Can you rush a flower to grow faster? No, of course not, sometimes it may seem like modern advancements may allow you to do so, however, what are you really doing? You are either increasing the amount of nutrition it gets, increasing the amount of light it gets or altering it in a way to make it bulkier. I realize that is a massive overgeneralization, but it really proves the point that I am trying to make with this.
You can nurture something, and it will grow, you can give it support, and it will take root and flourish, but if you hurry it, force it, or alter it in an attempt to make it better faster you are more likely to ruin it than help it. Why am I even talking about this? Well, in my opinion, this is the best way to parent. Pick any aspect of your child’s development that you would like to improve. What brings this to mind for me is music, but it can really be anything. My son wants to play in a band. Ok, Great, most kids at some point want to be a rock star, heck, I want to be a rock star! So what can I do to help him? Well, the first step is already taken, I asked what I can do to help. I didn’t ask what can I do to make him a rock star, it isn’t up to me, and if I try to force it, I will ruin it. What I always try to do is this, I ask myself if they need help, if so, how can I provide that help? Often, the best assistance for a child learning something new is just the knowledge that a parent has his back. The child knowing that I am here to help and support, lovingly, and encourage his growth and journey, is often the greatest gift a parent can give. Next, if there is some way I can help, I look closely at it and try to find the best way to help the child help themselves in that regard. For example, I don’t just force my boy to go to music lessons, but I make sure he has those lessons available and try to show him why they are important. In the specific case of music, the deal I have made with my kids is that I will pay for any lesson they want, but if I do, they have to go and do their best. If they don’t, I will stop providing them. As an added incentive, I have told them that I will offer lessons to anything they want, so long as they have instruction in one classical instrument also. For example, my son wants to learn how to play the bass guitar, and I will bring in an instructor for that, but he has to take a lesson with an orchestra instrument also, in his case, violin. He doesn’t have a passion for the violin the way he does the bass, but expanding his musical appreciation and knowledge will help him later no matter what instrument he decides to pursue. Not only is he incentivized to learn both, he gains killer riffs and licks while also learning musical history and theory.
I do the same with my kids reading. They have books that the school requires them to read, which they have provided, and as long as they keep up on their required reading, they have an open tab at the bookstore. If they read the stuff they HAVE to read, they always have unlimited access to the materials they WANT to read. It is gentle nurturing, a loving nudge in the right direction without being forceful. I know that if I only require my kid to learn violin or reading novels, they have a strong chance of growing up hating it and never having those creative outlets when they are older, however, by providing that gentle push toward the things they need along with open access to the things they love, they will grow from both. In the same way, as if you over-fertilize soil in a garden, nothing grows as well under pressure as it does with plenty of support, plenty of nurturing, lots of love, patience and time required for nature to take its course.
Another way I encourage the growth of these long-term good habits is with the intersection of novels and movies. My son wanted to watch Harry Potter, so I encouraged him to read the books first, I told him that we would watch the movies one year from when he asked, but if he read the books first, I would show the film as soon as the book was finished. After encouraging him this way for the first few books, he now realizes that there is a vastly different experience between the two and often asks not to see the movie until he is done with the book. I didn’t push him, I didn’t ban anything, I simply told him exactly when it would happen and precisely how to speed that up. All the choice was his, and the motivation was all on him. You could say that I provided the light and the water, and he decided to use it to grow faster.
Now, it may also be easy to misunderstand me here and think that I never enforce, never punish, never shape these kids, and that would be wrong, vastly wrong. Even in things like music and sports, we have house rules that must always be followed, in the same way that the garden has a fence around it, my kids are lovingly nurtured in structure and guidance. A great example of this is the sports that my kids play. I personally have no interest in sports, but I encourage my kids to be active and play something. There are rules, to follow, however. The hardest rule for my kids to understand and accept regarding sports is that I only allow them to play one at a time. Period. They can choose their sport, but only one at a time. This forces them to focus their attention and energy on one thing and do it better. It also forces them to give all their effort to their teammates, which I feel is only fair to the other kids. A second rule is that while they are allowed to choose their sports, they are required to finish any season they start, again, like it or not if you commit to a team, you owe that team to be there. The few times that this has been an issue, I have used it as a learning moment for responsibility and sportsmanship and reminded them of it the next time they sat down to choose a new sport.
Lastly, I always try to balance opportunity with the cost. This is the lesson that has helped me the most in my life, and I hope it will also help my children in the same way. Here is what I mean by that. I do my level best to provide to my children all the possible opportunities that I can, as I said before, I provide unlimited access to books and novels, I provide musical instruments and instruction for them, I give access to technology and guidance on how to use it. This is the opportunity side of the balancing equation. The cost side is I never hide from my children how much time, money, and effort it takes me to provide that, similarly, I always try to make them have some skin in the game, something they are committing, some cost to them. Many times it is in actual dollars, but more often it is in a contractual style commitment, them openly choosing between two things. I feel that if they have to give something up to get what they want, then they will have a better understanding that nothing in life is fair, nothing is even, and nothing is free. By doing this, they gain ownership in their chosen activity, item, or goal. By having it cost them something personally, it creates value in that thing. They treasure their music more because they know and remember that the awesome guitar they play now they had to pay for earlier with violin lessons, they earned it before they mastered it, and in doing so, it is important to them. They appreciate their rink time more because they know that they purposefully choose that over baseball and they traded baseball for skating on purpose. I intend that in this way, many more parts of their life growing up will be memorable, pleasurable and treasured to them because they didn’t just live thru it, but they participated in it, helped form it, and lived it out loud.
As parents, we all want to give our kids something more than we had, but when we look back, what did we have that really mattered, what stood out? More times than not for me, at least those things are the experiences, not the material things. Whether or not they had the newest earbuds seems like the world’s most important thing to them right now, but, like us, when they look back thru the lens of time passed, they will see the truly important parts are the times they spent at music camp, at the lake, learning to sail, snowboarding with their friends, or that first time that they tried something that they really loved and chose to make a part of their life forever, possibly even their career. My last thought to you on this is simple, be patient. Like the flowers in the example above, your kids need time to grow in every way, and the most important gift you can give them is that time. Time to pursue their wants, needs, and dreams. Time to explore who they are, who they want to be, and what they want. As parents, we are really busy. So busy that we often forget that our kids are not that busy. They don’t need to be. Pushing them from one thing to the next, pulling them with us through our day, rushing their life past does not help them, and often the time they need is not theirs, it is ours. Take the time to be present with them in all these things you encourage them to do. Skate, read, play, jam, learn, and rock out with them. You may be surprised to find out later the most memorable part of their life was the time spent with you.
Peace, Love, and Kindness.
Categories: Parenting Thoughts