Wednesday, May 20th, 2009
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.
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.
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.
- See related (a long read if you dare): How to Raise your Children to be the Type of Adults You Want Them to Be.
- If you’re interested…
- Database of 343 bilingual programs in the US (not complete, the two in my area aren’t listed)
- What if there are no dual immersion programs in your city?
- Spanglish baby blog