One of the things that struck me the most when I became pregnant with my first child was the extent to which the preparation we are given revolves mostly around the purely material needs of the child. Aside from the inevitable tests, scans, doctors appointments in pregnancy, we are then inducted into the whys, hows and wherefores of managing baby sleep, breastfeeding, safety and the very best purchases to make for your baby.
All of this is good stuff and has a purpose in preparing for the new arrival. But it saddens me to see that there is so very little discussion around the importance of setting a long-term vision for the raising of your child.
We need to remember that, in taking on the very important responsibility of raising a child, to keep in mind the end result. I hesitate to use this analogy but, like the CEO of a company, we need to set a long-term vision for where we are heading, in order to lead our team effectively. As an entrepreneur myself, I see parallels in being custodian of a company with purpose and the responsibility I have with my own children to help guide them into our world. Indeed, it is especially important that those of us who have a desire to make a contribution of the world should exercise that same vision in the raising of our children.
But what does this mean?
It means having a long-term vision of the health, happiness and contribution of your child and setting that up right from the beginning. It is well-documented that children have some of their most profound learning experiences in the period 0 – 3 years old. So many opportunities for learning! To my mind, and this is borne of experience, we gravely underestimate what even young toddlers are capable of learning and absorbing. Even a two year old can understand the value and importance of saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, of helping others, how to care for our environment, tidy up after they use their toys, of being respectful and, even, how to eat out in a restaurant.
This is not a denial of the realities of raising children (especially toddlers and babies) who, even at the best of times, have minds of their own! But it is to raise them with an expectation of GOOD, that we all have within us the power to be loving, kind, respectful human beings. And our parenting should reflect that expectation, never limiting them and always holding onto that vision of the adult you hope they become, not just the (usually) adorable child they are now. It’s about holding onto the now with one eye on the future too.
Why is this important?
All around us we see evidence of bad parenting. It’s not just the usual suspects, children brought up in homes where poverty, alcohol abuse, domestic violence are the norm and where raising children well is so stacked against you. Bad parenting is surprisingly common in even very affluent and educated families. When a child pushes another child in the playground and the parent says nothing; when we allow our own children to demand something of us without learning the norms of social behaviour; when we limit our children in terms of what we think they are capable of; when parents of sons stand by as they hit their sisters – these all sow the seeds for the adult bad behaviour that we see around ourselves constantly.
Too often, we don’t set our standards of love high enough. We confuse love with pleasing others, doing whatever we can do to give them what they want. Which is not always what they need. True love, to me, has a bigger vision for the potential of another person. It is to have a longer-term vision for what they are capable of and help them to rise to that. It is helping our children to be the people they are capable of being, and not keeping them small with limited expectations. It is the difference between allowing a child to demand what they want right now, rather than helping them to ask graciously and kindly for what they would like, thereby setting them up for a life where they can get what they need with love.
This is not to cast judgement on parents, nor is it to say children should grow up too soon. Rather it is to be aware of our responsibilities. Our children today are growing up in a world that is falling apart in terms of standards by which we treat other people and the natural world. It’s now acceptable for a president of a country to make derogatory comments about women and get away with it; for our politicians and heads of state to lie and say inflammatory things about people who are ‘not like us’; to engage in rampant consumerism, with little thought for the future of the planet; and for teenagers and adults alike to bully others online. We want our children to grow up in a world that is warm, safe, welcoming, so we must ensure that when we raise them we are both modelling behaviour that elevates ourselves and others and articulating to them how to navigate the world with decency, dignity and respect for everyone.
Only then will we be truly prepared to raise a child in this world.
Mum, stepmum and honorary foster mum. Passionate about fulfilling the potential of all the world's children - both big and little. Serial entrepreneur and life traveller now living in Paris. www.carolinewatson.org