What Parents Want
Parents want a safe space for their children to develop character. Character in the context of a safe space protecting the child impeccably, unblemished, and encouraging self-expression. I am not sure if that is the learning process, but regardless, parents can dream. In our honest moments, we realize that our children will be challenged. We may even realize that this is a necessary part of the learning process. But, we want smooth sailing just the same.
Rightfully so, we resist the idea that some “eggs need to be broken” for character to come to the fore. Maybe we have done the reading and found that character is more about nurturing eggs to maturity through a balance of heat and safe-keeping allowing our children to feel safe and risk in the context of a challenging world. But, after 18 years of college teaching, I am convinced that many parents practice one extreme or the other. Either they subject their children to trauma that requires professional intervention, or they cripple their children attending to their every need and whim until the child has no functional identity apart from the parent. Though, I think much of this comes from a response to the harshness and danger that exists in the world today, a great deal of it also extends from the fact that parenting is rarely taught from objective sources. Most of us learned to parent only in response to how we were parented.
The Easy Way Out
The impact on your child’s character from both the extreme cruel and the helicopter experiences is a distaste for being challenged, a discomfort with being questioned without an answer prepared, and a disquiet regarding failure. Simply stated, it is a search for the easy way. The path that skips questions of feelings, identity, interactions, and impact. The path that sticks with “structure” and expected outcomes, and only questions that the child has been prepped to answer. Yet, character is never completely consonant with the uncomplicated way. Any great journey will evidence some struggle. The struggle is not as important as the emotionally-authentic questions the struggle necessitates.
Character is the cognitive (mental) and the moral combined. If you shut down the external challenge that motivated development of the problem-solving mental faculties, you stifle curiosity, creativity, and comfort with ambiguity. If you shield the child from the emotionally-authentic moral responsibility to engage even when they are unsure whether they will win, you stifle ethical, principled, and authentic self-development.
What Parents Also Want: Wisdom & Excellence.
Yet, these are exactly what we also want for our children. We want our children to demonstrate wisdom in their decision making. We want them to excel with an autonomous, authentic sense of self. Stated in educational terms, we want our children to learn and to develop respectively. We may believe that the question concerns how to get to our goal. I offer that the question is understanding that our children experience the challenges they face differently. Of all the things that we want for our children, this idea of character is the most impactful. I offer that it is not only a consideration of pro-social behavior. It is a concern for optimizing their intelligences and their experience of the world.