This article from Bunmi Laditan (the mad genius behind Honest Toddler, one of my favorite Twitter accounts at the moment) is making the rounds. Short version: parents need to stop trying so hard to make their children’s lives a perfectly crafted fairytale and let them find their own magic. Too many gems in this article to list, but I’ll focus on just one:
For a few years, I got caught up in the “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” parenting model, which mandates you scour Pinterest for the best ideas, execute them flawlessly, and then share the photo evidence with strangers and friends via blogs and Facebook posts.
Suddenly, it came to me: We do not need to make our children’s childhood magical. Childhood is inherently magical, even when it isn’t perfect. My childhood wasn’t perfect and we weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but my birthdays were still happy because my friends came over. It wasn’t about the party bags, perfect decorations, or any of that. We popped balloons, ran around in the backyard, and we had cake. Simple. But when I look back on those times, they were magical.
She also calls out Disneyland, which – ahem – I plan to visit with my children as soon as they’re old enough to appreciate it. (So when they’re three days old? -ed. Don’t be silly! They’ll be at least two weeks old before I’d consider taking them.)
All joking aside, I can see her point. On a personal level, I can also see a bit of a danger that I might run with our children: namely, that after having waited so long for children, I’ll spoil them, shower them with more gifts and abundance than they can handle. This has definitely become a problem for the nouveau riche of India, who appear to be raising a generation of adults who want for nothing and are chronically depressed.
Who might have some constructive advice on this? Believe it or not, Donald Trump. Given his extremely public divorce and general money-grubbing capitalist pig image, you would think his kids would be thoroughly screwed up by now. Amazingly, his three children, all now adults, seem pretty functional and well adjusted. The secret?
The most important thing his parents did, says Don, was to make the kids work as teenagers. Donny’s first job, at the age of 13, was as a dock attendant at the marina at Trump Castle, making minimum wage plus tips tying up boats. “We were spoiled in many ways, but we were always taught to understand the value of the dollar. If there was something we wanted, we had to earn it. Even in college, we were very fiscally responsible. I had 300 bucks a month; anything I wanted beyond that, I had to work for.”
As I mentioned in my bio, I worked in my father’s machine shop when I was in high school. Summers meant routinely working 12-hour days, five or six days per week. A day spent at the shop meant coming home with my arms smeared in grime and grease up to my elbows or higher.
As you might imagine, I don’t exactly have fond memories of that period of my life. But I freely admit that the experience provided some substantial benefits that I’ve taken with me into adulthood: an understanding of the value of money, a work ethic instilled at a young age, an appreciation for educational opportunity. It can be a challenge to find a vehicle to impart these lessons to children today. I related my experience to a classmate in the UT MBA program who had adult children. This classmate’s reaction as a parent was one of envy: “Boy, I wish I could have done something like that for my kids.”
So what do I want for my children? At a minimum, the basics: I want them to feel safe and secure, loved and nurtured. But I also want my children to become strong – emotionally, spiritually and morally. I want them to become capable, confident and wise. Giving them a life of nonstop ease and plenty is not likely to get them there, so I will have to seek opportunities for them to experience challenges and trials. It’s how we grow, you see.
Of course, with no prior parenting experience of my own, this is largely an academic exercise. So tell me, parents: what do you do to help your children develop this inner strength? Or maybe you disagree complete with the premise, and think Laditan is totally off base?
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