Mermom Selfie with a Merboy crawling in for cuddles
Our Adventures in Science, Creativity & Life With 2 Young Boys
Just when I was getting comfy with the idea of our local public school system nearby, I had to go and read The Smartest Kids in the World. If you want to terrify yourself about the lack of rigor and ambition and seriously low expectations that exists in a great deal of America’s school system, by all means go ahead and read that book.
Raising kids to be ambitious, accountable, and curious adults, feels like a hard thing to do, but maybe I just perceive it that way because it means so much to me. It feels like while I’m trying to find things to make my life easier, I’m trying to find ways to make my kids lives a bit harder… a bit more old-school.
And I’m not just pointing the finger at technology as a bad guy here, because there are so many actually awesome video games that do more to teach problem solving and rigor than say… a day of yardwork, which I am quick to outsource if I can afford it!!
So why am I so obsessed with this topic lately…
THE “IT’S TOO HARD FOR ME” REFRAIN
This has been Simon’s line a lot lately. "It’s too hard for me! I can’t do it. I’m too tired. Can you do it for me? Can you help me?"
It grates on me. Especially when I know damn well the task I asked him to do was incredibly easy. And it does not help that I feel like there is no good way to get him to do it.
This is why parenting is so damn hard!!!
There is no fucking good way to do this!!
Finding the right challenge that is exciting, meaningful to him, and can be accomplished by himself is an ongoing anxiety running in the background of my head… And I can’t help but feel sometimes, often actually, that kids should just have chores to do and they damn well better do them.
A HARD LOOK AT MYSELF
When I get home from a day of work, I want things to be easy. I want rest and convenience. But what does a tired, grumpy parent who also complains about having to do chores around the house herself demonstrate to my sons?
So one of the things that I’ve been thinking about is how my children can see how hard my husband and I work toward something that is meaningful to us. Not just the daily toil, but passionate craft. How do I show them that something was hard for us too, and it took time or brainpower to accomplish? But the results are rewarding.
That’s why I’ve been trying to get them more involved in things like growing our garden, planning parties, decorating and cleaning the house. Things they can see the results of and be proud of with us.
FINDING THE RIGHT CHALLENGES
And so I am back to what are the right challenges to push him on and sometimes fight him on. Is it about contributing to the household and doing chores? Or is it about believing in yourself enough to take on things that scare you?
So I want to find ways the kids can contribute to the household, but not in this authoritarian “you do what I say” method… that doesn’t make me feel good about myself. I’m looking for ways to give them choice without lowering expectations.
I’ve also started to become on the lookout for natural consequences of choosing not to contribute… For example, I recently asked both boys to pick up their toys before dinner. And because Simon procrastinated and put it off and put it off, he didn’t get to help me set the table. Which seems like a meaningless task, but he has a strong fear of missing out. And the regret crushed him.
I don’t like crushing my kid, in theory. But it is hard to find really good lessons about the consequences of your own choices. It’s like emotional broccoli.
At the same time, I am really really looking for ways to give my kids challenging tasks they actually enjoy doing. This is why I love building blocks and Legos and work out in the garden. I want the ambition to come from within, not from just me telling them what to do.
Sometimes I have to throw out interesting ideas like bait. I wonder how tall you could actually build a tower? Do you think you could use every single block?
And that is when Simon really shines. He could spend hours on challenges like that. And so even on the worst and most whiny days, I try and remind myself of that kid, the engineer with intense imagination. I try and remind myself of how far he has come with reading words that were once so hard for him and now he is excited to try to tackle.
This kid will be ambitious. I just want him to know that it won’t always be easy and that I believe he can do challenging things. I expect him to. And at the moment, I can’t rationalize that as anything but my duty as a parent.