This article was originaly published in the May 2015 issue of the Singapore American Newspaper.
The moment I first held my son I was filled with joy and hope for the possibilities ahead. That was quickly followed by a moment of fear – both “what now?” and “I hope I don’t screw this up.” Parenting is a balance between hope and fear; we wish the best for our kids and want them to enjoy safe passage through life, but fear creeps in as we encounter real and perceived danger all around.
Fear can be the driving force behind our parenting decisions. We constantly hear about things to be fearful of – strangers, cars, foods, too much screen-time, too little nature --the list is endless. When we parent from fear, we build walls between our child and the outside world, developing a parenting style where risk avoidance rather than learning is the goal. The fear of physical danger might mean that a young person may never leave his parents’ sight. Another fear focuses on opportunities, such as academics; parents, swept up in a wave of activities and tuition, fearful that without them, their child won’t “succeed”. Finally there’s a fear of making mistakes, of not being the perfect parent. Of course he threw a tantrum; I knew better than to let my son play too much Minecraft!
How do we parent with hope? To manage risk around physical danger, rather than building walls, we build supports that allow kids to learn to manage risk age-appropriately. Kids learn when they fail or make a mistake but we are there to help them up and problem solve for the next time. The child who is always caught when they fall at the park, never experiencing pain, is more likely to take greater risks without the necessary skills than a child who learns through small falls and natural consequences. As a child shows she can navigate her environment safely, she earns trust and further freedoms, and we feel hopeful because of her resilience.
Similarly, when we fear that a lack of academic tuition or extra-curriculars will keep our child from being successful - we also need to lean on hope. Instead of choosing activities that we think will help our children gain a leg-up on peers, we can encourage children to follow their own interests and explore possibilities, even if it’s a different path than the one we envision. When children find a fit and invest the time, whether it’s bugs, bass guitar or basketball, they will be more likely to stick to it when the going gets tough. This “stick-to-it-ness”, or grit, is what parenting out of hope encourages.
Finally, when it comes to parenting perfectly, we all have times where we actually do just that. Too often we get bogged down with the negative, admonishing ourselves for mistakes without celebrating successes. When you find something that works, keep doing it! And when you repeat the same thing over again with negative results, try something different. Rather than aspiring to perfection, it’s hopeful to recognize we’re doing our best with the resources, time and energy we have.
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