When I was expecting baby Jake, I imagined giving him an idyllic, carefree childhood. My visions were of bare feet and giggles, exploration and play. Once Jake was born, he and I began attending coffee groups for new mums and, as he got older, we also went along to baby activities, such as story sessions at the library and playgroup.
At these places, I often found myself surrounded by anxious parents, whose daily outing with their babies were not primarily for a bit of fun and to get out of the house but to fast-track their babies’ development. I met parents at playgroup who were there to “socialise” their babies and I watched parents at the library earnestly trying to get their 4-month-olds to focus on the letters and words in books as if it would give them a head-start as readers. At these young ages, our babies didn’t need any extra socialising or literacy instruction beyond what daily life with Mum and Dad provided – their young brains couldn’t even process some of the things we parents were keen for them to learn.
I realised that, already, many parents were caught in the hamster wheel of always trying to prepare their babies for the next stage of life. By “socialising” their babies at playgroup, they assumed their toddlers would be more prepared for early childhood education. When the time came, they looked for early childhood centres that would formally teach reading, writing and maths so that their children would be “ready for school”. And so it continues – each stage being merely a stepping stone to the next.
In this way, for many people, childhood has been reduced to preparation for adulthood. Parents fear that, if they don’t “start early”, their children will “fall behind” in some way, destined for unsuccessful, unhappy futures. My opinion is that, if we continue to sacrifice their childhoods for the sake of their adulthoods, both their years as children and as adults will be unsuccessful and unhappy.
THE PROBLEM WITH REDUCING CHILDHOOD TO PREPARATION FOR ADULTHOOD
When we are too focussed on preparing our children for adulthood, we are not respecting who they are. From a spiritual perspective, the real purpose of parenting is to honour and support our children in being the people they came here to be. In trying to prepare them for adulthood too early, we inflict on them our own ideas about what kind of adult they should become whereas, if we’re present with who they are as children, we enable them to be themselves.
Further, without some perspective, we begin to hold our children up against the adult we hope they’ll become and, being children, they will almost always fall short. We develop a deficit-approach to parenting in which we try to improve our children rather than value them as they are. Our impossible measures become messages to them that they are not good enough. I know I’m guilty of this myself. Sometimes, I expect my boys to be able to manage their emotions in respectful, controlled ways like an adult would but, developmentally, they can’t always do this. My disapproval of their outbursts gives the message that they are not acceptable when their emotions get the better of them. They’re only 3 and 6 years old!
WHY WE NEED TO VALUE CHILDHOOD MORE
Here’s my case for why we are better to value and be present with our children as they are now rather than pushing them into their future.
Children contribute in so many ways. When we take our children out and about with us, other people delight in them. Many stop to fuss over our babies, engage our children in conversation or smile at their antics. Just by being their childish selves, they are like little beacons of light scattered about the community. More personally, most parents feel that their children have contributed to their own lives in numerous ways – the tender moments between us, the memories we make together and the ways they make us laugh or help us to see things differently. Then there are the little souls who never became adults for some reason but still touched our hearts. The one I miscarried changed me forever and, on a more public scale, think of Matty Steponik.
Children have things they need to know now. When I was a teacher, we had meetings in which we speculated about what kind of future we were preparing our students for. Those discussions had a place but mostly I was thinking, “we don’t know what the future will be like but we know what the kids need now”. Part of the discussion was always around technology – its growing prevalence in our lives and how it will have changed exponentially between the time a child starts school and when they leave. There was almost an obsession to use technology in the classroom as much as possible for these reasons but sometimes I felt that a lot of rich, relevant learning was lost in order to be seen as progressive & relevant by using technology. My 7-year-old students needed to be able to read the books they loved, to count their pocket money and to negotiate with their friends more than they needed to know how to use the latest multi-media program.
Joy is found in the present. The childhoods we dreamed of for our unborn babies were joyful ones. Only available in the present, joy is lost for both ourselves and our children when we are mentally tied up in worries about the future and how our children aren’t yet meeting the expectations we have of them as adults. As I said in my blog post about joy, I think joy is essential to a fully-lived life. Do we want to teach our children to constantly be striving for the next thing or to find joy in every stage?
“We tend to think of childhood as preparation for adulthood and almost forget that childhood has its own value”. – Julie Louisson
BY TAKING CARE OF THE PRESENT, WE TAKE CARE OF THE FUTURE
All things in nature follow a natural progression. In its own time, a seed becomes a beautiful, strong tree. As a seed, it needed different things to what it needs as a tree. Some seeds can’t grow in the presence of light but, once they are trees, they need the light for photosynthesis. There is no doubt that we are sowing the seeds of our children’s futures through our parenting but we can trust the process, knowing that, by tending to our children’s current needs, their futures will take care of themselves.
IN SUMMARY – A NEW QUESTION TO ASK
Let’s stop asking children “what are you going to be when you grow up?” and instead ask, “who are you?” Our children arrive fully-formed, ready to enjoy an contribute to life now. Let’s love who they are and get excited, rather than fearful, about who they will become.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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