Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What We Truly Want for Our Children

Eighteen years ago, when I was pregnant and in Lamaze class, our instructor asked each of us to share something we wished for our child.  Not having children yet, so in no way understanding the powerfully transformative love that would grab hold of me the second I held my little one in my arms, I said something from the head rather than the heart, and something rather foolish in any regard.  “I wish for my child the attributes of being organized and easy going!” I stated.  (You have to know me to understand my obsession with organizing.  Easy going is how I balance that!) Those practical attributes had made my life easier, so I thought, what a reasonable gift to wish for my child.  Oh my.  How much more I could now say that I wish for my son.  At seventeen, he is about to be launched into legal adulthood, college, the next level of independence, and a world I will not control.  I wish so much for him - that he be kind and self-reflective, adaptable and resilient, content and happy,  courageous and hard-working, and yes, easygoing to weather the hardships, and organized so he can manage life’s hectic schedule.  

There is so much chatter today on how to help your child “succeed” school, socially, in their musical / athletic / artistic pursuits, but what is it we really mean by “succeed”?  Success, for many of us, is close to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition:  “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.”  In this economy, we are even more focused on the financial aspects of success; we want our children to be able to have a career that will sustain them, bring contentment and challenge, and provide security.  These are not unworthy goals.  Yet if we think of what makes us happy, fulfilled, truly alive, and able to lead a life of value in this world, what would we add beyond financial security or professional accomplishment?  As Shefaly Tsabary, clinical psychologist, states in her recent TED Talks, “In today’s parent culture, children can’t merely play - they have to achieve, they can’t enjoy a hobby unless they excel, dare not dream unless that dream leads to ‘success’.”

You have chosen a Montessori education for your child, but our greater culture hasn’t stopped bombarding you with fear-based messages of what it takes to engineer your child’s “success”.  Take heart because research affirms the biggest predictors of success, as defined by both conventional standards and a more whole-person approach, are the acquisition of attributes taught and modeled in a Montessori setting.  These are: resiliency, confidence, social skills, inquisitiveness, grit, determination, the ability to think creatively and collaboratively, experience of real work and working hard, self-motivation, self-regulation, empathy, and continual self-development.  Of course, knowledge and skill are necessary for success, but these we continually acquire; learning does not stop after formal education, in fact, some would say it is primarily through self-initiative that we weld external information with internal understanding.  We have to subjectively personalize knowledge to truly own it. Success - that’s a very personal and subjective idea, too.  If we imagine our children in adult lives what is the picture we would truly draw in our mind’s eye in our hopes and wishes for them?  It’s something to think about as we are knee-deep in navigating the waters of their childhood.

So, what made me chose this topic for the blog?  Recently, faculty and friends shared several sources of profound, corrective, and inspiring messages to parents on what they should be focused on.  These authors and speakers challenge us to define what we personally mean by “success” in thinking what we most want for our children in their adult lives. The titles of these articles and clips may not each have the word “success” in them, but I found, in reviewing them, a common core on the topic of success. They speak to parents’ hopes, dreams, and fears, on behalf of their children. I encourage you to take the time to watch the TED Talk, at a minimum, as it is truly uplifting, and read the articles if you have the time.  I’d love to hear what you think of them if you'd like to send me an email.  

In addition, I will be attending the upcoming CommonGround lecture on Raising Happy, High Achieving - and Moral - Children, presented by Dr. Richard Weissbourd, MD, faculty member of the Kennedy School of Government and School of Education, Harvard University, and author of, The Parents We Mean to Be, which was the springboard for a parent education session last year. Dr. Weissbourd is acutely aware of the daily challenges parents face in raising children, and his objective is to offer an encouraging road map to all that parents are doing right, and where they may consider correcting course. He writes, “What matters most as a parent is not whether my wife and I are ‘perfect’ role models or how much we talk about values, but the hundreds of ways – as living, breathing, imperfect human beings—we influence our children in the complex, messy relationships we have with them day to day.” I hope you will join me in attending this session - it promises to be full of practical parenting tips!

Wishing everyone the joys of spring and the promise of renewal!         


Next CommonGround Lecture   Monday, April 13th
The Pennington School
Raising Happy, High Achieving - and Moral - Children  
Dr. Richard Weissbourd, MD
faculty member of the Kennedy School of Government and School of Education, Harvard University