So often I hear people say what good children they have, or someone tell someone else what a good child they have, and this always gives me pause for thought. What is it that makes a child “good”? Is it doing what he or she is told? Being quiet? Not questioning or talking back? And if it is one or all of these things, how do those behaviors bode for the future? You see, good kids are a wonderful thing in the moment, but as we raise our children, aren’t we looking to the future? The way I see it, our job is not necessarily to raise good kids, but moreover to raise great adults.
Many people mistakenly think that raising good children is the same thing as raising your children to be competent and confident adults. And yet, too often these two things are in direct opposition of each other. Think about it…what we may consider to be good kids are children who are obedient, who do what they are told without arguing or asking questions, who let the adults speak, and who respect authority completely without question. Now consider if these are the traits and behaviors you would want for your adult sons or daughters. Do you want them to accept the authority of those around them without question? Do you want them to let others do their thinking for them and not think independently for themselves? Do you want them to be followers led by others because they never had the room to find their own voice? Because when you look at it closely this is what these good children are being taught.
So often, I meet parents who are worried or upset that their adult children have no drive, no independence, or that they seem afraid to strike out into the world on their own. I want to ask these parents, “What did you expect?” When as a parent you raise a child to obey your word, not to question your authority and, in essence, to not think for themselves or question what does not seem right or just to them, and you do this for the first eighteen years of the child’s life, how can you expect them to go confidently out into the world in the nineteenth year and become the opposite of all that they were taught?
Raising a child to be a great adult takes more patience, more work and the ability to at times “check your ego at the door”. This type of parenting requires allowing your children to ask questions even when those questions are about the choices or decisions that you are making; it requires asking your children for their opinion as well as asking them for their solution to the problem; it requires listening to their thoughts and opinions and truly weighing them into your decision making processes especially when it comes to decisions you are making with regard to them; it requires sometimes changing your mind, particularly if your child presents valid and reasonable information or opinions to the situation in question; and yes, it even requires occasionally admitting that you were wrong.
And before anyone interjects, let me say that I am not recommending that anyone put their child in the driver seat and let them run the road. I am not implying that any parent should let their child do whatever they want, or let them speak rudely or disrespectfully. I am not saying that they should let their child make all of the rules or get to have their way all of the time. I am simply pointing out how important it is to find a balance and empower your child to be all of the wonderful things you would like them to be as an adult.
I know it is so much easier to say “because I said so” or “because I’m your parent”, but your job is not to take the easy road, your job is to raise the best adult that you possibly can. And while it is not always the easy choice, at the end of the day when you little boy or girl is an adult confidently interacting in the world, all of it is worth it.
So, we can raise our children to be good and obedient kids, children that we can be proud of (and yes, if you read my earlier blog entry 3/2/10, you know my thoughts about this word, so I used it purposely– proud of, as an extension of oneself) in front of our peers and others. Or we can take the more challenging and more rewarding path of raising our children to be great adults; people who we can be impressed by and admire as they become competent, independent thinking, ambitious and successful adults.