Parenting and teaching are synonymous. In fact, teachers are told that, when in doubt, do or say what the parent would say or do. The term “in loco parentis” is a familiar one in school administration offices around the world.
There are parents that shouldn’t be parents and teachers that should have considered another line of work long ago. The same reasons for the demise of one apply to the other. Both are tough jobs, and they need to be done right. While I certainly don’t have a monopoly of information or skill in either duty or enterprise, I think I can offer some good advice in two critical areas.
We’ve always heard that we should love unconditionally. Most of the time, we don’t have a choice. Without our support, difficult times can become impossible. With it, there is always light at the end of almost any tunnel. The second is to have reasonable expectations, giving your son or daughter some breathing room to develop skills, confidence and maturity that will take them to previously unexpected heights. In other words, we shouldn’t objectify tasks and responsibilities without appreciating our offspring’s readiness to perform them. This sounds like a recipe for mediocrity. It’s not. The best (or worst) way to kill latent talent is to ignore its “latent” qualities. We’re always buying time. We need to do more of it if we are to enrich our sons’ and daughters’ lives as well as stabilize our own. Failure to do so ruins relationships and can leads to more self-destructive adolescent behaviour than we would expect or care for. Maintaining a patient, loving, trusting relationship is the key, and the small ego-busting compromises that are possible victims to this approach would be a small price to pay.
If things still don’t go as planned, there is always forgiveness and the encouragement to try again. I watched Whiplash last weekend. I was almost sold on the sacrifices that seemed necessary to create or inspire genius. Even absolute brutality was sanctioned for this universal ambition by the instructor involved. And then I saw, or was made to see, that when genius did emerge, it did so despite the teacher and not because of him. Many years ago I saw a documentary of a father in New York City that called a news conference when his daughter was born and proclaimed that he was going to raise a genius. I won’t go into the details, but he actually managed to fashion a young lady with absolutely exceptional academic skill. She also became one of the most dysfunctional young adults imaginable, and did not speak to her father again after her sixteenth birthday. I kept wondering what the father would have said or done had he known the outcome.