The Goal of Parenting

Alternate title: Raising great kids despite yourself

I want my daughter to be a better person than I am. More than that, I want her free of my inhibitions and prejudices.

As my wife and I went through the process of selecting an elementary school earlier this year, and as my daughter’s age has us choosing an increasing number of extracurricular activities, these ideas hit home.

I don’t mean providing greater opportunities. That’s part of it though.

The easy topics are stuff like swimming, soccer or music. I had a swim class too late in childhood for it to take root. Learning a musical instrument didn’t happen, and what taste for music I picked up occurred outside the home. I never played a team sport outside of PE class.

At a minimum, I want my daughter comfortable in water, to have experienced music as a participatory activity and know real teamwork on the field. If she flourishes with these joys, great. If not, okay.

The tougher topics are ones that challenge me, ideas I would not, and have not, come to on my own. I have my wife to thank in that respect.

I’ll discuss two of them.

First Challenge

Capoeira is a physical activity, a bridge between girlish ballet and boyish karate or T-ball. My daughter began learning it at age 3.

(That’s not my video, but is a small taste of a young learner.)

Capoeira a martial art where very little physical contact takes place. It’s a game between two people, performed encircled by singing observers, and is almost a dance without choreography. You react spontaneously to your opponent.

It requires strength, discipline and fearlessness. Better yet, you are often called to perform at public events and you interact with kids (and adults) of all ages, boys and girls, limited only by skill level.

In hindsight, that’s why I like it. But it’s a Brazilian martial art, I’m not the athletic type, and the music played and words spoken (Portuguese) are foreign to me.

Capoeira was my daughter’s idea after she and Mom saw a public performance. If I had seen Capoeira being performed, this sheltered white guy would never have given it a second’s consideration. Not because of racism, but because it’s outside my experience.

I grew up in a white neighborhood with white friends and attended a predominantly white school. It wasn’t until I went to college that my mind was opened to the world.

So, here I am now with my wife, an African-American, who grew up in a white household, in a culturally mixed neighborhood and attended culturally mixed schools. In the exact same city, by the way. We lived at opposite ends of town. And so she challenges me from time to time. Oh, okay, all the time.

My daughter has a growing interest in Brazil. She performs moves on our living room floor I can’t do. I won’t say “could never do,” but come on, I’m out of my element here. But I make time for her home and public performances and she loves her parents watching her classroom training. Last month she performed for her preschool class.

Second Challenge

My biggest personal challenge is a language immersion elementary school. In our case, my daughter will be taught the same curriculum as a traditional school, but half the day her teacher will be speaking Spanish. At this age, she’ll pick up the second language like a sponge simply by hearing it spoken.

I don’t have a bunch of overt racism throwing up a road block to the idea. But I do have the baggage of my childhood, wanting my kids to have the same school experience I did as a child. And plus, I don’t know Spanish. My wife and I took German in high school. Heck, my wife was born in Germany. And there are the cultural differences, my unfamiliarity with Latin America.

It would have been easy to hear my wife ask, “What about a language immersion school?” and for me to say, “Nah,” and a second later the idea is dismissed and I wake up tomorrow with my kids graduating high school and life is how I expected it to turn out.

That would be okay, but it wouldn’t be the best for my daughter… like me not being a good swimmer or playing music or whatever. I turned out okay, but how much more could I enjoy or experience in life if I was raised with other opportunities?

True, I can pursue such things as an adult, but childhood is a magic time when experiences easily take hold and shape your view of the world for decades to come.

At my wife’s urging, I attended a school information night and ideas infected me. What if my daughter could enter middle school academically on par with kids from traditional schools, but also be fluent in a second language? As one mom told me, “Why wouldn’t I want to give my son the gift of a second language?”

There are other compelling reasons too, to do with future advantages in the job market, greater freedom to travel, acceptance and interest in world cultures, permanent positive physical changes in brain chemistry when a second language is taught young, that much of the rest of the world teaches multiple languages in school and blah blah blah. It was the gift comment that sold me.

When I was young I didn’t spend any time dreaming about having a family or what it would look like. This is way off the map of anything I might have conceived.

I suppose it comes down to how you face the unfamiliar. I could have run away. I could be scared, and I suppose I do have some trepidation. But by golly, I’m going to be learning Spanish. Maybe not as much or as well as my kids, but enough to encourage them in their studies.

I want my kids to know things I don’t. To experience things I haven’t. To perceive a world free of fear. Instead of teaching ideals, we’re putting kids into situations where they experience those ideals.

I’ve had quite a few conversations with my daughter where I tell her the thing she is doing at that moment is not something I experienced as a child. She takes pride in that fact, making it special and different from the things she knows I share because they come from my own interests or childhood. She beams when she speaks of teaching her parents new things, especially about becoming bilingual.

So, what is the goal of parenting? Oh yeah, to raise your child to be a better person than you are. More than that, to be free of your inhibitions and prejudices so that nothing stands in his or her way. To do so, you must step outside your comfort zone and consider new challenges.


11 Responses to “The Goal of Parenting”

  1. kelly says:

    wow; you and your wife are my heroes. we’re in the south, and change is a four letter word, but i am determined to teach my husband that our daughter can be better than us thanks

    May 20th, 2009 at 9:10 am

  2. AJ says:

    Thanks Kelly.

    An aside, my mother sometimes has a hard time reading this blog. So I must say my childhood wasn’t a train wreck. One opportunity I had that many didn’t (including my wife) was several camping trips every summer. They were inspired by my dad, but mom kept pace with me as the youngest of four brothers as everyone else raced ahead during long hikes.

    One factor not mentioned… finances. All these nice things cost money, and it’s a challenge. We haven’t got the music classes worked out yet. We’re lucky that both local immersion schools are free public schools (and both stellar, too).

    May 20th, 2009 at 9:42 am

  3. MIdge says:

    Wow, AJ. This hit home. We are also choosing a school for our daughter and struggle with the options. I think this sentence really rang true for me:

    “More than that, to be free of your inhibitions and prejudices so that nothing stands in his or her way. ”

    My daughter is definitely less inhibited than I am, so she wants to “go for it” and try all kinds of new things. It’s hard for me to let go of my fear and let her “go for it.”

    I know for a fact that my parents didn’t agonize over what school I would go to…..we went to the neighborhood school, period, end of story. And, I turned out fine, well educated, yada yada. BUT, what COULD have been different if I had gone to a different school? Hmmmmm……

    It’s difficult, but necessary, to admit that my daughter’s (and son’s) education does not have to mirror mine. Sometimes I can get overwhelmed, already worrying about college when my kids are 5 and 1. So, I guess we’ll just take it one decision at a time.

    At any rate, I do enjoy reading your perspective. Thank you.

    May 20th, 2009 at 10:24 am

  4. LooneyJen says:

    Capoira is awesome. I think my daughter would love to get her dancing in with her play. (She loves pretend battling with her cousins, but loves to dance to classical music too).

    Nice entry. I do think that your point in the comment about this stuff costing money is important to note. Even if you are unable to take classes or things of that nature, whether by location or lack of funds, there are still plenty of ways to immerse your kids in a climate of culture that are free or close to it. Just takes more work.

    And dude, I want a public language immersion school here. Now.

    May 20th, 2009 at 11:42 am

  5. Kara says:

    We have a public language immersion school here (also not on the list) and I battled with myself for a long time about sending our son there. I would love for him to go there (they have two different language tracks, French or Spanish, and in fifth grade they add in instruction in the third language), but the commute time would honestly kill me (it’s an hour away from us) and would significantly limit any other extra-curricular activities he could participate in (currently ballet, swimming, and t-ball). So I settled on a smaller private school, closer to home, that has Spanish, starting in Kindergarten, twice a week Not perfect, but better than my Kindergarten for sure.

    May 20th, 2009 at 1:14 pm

  6. Natalie says:

    As a bilingual speaker myself, I think you are doing your dauighter a huge favor by placing her in an immersion school. There are so many studies showing the advantage of bilingual upbringing. We are raising our daughter bilingual (English-German), and I am slowly adding my native Russian to her vocabulary. It’s a wonderful gift to give. I cannot say that I agree quite as much on the number of scheduled activities you are putting her in. I understand that she chose some of them, but what about the time to play, read and simply relax?

    May 20th, 2009 at 9:28 pm

  7. AJ says:

    Natalie, Capoeira is the most intense at twice-a-week, but there is a break for the summer.

    Swimming and soccer are seasonal (swimming is just a 1-week course at this point, not a swim club).

    I don’t feel like we’re running between events, but it is a concern with Capoeria and music lessons because both are major commitments. We’ll see how things progress.

    May 20th, 2009 at 9:45 pm

  8. PAUL says:

    AJ, as one of your childhood white friends in a white neighborhood, I am so proud to know you – your dedication to bettering the world through your kids is amazing!

    May 21st, 2009 at 6:03 am

  9. Norberto - Start Playing Capoeira says:

    Good post!

    Capoeira is a great activity for people of all ages. I find that it not only provides a good physical outlet, but also provides a lot of mental growth (learning music, language, etc) and confidence. Learning to play in front of other people and perform successfully is an excellent skill to learn in life.

    As for the second language, that’s an awesome thing. My dad is Puerto Rican, but never bothered to teach me Spanish when I was young. It was something I really wished I had learned. However I’m learning it now and realize it’s just as easy for adults to learn as it is for children. The key is we have to put time and focus into it. Kids ‘learn’ so quickly because look at how much time they have in the day to learn it. If we invested the same, we may do even better because we know how to learn by now.

    Again great post!

    May 21st, 2009 at 6:55 am

  10. Tiffany says:

    Great thoughts AJ- we’re facing some of the same things. My husband grew up in the same small town in eastern WA, didn’t really play sports, do music, travel outside a little camping or visits to grandma in Idaho, etc. As a military brat, I moved all over the world- and my parents dragged us even farther. Baseball (back in the day, there weren’t any girls teams… and the day was only the 80s!), soccer, softball (high school- new place, had girls teams), tae kwon do, piano lessons, etc. And yes, they cost money. BUT- there are varying levels of activities. For example, we played local level sports or high school sports- i.e. Optimist club, etc. NOT the super-expensive travelling teams that cost a ton and take up all your time to the exclusion of other activities. We took piano from local piano teachers, swimming lessons on the base or at the local YWCA (cheaper than the YMCA), etc. And boy did we travel. We’re trying to do the same for our son, because so much of it isn’t about actually DOING, but more about exposure and experience. We have a slight advantage (or disadvantage) on the travel part, being military- want it or not we’re moving around, but we make the effort to get OUT and do something, go somewhere, everywhere we are. And even at 3, our son is happy and contented wherever he goes- thinks a day in the car or on the plane is a fine adventure (if sometimes a little long), and loves seeing new things. Recently we drove a few hours west here in Nebraska along the Platte to see the Sandhill Crane Migration- one of the great wildlife migrations in the world. And it’s amazing how many people who’ve lived here their whole lives don’t even know it’s there. The way we see it, it’s all about broadening his horizons-

    May 21st, 2009 at 9:14 am

  11. Ana Lilian says:

    Hi AJ!

    Thanks so much for writing such a great post. It’s refreshing to read the Dad’s perspective on the important decisions we make for our children’s upbringing. In this case, language is a HUGE gift you will give her in the most important stage in her life for language acquisition.

    I can’t thank you enough for listing our blog SpanglishBaby as a resource. We’re so passionate about the topic and wish to inspire as many parents as possible to find bilingual alternatives for their children.

    We know it´s a challenge, but a well-worth one.

    I´m happy to have found your blog!

    May 24th, 2009 at 11:45 am