand that they are not the center of it.