This article was first published on Technorati as Parenting In Our Time Part 3: The Destination on Technorati. It is the third essay in a series entitled “Parenting In Our Time.”
Henry Kissinger once said the reason academics fight with one another so viciously “is precisely that the stakes are so small.”
This is also true about primary and secondary school results. Children and parents are made to suffer agonies over grade-level standings, test scores, and final marks that have no real meaning as measures and little significance in life. They have particularly trifling significance if we consider the destinations that most matter to our children, and consequently to us who love, protect, and guide them.
The destinations that matter are the persons our children will become, and the lives they will lead. Our daughters and sons will grow swiftly into adults. They need to become women and men possessed of wisdom, honor, grace, and kindness. They need to give and receive love. They need to create goodness, happiness, security, and peace.
One day your children may lead families of their own. They will live in communities. They will inherit what you bequeath them, and they will continue your ancestry and lineage. To fulfill the complex, vital roles that await them they need to evolve into responsible, effective, loyal, resilient, thoughtful people. They need to become pillars.
It will be lovely if they also can become calm and contented beings, and share their blessings widely. It will be lovely if they can feel themselves to be confident and capable women and men, and become catalysts for others’ peace and abundance.
Our children will inherit and must navigate a world that will evolve radically from today’s constructs. Their workplace will alter from ours in ways at least as numerous and extreme as ours have changed from our parents’.
Like us, our daughters and sons must master continuous revolution in civilization, society, and consciousness. Like us, they will need to figure out how to produce and preserve rather than flounder in an environment of incessant, swift, transformative change.
To meet the topography of constant, fast, vast innovation that awaits them, the educational destination that will be salient for many young adults is admission into and success in a suitable liberal arts or pre-professional university.
Not all persons should or can attend tertiary learning institutions [we’ll talk together about this important subject in a later essay]. For those who do want and need to learn at the highest levels, the key requirements are highly advanced thinking skills, creation skills, problem-solving skills, and communication skills.
Successful university students also must possess internal leadership: self-knowledge, self-assurance, self-reliance, personal motivation, and a passionate love for lifelong learning. And it certainly helps to develop external leadership capacities: interest in, empathy with, and impact upon other individuals, groups, teams, and communities.
In this context – the context of what actually is necessary for success in university, career, and life – a great deal that our children are made to worry about during their primary and secondary school years simply doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t.
The message here is that parents, especially first-time parents, easily can be led by uninformed social pressure into errors of myopia. We can become cudgeled by ignorant interest groups, erroneous influencers, well-intended but limited counselors.
Under the weight of misguided public opinion and hysterical media address, we can lose hold of our commonsense. We may fail to focus on the fact that our daughters and sons are engaged in a long, wondrous journey. We may forget that what most matters is their ultimate destination, not transitory way-stations or relatively inconsequential snapshot moments.
Anyone can panic: parenting is life’s most momentous responsibility. But we don’t have to accept panic. We don’t have to cede our inborn reserves of reason, self-belief, and power to a momentary fright. We can draw a deep breath, grin at ourselves, hug our partners, resolve to ignore the clangorous babble that surrounds and distracts us, and confidently teach our children to envision, desire, strive for, and achieve their most meaningful adult destinations.
This principle sounds simple, yet it can help immensely in providing us with clarity about how we should conceive of our calling and shape our activity as moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles.
Let’s say you have a chance to take your daughter with you on a ten-day business trip to Estonia. Her teacher tells you that your child can’t afford to miss a week and a half of her grade five school year. What should you do?
From the standpoint of your daughter’s ultimate destination, her enduring development, this is an easy call. Go to Estonia. Extend your trip. Stay for twelve days. Stay for fourteen. Visit Latvia too. Maybe you can take a train ride to the Finland Station as well.
You can find a civil way to tell the teacher you’re going to give your daughter (and yourself) an invaluable, an irreplaceable experience. Your child will be quite okay, despite missing some small portion of her state-mandated standardized schooling.
Parents’ True Balance
The perspective of a lifetime’s ultimate destination applies just as much to us as it does to our children.
We confront such intense pressure to forego substantive contact and communion with our children, and commit all the best energies of our imagination, will, and waking hours to our professions. Of course our work is important. But is it all-important? Must it always outweigh our vocation as parents?
This, too, is an easy call. In our sunset years we won’t care very much about our world of work. We’ll care profoundly about whom we have loved, and how we have loved.
This is indeed an easy call. We who parent need to find balance in our lives, and we need to will our balance into resolute loving action.
Children’s True Balance
No doubt our children must master each of their learning’s way-stations. Fundamentals such as language acquisition, mathematics, and science are crucial.
So, though, are fundamentals such as developing a conscious personal identity: becoming a self-aware human soul given to integrity, dignity, kindness, courtesy, respect for life, and love for all persons and creatures who live alongside us.
It’s essential our children learn as much as possible about the nature of the exterior universe. It’s equally essential they comprehend, love, and joyfully express their own world. Their inmost emotions, ethics, beliefs, faiths, and esthetics. Their truth, hallowed and whole.
This is your child’s ultimate destination, the one that most matters. Therefore this is the goal you should cherish and shepherd. All the rest is lesser.
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In our series’ next essay we’ll discuss some of the most effective ways we can help our children discover and fulfill their individual lifetime potential.