Giving children an opportunity to grow

Being a parent is one of the most difficult jobs you can have. It requires hard work and dedication.

In it, you commit 20 years of your life to forming and shaping another human being. If you get it wrong, you can get it really wrong.

Besides getting your genetics, your hereditary disease history, your family, they get so much more. They get your attitude about life and some of your personality traits.

If you are generally a happy person, then your child will be too. If you value education and life-long learning, and not just pay lip service to it, they will too. If you are a screamer, a slob, disorganized, they will be too.

It’s an unfortunate truth, but children pick up our own negatives and amplify them. An observant parent may see this and decide to engage in some personal character development in order to nip those things in the bud. Nothing is a stronger catalyst for change and self improvement than your children. You want to change yourself for the better in order to set the example.

Unfortunately, there are some that don’t recognize the deep flaws in their own character, and they end up passing the flaws they hate the most about themselves, onto their children.

I take parenting really seriously. I try to engage my daughter’s mind. We always strive to learn something. She learns this by activities I chose to do with her, and by seeing my example at home. We do a lot of academic workbooks and reading. It’s great that she is somewhat academically gifted and enjoys doing it. Her academic prowess has always been far above her grade level. Part of that is nature, but a lot is nurture. I’m glad she has picked up the love of learning, and is interested in discovery and growing her mind.

It pains me to see adults who have lost that verve, who live their lives without the slightest bit of curiosity about things around them. They live their day, doing the same things over and over. They never reach for something different, just to try it… even if they may be disappointed by the outcome. Don’t they get bored? What can they possibly talk about? I guess that is why gossiping is a popular past time with some people. They don’t have anything else to talk about.

Ironically, the incurious tend to be extremely opinionated, usually opining about things in which they are completely ignorant about, (the average neighborhood Republican is pretty good about that. They don’t even watch the news yet they have an opinion about politics! I simply am amazed at the things that come out of people’s mouths. I don’t mind if I don’t agree with an opinion based on fact, but when opinions are spewed without any foundation… that’s just annoying. Admittedly, I am flawed because I have a serious prejudice against willful ignorance.) Anyway, these folks tend to be very critical and judgmental. In short, they are exactly the wrong fixings for a parental role-model because their “example” is everything children should NOT be. Children need to be open to new ideas, not closed to them.

Since my daughter was a toddler, her dad and I engaged her in artistic endeavors. She is an skillful artist; her favorite medium is drawing and painting. She also adores crafts. I have no skill in either of these areas despite it running in my family. However, I make sure she has ample opportunity to engage in it because she really enjoys it. Music… now that IS my thing, and I’m very well trained in it. Of course she isn’t interested in mamma’s expertise.  She wants to do her own thing.

Expanding children’s horizons doesn’t always involve a financial investment. When my daughter was a baby, I couldn’t have been more strapped for cash. Instead, I exposed her to nature. We walked the neighborhood and we would search for different shaped leaves and we would describe them. I remember we once collected 12 different shaped leaves in autumn. I had no idea we had such variety within 3 blocks of my house. We glued them onto a page and made a piece of artwork out of it. Other ways to explore nature included having her observe the sound of the birds and notice the color of the clouds. We had a favorite perch near the subway where a bird built a nest underneath an air conditioner. We would stare for some time hoping to get a glimpse of the babies. Other nature includes enjoying the ocean, and going to various farms to see animals.

That is only one aspect of cultural development. She is also exposed to various forms of culture having gone to museums (and not just children’s museums), live music and theater productions as well as performance productions that involved her participation. I even took her to the ballet which is something I hate with a passion. That brings me to the point of this post.

As parents, if we want the very best for our children, then we need to shed away OUR opinions and likes. We must allow them the opportunity to have a wide exposure to many things, not just what we know or like. We need to give them the opportunity to decide for themselves what they like, and what they don’t like. But if we don’t, we are making their choices for them before they have had a choice to know what their own mind is. That’s not really fair to them.

As an aside, while studying at the conservatory, we needed money to pay for our opera productions. We took a show of opera excerpts on the road where we performed at various elementary schools and middle schools in the Tri-state area. You think kids don’t like opera? Well you’d be wrong. The kids LOVED our shows. We weaved those shows together in a way to made it easily relate-able. The first year we did pop tunes back to back with a piece from an opera letting our audience know that the the words, the sentiment was the same idea. The second year, it was a skit, sort of a Sharks vs. Jets rumble where we weaved a story line into the scenes. We gave example of movies or cartoons or other tv that they watch that feature opera prominently. We informed them that it isn’t so serious, that they can laugh if they find a scene funny, they can cry. We received standing ovations each and every time. And the Q&A sessions… we always ran out of time. The kids were forever changed. They realized it wasn’t that remote. In short, they loved the shows and if it weren’t for us, they may never have had the experience.

Having had this experience first hand, enriching the lives a children, nothing pains me more than close-minded parents who do nothing to engage and enrich the experiences of their kids, assuming that their kids won’t enjoy it. They don’t even give their kids a chance. And then, they raise mini-clones of themselves, closed minded and uncultured.

I live in the greatest cultural Mecca in the world with people who have never seen live theater or have been to a museum essentially because they are intellectually and physically lazy. They can’t be bothered to stretch outside of their comfort zone just a little bit. It’s sad. People simply do things by rote. They’ll send their kids to private schools presuming that paying tuition means the school is better. Then they become disillusioned when they find out the private school didn’t serve them well. Did they do any research on it? Often private schools are not any better than the local schools within the community it serves. They boil baby bottles because that’s “what you do” when in reality, that was a tradition set forth before we had municipal drinking water that was well sanitized. If you are going to do something, don’t just do it “because”. Do it because you have a reason for it. If it is a tradition, find out why. Maybe it no longer applies. (I didn’t boil my baby bottles after the initial sanitation of them, and besides, a dishwasher works just fine…. oh and I breast fed most of the time anyway.)

Another problem with the incurious is they tend to form opinions about things they do not have personal experience in. Is this really a good example to set for their kids? You will hear, “I don’t like this!” How would you know what you like or don’t like if you haven’t had any exposure to it? They often don’t push to go beyond the status quo. They’ll justify their lazy parenting by saying this is what their parents did and they are just fine. (Well that’s an opinion. I don’t think people who don’t strive for constant self-improvement are “just fine”, but that’s an entirely different discussion.) They’ll leave their kids to run wild in the back yard rather than taking them out to engage them in something special that is out of the ordinary. Their mothers did it this way so it must be ok. The children survived but did they thrive?

People stuck in this way of thinking don’t examine if this really is the best way. They simply settle for doing things the way they already know without any introspection of whether it could be improved. It’s a shame because life can offer so much more and as parents we should be offering our children a life without limits, not limiting their lives before our children have the chance to experience it.

One of my lifelong dreams was to travel. I didn’t think I would ever have that opportunity. I thought it was too hard not knowing another language, or feared not having people to visit, or that it was too expensive. A roommate of mine said, “Why not? What’s stopping you?” I didn’t want to go alone, but I didn’t want to lose out in the opportunity. So I saved my money from my extremely meager salary and I financed a trip to an Italian language school. I lived with an Italian family. (I actually had the opportunity to live with three different Italian families; Sicilia, Firenze and Roma; and one German family, near Stuttgart in my travels). I learned Italian which I can still speak today.

This travel was when I was in my early 20′s and lived, breathed and ate Italian culture from the inside out. The experience forever changed my life and my perspective about a lot of things. You learn so much about a culture from speaking the language and living with natives. I also was fortunate to fall in love and meet a wonderful Romanesco. He romanced me on the side of the Tiber river, on his motorino and many seaside resorts on the coasts of Italy. I spent a lot of time with his family as well. We had a wonderful romance. Through my travels, and his most amazing love letters, I got to see and learn a side of Italian culture that I wouldn’t have experienced in any other way. (And with the other families, I lived with too.) I will never regret that experience. He still lives in Rome and we are friendly to this day. We even occasionally Skype with each other. I think every person should have this kind of experience. Nothing makes you more cultured than experiencing other cultures. I look forward to giving my child that experience when the time is right.

The point here is that our kids only have one chance to be a sponge and learn what is out there. We have so many opportunities here and there simply isn’t any excuse to be an urban peasant and not offer enrichening opportunities to your children.

So how do I do it? It’s not hard. There are so many resources in print and on the internet. It just takes a little bit of time to find out what’s going on and then give it a try. I try to make sure that I have planned something great to do with my daughter whenever I have her for the weekend, but there are some days, we are tired and we don’t. That’s ok too as long as it isn’t that way EVERY weekend. She only has one time in her life to be a sponge and it is my duty to give her those opportunities. So that’s what I will continue to do. I hope this was thought provoking for you.