Discover the Child

Discover the Child
"There is a tiny light in the unconscious of mankind which guides it toward better things." "We must follow the child, but we must follow the child as his leader." -Maria Montessori

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Hanging up the Cape: A Call for the End of Superparenting

Let's take a deep breath, hang up our capes, and feel the weight of the super "S" lift off our chest.

Parents, we deserve a lot of credit. Every parent I've ever met wanted exactly the same thing- to do the absolutely best job he or she could as a parent. 

Somewhere along the way the parent job description has been rewritten by Marvel Comics, because no human being could possibly meet the qualifications we've collectively placed on ourselves. I want for us to look carefully at this parenting role, because our real job is an important one- the most important one. I'd suspect that our quest for superparenting is hurting our children and causing us, the parents, immense anxiety. 

Let's be clear about what's not in our job description! It's not our job as parents to:

xPrevent negative experiences and emotions, failure or struggle.
xDo everything we can for our child, even when he is capable of doing it for himself.
xFill our child with knowledge and hone her skills so she is the best at sports and school. 
xPunish, reward, praise and scrutinize your child’s actions.
It's hard to see our children on a roller coaster of emotions, to struggle through each milestone along the pathway to independence. Let's face it, we don't always feel great about our children's growing independence. After all, a mother and child were completely symbiotic at the beginning of this parenting journey and each stage of independence from birth, to weaning to walking, to the first day of preschool brings a new separation that requires not only our support, but our complete acceptance.
When we forget that it's the consequences our children experience that develop self-control, we may feel like a heartless despot watching our child melt into a boneless puddle on the floor when her markers are taken away because she forgot again to draw only on the paper. It's not fun with your child erupts with the fury of Mt. Vesuvius as you walk or carry (with warning) him off of the playground and into the car because he hit a child on the playground.

Of course we want our children to feel happy, but we need to feel ok with our children experiencing life, learning through failure, and growing through struggle. 
Because we can't be here...

Maybe we can start from a simpler definition. A parent's our job is to: 
Live together in a home you’ve created to meet the needs of the people who live there.
Clearly communicate the expectations of the people that live in that home and follow through with those expectations.
Love unconditionally, including self.
Allow your child the freedom to experience life within safe limits
Above all...

“What do children need most? To be loved, to know themselves to be valued by humanity is more important than knowledge or skill. To truly listen, to be heard and understood… total concentration on the other is always a manifestation of love.” -Dr. Adele Diamond

What do I love so much about this grand summary for parents and educators? This ultimatum is from Dr. Adele Diamond, a founder of the field of Cognitive Neuroscience. She doesn't ask us to buy computer programs, drill our children with flashcards, or hire an Au Pair who speaks Mandarin to benefit our children. She asks us to love them, to respect them, and to be present for them. 

What does our child need to learn to succeed in the 21st century? According to Dr. Diamond, a child needs to learn life skills called executive functioning skills, like self control, emotional control and concentration. Our children don't learn these skills from flashcards and worksheets. A child doesn't learn self control from sticker charts or from being told how wonderful, smart and brilliant he is. Our children learn executive functioning skills from real life experiences. A child learns life skills from a challenging task that interests him. When he fails, he's allowed to figure out for himself how to make changes and is given the time and freedom try again. Her task can be anything from trying to scale a climbing wall on the playground, to wiping up the milk she's spilled.

It's not our job to praise her, instruct her or advise her. It's our job to protect her concentration, to make sure she has the tools that fit her small hands to do the job right, to fade into the background so she can notice her own elation at whatever she considers to be a success. When she says "I did it!" we don't belittle and eclipse her own internal gratification with our praise, but simply reflect her own joy back to her, saying "You did it!" 

Let's put some of our parent worry on the shelf. Remember when your child learned to walk. You let him try and practice and fall. You were there for a hug when he needed it, but you knew he couldn't learn by holding your fingers. He had to try it on his own. Pretty soon, he was running. It was the same with talking and it will be the same with reading and fractions and friendships. We look to see if our children need any support along the way, but we know they are the ones doing the growing. 

After all, we don't need to be all things for our child, we just need to be there. That's super enough.

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