Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Parenting Book Club

I recently attended my monthly 'Parenting-Book' club, and I have noticed common themes appearing in many of these books.  I must admit, there are many hectic/crazy days after spending fourteen hours with three kids aged five and under, I have FINALLY put them down to sleep, and I think, "the last thing I want to do now is read a book about parenting"...but once I squeeze them into my reading-queue, I have found them to be informative, inspirational, and rewarding.  As I read these books, (i.e. Mindset, by Carol Dweck, Nurture Shock, by Po Bronson, The Price of Privilege, by Madeline Levine, Building Better Families, by Matthew Kelly) from a variety of authors, with varying perspectives, experiences, philosophies, etc., they often agree in certain areas of parenting, but differ in others.

One primary agreed-upon theme is the idea that the parent (and our society at large) pursues and values high achievement over character development through the focus of good citizenship. When I think about the countless hours of homework, activities, sports, music/dance lessons, etc., of the typical American family, it is easy to see how achievement in these areas could become our main focus. Do not get me wrong, I appreciate and enjoy the benefits of all of these activities for our children.  I grew up participating in an endless stream of activities: swimming, diving, soccer, speed-skating, basketball, field hockey, ballet, tap, piano, art camp, etc. However, these authors have concluded that when children feel their parents' love and attention is a function of/or dependent on their level of achievement, they become stressed, depressed, burnt-out, and stifled in terms of genuine self-discovery and development.  Interestingly, apparently this effect is much more subtle than your classic pushy helicopter parent screaming on the sidelines of the soccer field. By simply praising the outcome of a child's academic, athletic or other extracurricular endeavor, it is essentially sending the following message: it is not the effort, improvement, or internal reward that is important, but rather, the gold star at the end, the win or lose, the GPA, class rank, etc.  This ties into the classic debate over which is more effective: external versus internal motivation.

As I read these books, I assess these theories in terms of my own experiences growing up.  Specifically, if we imagine the stereotypical overzealous helicopter parent as mentioned above, please note that my parents were the exact opposite. Not only were they NOT overly invested in the outcomes of my sports/school activities, but in my eyes at the time, they were significantly UNDER-invested.  They often missed games (according to them, I heavily protested their attendance due to shyness? modesty? who knows?), brushed off good grades (while some friends' parents offered material rewards for academic achievement), and simply downplayed any successes.  They were positive, supportive, and encouraging, but did not over-praise success. Today, as I read some of these parenting books and learn about what truly motivates us, I have a new appreciation for their approach. I believe their non-chalance ironically buoyed my enjoyment of these activities and allowed my internal motivation to kick in through my own pursuit of achievement/success.  Make no mistake; I did not enjoy nor achieve success in every activity.  I often dreaded piano practice (the only activity my parents did force upon me....and yes, they were right, I DO appreciate it today).  I would protest and procrastinate until the very last minute before my weekly lessons.   Even more embarrassing: I was the one on the high school basketball team that accidently shot (and of course missed) for the WRONG basket! But, I did enjoy and succeed in other activities, and this developed my self esteem, confidence, and ultimately helped me become a 'better version of myself' as Matthew Kelly likes to mantra in his book, Building Better Families.

In terms of good citizenship, most parents would proclaim that they want their child to grow up and "be a good person, be kind to others, live the golden rule, etc." However, it seems the over-emphasis on achievement and success crowds out the opportunities for such character development. As Matthew Kelly discusses in his book, kids today are organizing service trips to Africa, but too often with the padding of their college applications/resumes as the motivating factor.  We need to figure out ways for our children to 'be a good person' in the day to day interaction with others, at home, at school, etc.  Modeling this behavior ourselves is likely the most effective manner in which to teach these lessons. I have always been a believer that 'bully-ish' children likely have 'bully-ish' parents. We need to encourage them to identify areas in our society in need and to share their time and effort helping such causes. They should be inspired to discover and share their talents, passions, and dreams; their true authentic selves.  All of this makes sense and seems feasible in theory.  Yet, attaining these goals and following these guidelines seems monumental in practice.  I am just trying to figure out how to make this happen on a daily basis!!

On the creative front, it is a common struggle for both parents and children alike....do we encourage/pursue our creative interests, although the career/financial rewards may be limited (think of the stereotypical starving artist), or do we pursue a what many perceive as a more 'practical, stable-career-minded' path?...Although I see pros/cons to both pursuits, I have concluded they are not mutually exclusive...perhaps just simultaneously.  So, although I pursued a career in public/corporate accounting, (for which I am ever grateful that it afforded me the adventures of living in downtown Chicago, becoming financially independent, and ultimately, serendipitously meeting my husband)....I had to put off my passions involving all things creatvie to a later date.  Perhaps when I am a grandparent (like my talented Uncle Jim Einspanier) I will have the time to pursue painting, design, etc. In the spirit of creativity...I wanted to post a link to an article by Ann Lamott entitled, "Time Lost and Found." My friend, Anne Carmack shared this article on her FB page...click link below...


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